Cobra Kai Interview: Ralph Macchio On Bringing Daniel Back & Johnny's New Role

Ralph Macchio in Cobra Kai

Season 1 of YouTube Red's Cobra Kai is now available to stream in its entirety, and the series is receiving mostly positive reviews. The series is not just a testament to the power of pre-existing IP, it also is a surprisingly smart, effective continuation of the story -- or bitter rivalry, really -- that seemingly ended back in 1984, when Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) planted a well-timed crane kick on the face of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Since then, the franchise has spawned a number of sequels and even a remake, but now it has a chance to live on in a different way: as the first major series offering from YouTube Red.

As many know by now, Cobra Kai k takes the story of The Karate Kid and flips the script to a certain degree, telling the story with an emphasis on Johnny Lawrence's perspective, while also getting caught up with Daniel 34 years after their fateful encounter at the All Valley Karate Championship. The result is part comedy, part drama, but without the self-referential humor many people may have been expecting. It all adds up to a series that's much better than expected, which, in this day and age of reboot, remakes, and revivals, is more than you might ask for.

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As far as Macchio is concerned, the show had a lot to live up to. He says he has always been protective of the role of Daniel Larusso, but this project had what he needed to want to sign on. The actor said as much during a recent interview with Screen Rant, which you can read below:

[The interview has been edited for clarity and length.]

William Zabka and Ralph Macchio in Cobra Kai

What was it like stepping back into the Karate Kid franchise, the role of Daniel LaRusso, and adjusting to him being a husband and a father?

It's not always the easiest task, especially something that's been parodied over the years. There was the Funny of Die video that I did, and Billy Zabka directed a music video that he was in, and then there's the 'How I Met Your Mother' of it all. It's not always easy to do, but it's nice to see the initial responses be so positive. 

I've said 'No' for 30 years to almost everybody. I'm very protective of the Karate Kid franchise and even more so the Daniel Larusso character. Everybody and anybody would always have their quick 30-second pitches. 'You should do this character again.' 'What if you have a kid and he's getting beat up and you become Miyagi to your kid.' Everybody has the next great idea.

It was all about who was going to write it, who was going to come in with the smart angle and make the series fresh, relevant, nostalgic, and a high-level entertainment. In this case, John [Hurwitz], Josh [Heald] and Hayden [Schlossberg], really had a fresh angle on how to get back into this world and not try to repeat or remake the Karate Kid. I know they did that once, but I had no interest in doing that. And with Pat Morita having passed -- we did it right the first time, so let's not do that again. Let's figure out a way to pay homage to that and then come up with something fresh. 

I think I was the last guy to come to the party -- not that I had resistance to their idea, I just think that I needed the most time to jump, you know? It just seemed like the timing was right.  They were very well prepared, and we all collaborated together when we brought it out to the various studios and networks and such. It was of high interest in a lot of places, but YouTube Red would not let it go. That's where we landed and we're really excited. It's getting some terrific feedback. 

Was there a challenge in finding the right tone?

The show is exactly what the creators were going for, and I give them a lot of credit because it's not easy. Once they get into the editing room and have to massage this stuff, sometimes you can just cut it one or two beats the wrong way and completely change the tone. The humor lies in large part just with the fact that these guys in their 50s just will not let [their rivalry] go. And as the series goes on, as soon as you think it's going to be okay it only takes one move to light the fire  and they go right back to it. But it's by design that the tone is struck the way it is and it's also a challenge because we want to be funny but we want emotional moments too, and I believe we have those moments later in season 1.

Are we seeing Daniel experiencing some level of dissatisfaction that comes with a certain amount of success and at certain age? 

Without giving too much away to the audience at this point, there is a void in Daniel's life with Mr. Miyagi having passed. I think you get a little flashback and a glimpse of him and his daughter [Samantha] in episode 2. And now she's 16 and not daddy's little girl anymore necessarily and he hasn't training in karate or been involved with it in eight years time. And now Johnny Lawrence suddenly comes back into his life at a point where he's very successful, but he's missing something. Johnny Lawrence throws a wrench into Daniel's world, Cobra Kai throws a wrench into his world, and that steers him further off course.

Ralph Macchio Cobra Kai

What did you think about Cobra Kai landing at YouTube Red? Does it matter to you whether it's on a broadcast network or HBO or a streaming platform like YouTube? 

Listen, I didn't know where it was gonna land. I felt we were going to have interest, and we did. Netflix was in the game for a while and TBS, I believe. And certainly YouTube from the get go. YouTube was unrelenting. I think they saw their shot to have a 'House of Cards' like Netflix had or 'The Handmaid's Tale' that Hulu had. They were looking for that first big breakout series.

I think the great thing about YouTube and YouTube Red is obviously there's not many places that have more eyeballs than YouTube every day. It's as clear of a brand as you can get. If you want to watch something that's where you find it. So it's about getting people to embrace it as a premium content provider. You'll have to dip into your pocket a little bit just like you do with Netflix and Amazon and Hulu. 'Did it matter to me whether we landed at HBO or ABC or YouTube?' I guess on first blush you look at it you want to be with the highest profile provider. This is my baby, Karate Kid is my legacy, so I want it to get the treatment I feel it deserves. At the end of the day, with what YouTube has been doing, people definitely know the show's coming, so if they know its coming, I think they'll find it. 

Next: Cobra Kai Series Premiere Review: The Karate Kid Sequel Series Is Kinda Great

Cobra Kai season 1 is currently streaming on YouTube Red. 

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