Whoever said what’s past is past? More than 30 years after playing the underdog hero Daniel LaRusso in 1984’s “The Karate Kid,” Ralph Macchio reprised the role for the YouTube series “Cobra Kai.” Set in the present day, the series finds a middle-aged LaRusso now running a successful car dealership, while his one-time rival, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka, also reprising his role), wallows in beer and self-pity. The series cleverly turns the tables on its two characters: This time Lawrence is the scrappy upstart while LaRusso is the cocky top dog.
“Cobra Kai” ran for two seasons on YouTube and became a surprise hit, praised for its smart writing and earning two Emmy nominations for stunt work. Now the series is moving to Netflix, the mega-popular streaming platform, where its reach seems sure to expand.
Season three won’t premiere until 2021, but the previous seasons arrive on Netflix Aug. 28. Macchio, 58, who was born in Huntington and raised in Dix Hills, recently spoke to Newsday's Rafer Guzman by phone from his Long Island home about the show that breathed new life into his best-known role. “The ‘Karate Kid’ franchise has arguably caught lightning in a bottle twice,” Macchio said, “once with the original film and now again with ‘Cobra Kai.’”
How are you spending your days during this crazy time?
It's been a lot of forced family time, but it's awesome. My son was working in Manhattan, so that's changed. He's now out here — we have two places on the Island, so whichever has the better Wi-Fi. And my daughter, Julia, is here as well. My wife works at Mather Hospital [in Port Jefferson]. She's a nurse practitioner, so she's been in the thick of it. I've been the designated grocery shopper. And I'm turning into a pretty decent chef? I'd put a question mark at the end of that. Day at a time, man, day at a time.
But you managed to complete season three of “Cobra Kai” before everything got put on hold.
“Cobra Kai” was done right before Thanksgiving, and then we had a little more shooting after. So by the first week of December, it was done, production-wise, and it was edited and in the can right when the pandemic was really starting to affect us. We're really super-excited with getting this out there on this kind of platform globally. Hopefully Netflix will enable us to have the longevity for this show that we feel it deserves.
Without spoiling anything, can you tell us what to expect in season three?
I can't, really, by gag order of the network! [Laughs] I can say this much: The scope of it is bigger and goes deeper than previously. It is a big, fan-service-y, fist-pumping season. What happens — story points, plot points, who's in it, who may guest-star, who doesn't — I'm not allowed at this point. And I'm excited for the world to see season one and two. It's kind of like we had this great out-of-town run, and now we're going to open on Broadway on Friday the 28th.
When you signed up for “Cobra Kai,” were you expecting it to be such a success?
It exceeded expectations. You know, everything has to work. It's got to be the right time, it's got to be the right climate, meaning the audience has to be looking for something like this. One thing to add is that the low expectations going in — the low expectations by the press, the low expectations by the fan base — did not hurt us. They were like, “Oh, this is going to be terrible. This is the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Just another ‘80s reboot, just another cash-grab.” And then, all of a sudden, we delivered a product that was credible and smart and relevant and nostalgic.
I think fans really enjoyed seeing Mr. Miyagi's dojo in Season Two. How was it for you, walking back in there?
It was one of the most poignant moments for me: Ralph being on the set 35 years later! It was more emotional than I expected. The first scene I shot there was with Tanner [Buchanan], who plays Robbie, who's Johnny Lawrence’s son, and I'm training him. And when I was doing those scenes — painting the fence or sanding the floor or waxing the cars — there was such a nostalgic, bittersweet feeling. And then on top of that, all of a sudden it wasn't just about those moments. It was about: “Oh my God, I'm like Mr. Miyagi [the character played by the late Pat Morita in the original movies]. Now I'm the old guy.”