The last time we talked to Ralph Macchio, Cobra Kai was making the move to Netflix, where The Karate Kid sequel series’ audience reached stratospheric heights. Most recently, the fifth season proved that the show still has the “Eye of the Tiger” and boasts an ensemble cast with endless appeal and a carefully parceled-out sense of nostalgia. Watching Daniel LaRusso clash and come together with William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence is a sight that never grows old, decades after the first film motivated audiences to do that crane kick. Creators Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald, and Hayden Schlossberg sense precisely how to interweave the younger players into a revolving cast of O.G. characters with a final product that I’ve called infuriatingly good because it’s like karate-crack candy.
At the center of it all, Ralph Macchio knows that he held out for the right pitch. He covers that subject and much more in his new memoir, duly titled Waxing On, in which he divulges a wide range of revelations about his beloved franchise. This includes his response to how the crane kick has been endlessly obsessed over and even reframed as a villain origin story by some mischievous parties on the Internet. Macchio also not only pays much tribute to Mr. Miyagi himself, Pat Morita, but discusses how reteaming with cast members has left him with gratitude. And Macchio “waxes on” about how he’s played plenty of characters, but LaRusso will live on forever (he’s “Still the Best”).
Ralph was gracious enough to sit down with us to hash out his book and reflect upon the finer flourishes of Cobra Kai‘s latest season.
The last episodes of this Cobra Kai season were a fan’s dream. One particular quote that I love is this: “The roots are strong, so the tree will survive.”
Yeah, those are the themes. The one thing that I will say about the guys who created Cobra Kai: they care so much about the original Karate Kid films and the whole Miyagi element, and from day one, I said, “I need to have that woven throughout this show if I’m going to jump in and give this a whirl.” This is before I knew that it would be #1 in 83 countries. It’s 100% on Rotten Tomatoes still; it’s really incredible, but they care and love the source material and the origin of those films and carrying that legacy forward. That is what makes Cobra Kai so delicious in a way, even though it’s got its own tone and almost being superhero-like at times. It’s still grounded in those ways, that’s a nice moment for Daniel LaRusso in Season 5 to sort-of be that underdog protagonist that we’re all rooting for like we did in 1984.
Let’s talk about the “Eye of the Tiger” scene. It was almost the song at the end of the first movie, correct?
“Eye of the Tiger,” I think was intended for Rocky. “You’re The Best Around,” which is the Karate Kid montage song that is part of pop culture and initially a throwaway for Rocky III, but it didn’t make it into the movie, and “Eye of the Tiger” was Rocky IV, I think. I knew that this season they were paying homage to Rocky IV with some of the stuff for William Zabka’s character… so it was all leading up to “Eye of the Tiger,” was it III or IV? I get blurry. Maybe “Eye of the Tiger” was Rocky III.
Wellllll, I think about that song a lot lately, and Spotify says it’s Rocky IV.
Right, so it’s one of those sequels, so the parallels of Rocky and the later sequels were part of Season 5, and the guys who write this show have a very keen eye on all that stuff, so we had such a great scene in Season 1 with William and myself singing REO Speedwagon in the car together. It just shows that these guys could listen to the same song even though they didn’t get along. It was a really special moment, so this was the drunken callback of singing a song from an era and bringing Johnny Lawrence and Chozen Toguchi, and then there was Mike Barnes. All three of those Daniel LaRusso nemeses are together and fighting for the same cause.
And then Chozen whipped out some daggers out of nowhere!
It’s become this heightened piece of entertainment. I call it comfort food. Cobra Kai is like the best burger you had as a kid, and you can taste it again.
Chozen, Daniel, and Johnny rocking out to Eye of the Tiger is yet another blessing Cobra Kai gifted us with in Season 5 pic.twitter.com/6LLgkKbV0K
— Netflix (@netflix) September 18, 2022
Speaking of Stallone-related material: in your book, you talk about some of the pitches that people have tossed out over the years, and there was one about Rocky Balboa and Daniel LaRusso getting together as a crossover.
Right, they both have kids who are screwed up, and they meet somewhere between Philly and Newark.
Was that the worst pitch you heard, or are there more ridiculous ones?
The reason I mentioned that one is because it came from legitimate writers, and it was also someone from the studio at the table, so everyone was willing it to make sense, but then everyone realized, “That’s kind-of crazy.” The reason I love that example is that today, you have Batman and Superman dancing the tango. You can do anything with multiverses and Spider-verses, so it was almost ahead of its time, even though it didn’t make sense at the moment. You know, I heard a lot of “Miyagi comes back as a ghost and guides me,” most of the pitches were about, “Hey, you have a kid in trouble and you get to be the Miyagi to your own kid.” I heard that pitch about 30 times. That’s not really a movie, and it’s basic. You need a little bit more than that, so in the book, I write about it being more about the fans wanting to see these characters and less about trying to come up with the next big idea. Now and decades later, they are seeing more of these characters, and it’s quite extraordinary.
If you did wanna do a crossover, you’ve got history in Tulsa for The Outsiders, and Stallone’s been in Tulsa lately for Tulsa King….
[Laughs] Right, yeah, okay. I’ll think about that!
One thing that seemed to weigh heavily on you in the book is the way The Karate Kid Part II wrote out Elisabeth Shue’s character, and Cobra Kai did well by her. Do you feel better about the situation now?
Yeah, 100%. And you know, I didn’t realize it (as I wrote in the book) at the time. It was not on my radar as much as I think it would be today. I think I was swept up in it all, and everything was going on with working, and when I saw the scene, it seemed thrown away, but the whole story in the second movie was going to Okinawa, and there was a sweet love story overseas with Kumiko, so I never saw it from the perspective that I would have later as you get a little wiser and conscientious about others. So it’s really a nice story that the Cobra Kai guys were able to write. They found a connection to bring that together and credit Elisabeth Shue for coming onto the show and allowing us to sew up what that was. And I think a lot of fans loved it, it was like a gift to the fanbase.
She’s been doing great, though, with an Oscar nomination, and she’s been very well-received on The Boys, too.
Yes, yes. For sure.
You address another controversy: the Will Smith-produced Jaden Smith reboot. You talked about the paparazzi twisting your words and about Will’s phone call to you. That reboot’s not part of the Miyagiverse, so does that help, looking back?
I thought that movie was an interesting example of how you can tell the same story but make a totally different movie. I think it was a well-crafted 2010 version, and it’s always odd to hear that they’re remaking your stuff. One, it makes you feel like you’re not as young as you thought you were because they’re remaking your stuff already. Two, it was at a point (when I heard about the remake) I felt like everything was being remade. I was starved for original content, and they wrote, “Macchio Slams Remake,” and I got the phone call the next day and talked to Jaden on the phone.
That was a bittersweet moment for you.
It was also, “Do you want to be involved? Do you want any part in this?” And I did not because I didn’t know what the script was and what they were doing. It was a “thank you, no thank you, and I hope it’s awesome.” It ended up only enhancing the original, sending people back. Movies are defined over time, and the original Karate Kid, those lines are part of the American lexicon these days. I don’t know if that’s the case with the remake, but I always knew it was a separate entity. Nowadays, they can make everybody know everybody, but so far, it’s Cobra Kai, and we stayed true to Miyagi, and that’s the world of canon for the Cobra Kai series going forward.
Now, I have to bring up the crane kick, which you have talked about more than you probably wanna talk about anything in life.
But Daniel uses the kick in the Season 5 finale, and that’s a full-circle moment. We have not heard about Season 6 yet, and no one wants it to end, but it could logically end there, right? Any more threads you want resolved in the future?
Well, I think that even though we don’t have Season 6 yet, we’re feeling pretty confident. There’s talk, but there’s no official word, so we keep on hoping that people are watching the show. They’ve set up the international element of it, they’ve set up the master Kim in Korea. They set up Kreese, and they also set up that everything’s going back to normal and they’ve finally succeeded. But in a soap opera, as Cobra Kai is a karate soap opera, when one door closes, there’s always more that will open. There’s certainly room for that, and bringing it in for a proper landing whenever that is, whether it’s Season 6 or 7, we don’t wanna overstay our welcome, but we want it to feel right, so hopefully, we have that opportunity.
Netflix has pulled back on announcing things right away lately.
Hopefully, that will change.
What was it like to film Daniel against Terry Silver again, especially when Daniel’s style is very different than Terry’s way of fighting?
They didn’t tell me at the beginning of Season 5 that we’re pulling out the crane kick. I just read it in the script, and at this point, I trust (for the most part) all of their choices about what times to bring out certain things out. I think Cobra Kai has lasted to this point and beyond because these guys don’t front-load everything. They really carefully roadmap the storyline and all the different relationships. So, it felt like time because of the biggest villain. Kreese is always the original villain, but Terry Silver is a true Bond villain, if you will.
Cackling and dumping toxic waste and such.
And he’s 6’5″ and I wish I had a shorter villain! At my age, it’s a little tougher to get that kick all the way up there. It was fun to call back, and what I like about that scene is this: there’s two scenes when LaRusso gets his tail whipped in Episode 5 in a really big fight, and when he’s aggressive and unhinged, and in this fight, he’s very grounded and has the spirit of Miyagi in his body and his mind and his heart. And that’s what brings it to the conclusion that we get to. It’s a nice cherry on top, albeit tougher on the hamstrings and the lower back, I promise you.
The crane kick is one of those things that shouldn’t work but it does. With Miyagi-do, karate is for defense only, but with the crane kick, it’s more cinematic and not defensive, but somehow it prevails.
Exactly! It works because of the themes of pop culture. It’s cinematic, and it’s kind-of beautiful and balletic, and you want it to work. And I think that wish fulfillment gives it a little air and lift, if you will.
Now, I revisited that David Letterman interview that you discuss in your book, and you let us know about a moment that we didn’t see when the camera panned away after he pelted you with age jokes, and you said you were “due back at the museum.”
Yeah, I mean, it was Letterman. You hear all these things about Letterman. He’s the master, but it’s damn cold in that studio. Sometimes he can be cutting and sarcastic and chop your legs off, so you have all these things going in, and then when he started in on how young I look for my age, you know, I didn’t know quite how to handle it except to be a little sarcastic myself. And it got a bigger reaction that I expected. I just reached for something in my pocket and threw it out there, and he just sort-of pushed back from his chair and put his hands up in surrender, and then, the rest of the interview was all relaxed and easy. It’s ironic because just because I just did Jimmy Kimmel two weeks ago, and the first question: “Do you mind if I ask how old you are? And why you don’t look like you should.” It was almost 30 years ago to the month, I have Letterman on one end and Kimmel on the other. I guess when you’re 30 or 60, the fact that you’re still telling the same story and looking a little too young is maybe not the worst thing in the world? As weird as it is.
It’s a good problem to have.
I guess so!
You’ve praised many young Cobra Kai actors like Jacob Bertrand who does a fine job as Hawk, but if you could see any of them in a spinoff, who would you think is qualified to carry one?
Oh my god, that’s tough. I gotta back myself of the corner of the room with that question. You know what, they’re all great kids, I know that’s a lame answer. It also matters what tone you’re looking for. If it’s a great comedic tone, there’s Dimetri and Hawk and their relationship, and Mary had really strong dramatic moments. Some of my favorite moments are their grounded relationship scene. So are you gonna be making a Parenthood version or a single-camera, 30-minute version? With Robby, one of my favorite moments, was Episode 6 when Daniel talked about failing all the kids, and Robby says, “You didn’t fail me.” I get a lump in my throat. When Johnny Lawrence’s kid is telling Daniel LaRusso that I was a good mentor to him during that time, that’s what’s great about this show. So I’m deflecting, all these kids can do it, I just hope they give me a cameo now and again.
If you could take Daniel and give him a break from karate and put him in a show that’s running right now, where would you want him to go?
Oh god, I would have normally say Ozark because I miss it already, but I don’t know what he would do in Ozark, I just love that show. Yeah, that’s a great question. I would put love to put him in something behavioral where he doesn’t have to fight, but the stakes are always high, but it’s grounded and not such a heightened reality, which I love with Cobra Kai, but it would be refreshing to see him in a gritty, day-to-day drama with a little peppered humor.
Ozark would work. Daniel letting Marty know that he’s screwing up.
You know what, I’ll say Curb Your Enthusiasm. They take a trip to New York, and we do it there. Or New Jersey.
With Rocky Balboa.
Netflix’s ‘Cobra Kai’ is currently streaming Seasons 1-5.