(Plenty of SPOILERS from Cobra Kai will be found below.)
Cobra Kai‘s fourth season proved that The Karate Kid is still (arguably) the best franchise revival out there while crane-kicking the generation gap and bringing us more of the Battle of the Bad Senseis. Those, of course, are characters from the movies, and viewers love to see them, but in the process, fans have grown to love the cast of assorted younger characters. One of the more prominent roles of the bunch would be Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz, who was born with a cleft lip, for which surgery left him with a distinguishing scar, the experience of being bullied, and an eventual transformation into an at-times-villainous member of Johnny Lawrence’s dojo.
Hawk’s a complicated guy, for sure. And although Jacob Bertrand has rolled through dozens of roles, including appearances on Community and Parks and Recreation, he’s never played a role like this one. He transformed into the Hawk with a Mohawk and an enormous back tattoo, but as Cobra Kai has shown us, Season 4 saw this character reach the highest of highs and a devastating low. That includes the moments after his glorious mohawk was reduced to a few purple tufts of hair, courtesy of John Kreese and Terry Silver’s karate-kid goons. Yes, I was very sad about this development. And I still haven’t recovered, even though Hawk ended Season 4 in a much better place.
Jacob was gracious enough to talk us through Hawk’s hair trauma, and we also chatted about bruises, Andrew Garfield’s Cobra Kai love, and much more.
You are one busy dude. Are you guys still shooting Season 5?
We actually just wrapped.
The show really powered through the pandemic (while others shut down) and blew through a few seasons.
It was weird because we filmed two seasons in one year. In 2021, we filmed both Season 4 and Season 5, so it’s really hard to differentiate what happened before in Season 4 and things that I’m not even allowed to bring up about Season 5. This year has felt long but short at the same time.
We’re cool to hit some Season 4 spoilers here, by the way.
First, let’s talk about Andrew Garfield and the video where he comes out as a Cobra Kai superfan. You teased him by saying that Hawk is his favorite character.
[Laughs] Yeahhhhh, I was kinda teasing him a little bit, but it was very weird. Sometimes I forget that it’s possible that other actors have seen the show. It felt super surreal because he even said in the interview, “Wow, I can’t believe they know who I am!” And my first thought, when I got an email about it, was “Wow, Andrew Garfield knows who I am!” I think it just shows that he’s such a humble, normal dude that he has the same thought. He was Spiderman and has done amazing work afterward, and it was really, really cool to see that he likes the show. I’d love to meet him in person someday, but I think it would be cool if he like played my dad or something.
That must be possible, and he’d be so into it.
I freaking hope so. Now that I know he’s a fan, I’ll be like, “Dude, you should come on the show.”
So, Hawk is really something. We’ve seen him through some impulsive and violent behavior, and going from being bullied to being bully-ish. Were you surprised that he decided to leave Cobra Kai and join Johnny’s Eagle Fang dojo?
When I first heard about that — I was a little bummed. Just because I really liked playing the villain and being on the evil side, and I still hold the belief that playing the villain is a little more fun than playing the hero.
For sure. Hugh Grant and so many other actors would probably agree.
But with all of that being said, I definitely think that for the character, it was time to switch, and it provided a really good arc for the following two seasons. And I will say that I love getting to work with Gianni [Decenz], and I love the relationship that Demetri and Hawk have, and the whole binary-brothers relationship. So, it was really fun to get back into that.
I was not happy about Hawk’s, uh, involuntary haircut. That’s such a symbolic thing to take away from him. How did that hit you when you found out?
Yeah, you know, the writers had talked about that since — I wanna say Season 1. It was something that was at least joked about, cutting off Hawk’s mohawk. So it was always something that I knew about, and when they talked to me about it in Season 3, they were like, “Yeah, in Season 5, we’re gonna cut it, it’ll be this whole arc.” And I was like, “Oh yeah, that’d be sweet.” And then when Season 4 came around, they were like, “Actually, we’re gonna do it this year.” And I was like, “Oh no, wait, wait. You said Season 5! Dude, wait, I’m ill-prepared for this.”
It’s so damn sad to see him with those little tufts of purple on his head!
I was nervous. I had a mohawk, and I’ve had a buzz cut once before in my life. But all-in-all, it was really fun. I never really had to do something that dramatic, physically for a character. It made it easier to go back into the Eli mindset because I, in the beginning, did feel uncomfortable in a buzz cut. And it was also weird because everyone on the set knew that I’d got pinned down and my head buzzed. They were making jokes about it, and I was like, “I feel sad for this kid and for myself, almost, because I had this weird haircut.” It was definitely a big change that I was not ready for but ended up being something that I look back on, and I’m like, “That was actually a fun little thing I got to do for this character.” I got to push myself and moved out of my comfort zone in acting.
Well, I think the element of surprise probably helped you with the role.
Yeah, I definitely was very surprised when they told me.
Now, when you had the mohawk and you’ve got the huge back tattoo, how intense was the makeup job for that stuff?
So, when I had everything — the nine-inch tall mohawk, the back tat, the chest tat — I think in total, I did about two hours in hair and makeup. So I got to get called in bright and early. That was a big adjustment for me, personally. Before I did this show, I’d maybe spend 15 minutes in hair and makeup. With hair, they never really did anything to me, and with makeup, they’d just throw on some foundation in there and call it a day, but when I got all of that stuff, I’d have to come in so early, and I’d be sitting in the chair for so long, I actually had to focus. ‘Cause I’m bad at sitting still for too long. It’s something that I’ve never been super good at, so I actually had to practice being good in the chair and not moving around too much when they’re trying to do the mohawk and put this giant back tat on me, so that was definitely a challenge for me.
And onto the physical part of this role, I’ve heard that you guys actually do about 90% of the actual stuntwork.
That’s true. We do pretty much everything. Usually, there are one or two very technical things that they don’t have time to teach us that a stunt double will do.
Does the bruising ever end? I imagine you’ve gotten some gnarly ones.
You definitely get bruised, that’s for sure. I’ve never gotten hurt or injured on set. They do a really great job, our stunt coordinators, of making sure that we’re safe. In Season 4, there’s definitely a few times where I accidentally punched Tanner [Buchanan], or he accidentally punched me, but honestly that’s because one of us forgot our choreography, not the other way around. I will say that because my arms are so bony and sharp, I know I gave Tanner a couple of bruises while blocking some of his punches. Because when you block, you do it with the blade of your forearm, and I forget not to do that super hard.
And then Hawk ends up winning at the All Valley Tournament in the male division. Did that feel like it happened at the right time?
Yeah, when they had first told me that my head gets buzzed, they’re like, “You’ll have a super cool arc in this series from that.” And going into this season, all of the cast had talked about and placed bets on who would win the tournament, either Robby or Miguel. I heard that, and I thought, “I know I’m not going to win the tournament, but it’s really cool that I get to have an interesting arc this season.” That in itself was enough for me in a season. I’m glad that I get to have fun, and the writers still trust me enough to give me some stuff to do on the show. Then finding out that I won the tournament, that was such a huge cherry on top because who doesn’t wanna win a tournament? Everyone is so attached to their characters on this show. Everyone’s a little competitive about it. And I’m probably one of the most competitive out of everyone. So me winning was like, “Oh my god.” This could not have gone any better, I feel so amazing. This is me lamenting to the writers, but…
You’re truly at the mercy of the writers.
Oh yeah, it’s definitely a thing, it’s a relationship. They say, “You gotta do this,” and I’m like, “Okay! Maybe you can have extra hot chocolate on set for me, and that’ll be the trade, how about that?”
Can we hear about your work with Smile Train? How did you get involved, beyond the Hawk connection?
Over the pandemic, Smile Train came up to my agent, and they’re the largest cleft-lip charity in the world. With 77 countries, they’ve been involved for over 20 years, and they wanted me to be involved with their ambassador program. And I knew nothing about cleft-lip surgeries or palate surgeries. I knew a little bit from the research that I had done when I first booked the role, but I didn’t really know the emotional and physical stress that it takes on someone. One thing that I didn’t know is that cleft palate and cleft surgery is not just purely cosmetic. After surgery, you have to get different and specific neoplants and go through speech therapy. These are not given all the time. This is something that Smile Train does, the comprehensive care. They provide all of these things afterwards. They don’t just go in and do surgeries. They don’t just fly doctors in, they keep doctors there and empower them to continually do surgeries in that area. And they make sure that people are set up after the surgeries and that they’re taken care of. And that, to me and what I thought, is what’s very different about them from cleft organizations. Smile Train is going above and beyond, and it made me really excited to partner with them.
That partnership must go a long way with those viewers who identify with Hawk, and how he was bullied and then empowered himself.
That was something. I was bullied as a kid, I obviously don’t understand what the effects of having a cleft lip or palate could be, but that’s one thing with Smile Train because I got to meet a lot of people who are cleft-affected, and I got to talk to them and hear their stories. I feel like I’m not just walking around in the dark to play this character, so to speak. I’ve gained just a little bit of knowledge about other people’s experiences, and they’ve been kind enough to share that with me. It’s a really cool community and filled with really good people.
We are about out of time. If you could take Hawk out of Cobra Kai and have him visit another show, where would you want him to go?
Oooooh, another show. I think, hmm, that’s a really good one. Hawk would have been really cool to see his character interacting with some people in Breaking Bad. He could have been Jesse’s crazy cousin who comes in and is like his muscle or something, and that could have been pretty fun.
‘Cobra Kai’s fourth season is currently streaming on Netflix.