The Karate Kid franchise has demonstrated its staying power through four films and a full reboot in 2010. Now, eight years later (and 34 years since the original film), both William Zabka (who played Johnny Lawrence) and Ralph Macchio (Daniel LaRusso) are returning to show fans how their character’s lives were impacted by the original’s iconic final fight in Cobra Kai, a YouTube Red original series that debuts today.
Despite the heavy nostalgia-fueled interest in the show, however, Cobra Kai isn’t hollow fan service. While there are callbacks and Easter eggs, there’s also a clear desire to show some growth for the former Karate Kid as he once again clashes with Lawrence, who is, himself, far removed from being the Golden Boy that he had been prior to Danielle’s punishing crane kick.
Earlier this week, we spoke with Macchio about the dimensions on display in Cobra Kai, being protective about the character and franchise, being replaced by Hilary Swank, and why the time (and story) was right for a return.
I want to go back through franchise history a little bit. What happened when they made The Next Karate Kid with Hilary Swank in 1994? Was there any interest in you doing another film or did you just not want to have anything to do with it?
I think about that, occasionally. I mean, this was a while ago. This is all so interesting, to reopen the cobwebs of 30 years ago, 25 years ago. I heard they were making the movie. There was a section of time, for no specific reason, where Pat Morita and I were probably not [in] as much contact. It had nothing to do with anything … all I have for Pat Morita is the utmost love and respect. For our entire relationship, always, there was never a hiccup. But as years go by, not every year as much. And so, I wonder if the truth lies here… if this came across the agent’s desk at one point, but usually, that always comes to me. I know John G. Avildsen didn’t make the movie, I know Robert Mark Kamen did not write the movie. So the original creators weren’t involved, and I think it was just… my assumption was [there was] an idea from the studio to continue on, and they got Pat to sign on with that idea. And I had heard they were making it, and probably almost dealt with it the first time I heard about it.
It was kind of odd for me. I never really had a conversation with Pat about it afterwards. Again, for no apparent reason. It wasn’t like they came to me and [I] said, “Oh no, I’ll never do another one of these.” None of that happened. I think it was probably a decision by the studio and producer at that point, “Hey, let’s take this in this direction, let’s find another way to go.” But I have run into Hilary Swank once or twice and we have had an internal smile about it all.