Martin Kove is a character. He’s a professional character, true, with a 40-year-plus career of playing the heavy — shark-toothed, pitted-chin tough guys like John Kreese in The Karate Kid and Ericson in Rambo: First Blood Part II — but also personally. He’s the kind of guy you can ask a simple question like “how many days a year do you generally work” and get an answer that involves Greek soldiers with guns, being held captive on a producer’s yacht, and a dispute between one of his movie’s producers and the financiers.
Which is to say: the dude’s got stories.
I suppose 40-year careers in Hollywood will do that to a person. These days, Kove is hot again, returning as John Kreese in season 2 of Cobra Kai on YouTube Premium (which recently announced a third season) and a role in Quentin Tarantino’s hotly anticipated Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, opening in the coming weeks. As to how that came about… well, naturally, Kove has a story.
Who wouldn’t want to pick that brain? I had a chance to speak to the 73-year-old actor recently, after his reps read my write-up of a chat with Kove’s Cobra Kai co-star Billy Zabka. Kove, a Jewish-American who a 1987 profile in the Chicago Sun-Times once called “the Kosher cowboy,” will tell anyone who will listen that his passion is rejuvenating the movie western. But naturally, he has other stories too.
So how did the role in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood come about? Did Tarantino tell you anything about why he wanted you in it, did you guys have a relationship before?
Well, it’s a really funny story. I mean, I’m a big proponent of the Western, and I wanted to get Django and Hateful Eight, and I never did. Actually, I decided to go the Director’s Guild screening of, I think it was Inglourious Basterds. And I just raised my hand to ask a question about the music. Tarantino (points at me and) says, “Martin Kove…” This is in front of 500 of my peers. And Brad Pitt’s on the dais, and Michael Fassbender’s on the dais, and they’re all there. And he says, “Marty Kove, Marty Kove, you’re one of my favorite actors. I love you in this movie called Firehawk.”
Firehawk was a movie that I did in Manila in 1992. It was a shoot ’em up, and it didn’t go anywhere. But (Tarantino) loved it, because he worked in video stores and knew all these wonderful movies that had gotten forgotten. I was very touched. And Brad Pitt grabs the mic and says, “And you’re a huge legend in my house, Mr. Kove. I just screened The Karate Kid for my six-year-old daughter two days ago, and we walk around the house with bandanas on our heads.” You know?
Yeah. (Ed. note: I didn’t, but what else do you say here?)
So, I felt like a million bucks. Bottom line, we went backstage, we exchanged phone numbers. And I got home, and I couldn’t read his handwriting. It was terrible. Six months I spent trying to reach him. Faxes, agents, all that, because I was excited. I wanted to work with him. Anyway, I bumped into him at the screening of Hateful Eight, and we talked, and he said, “You’re going to be in the next one.” And sure enough, I got a call right before they started shooting the movie — to do this small part, but it’s a Western deal. And when I saw him at the party preceding the movie shoot, I walked up to him and I said, “Quentin … ” I said, “Did you ask me to come play with you at this picture because I’m hot from Cobra Kai, or because I’ve been bugging you for three years to do a movie with me?” And he said to me, “A little bit of both.”
Whatever works, right?
Yeah, so the rest is history. And then I’m on the set, and he’s just terrific. He’ll say to you at the end of the day, “I think I got it, but I want one more. …And you know why?” And he turns around to a hundred crew, they all scream in unison, “BECAUSE WE LOVE TO MAKE MOVIES!” He’s just a real gas. My stuff is with DiCaprio, and it’s the best.