Home / World News / Opinion | In ‘Cobra Kai,’ What if the ‘Karate Kid’ Isn’t the Hero?

Opinion | In ‘Cobra Kai,’ What if the ‘Karate Kid’ Isn’t the Hero?

[THEME MUSIC] (SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

kara swisher

I’m Kara Swisher, and you’re listening to “Sway.” I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately. And one show I can’t stop binging is “The Karate Kid” reboot, “Cobra Kai.”

archived recording

Are you sure you’re ready? Because once you go down this path, there’s no turning back.

kara swisher

I got hooked on it last year, as did millions of households when the show moved from YouTube to Netflix.

archived recording

And when the time is right, you’ll strike back.

kara swisher

It’s nostalgic, but it’s also surprising. In it, Ralph Macchio is back, playing the role of the Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso. And his rival, Johnny Lawrence of the infamous Cobra Kai dojo, is once again played by William AKA Billy Zabka. But unlike the original films, we get to see things from Johnny’s point of view. And Daniel LaRusso? There’s another side of him, too. The bully gets bullied, and the nice guy is sometimes the villain. The line between evil and good is really blurry now. As I’m watching “Cobra Kai,” I kept asking myself, did I not see the real story before? Or maybe I’ve just gained more insight with age. I couldn’t figure out which one it was, so I had no choice but to call the OG Karate Kid himself, Ralph Macchio. OK, fine. I just wanted an excuse to talk to him.

I’m so excited to do this. I love the series. I think it’s wonderful. And obviously, I love the original movies. Were you surprised that it reemerged this way?

ralph macchio

This is a lame response, which is yes and no. The reason I say that, I am not surprised because I’ve walked in these shoes for 30 something years, 36 years, maybe more than that now. I haven’t done the recent math. But it has never gone away for me certainly, being so well associated to that character. And no matter where I am in the world or on the planet, there is an affinity for that character and that film.

I always believed if you brought them to the well, they would drink the water, you know? It’s become such a big part of pop culture. So the kids today are backing themselves into the movie franchise through the show.

kara swisher

Yeah, they are. My kids were like, does this come from a movie? And I was like, yeah.

ralph macchio

Right. So a great amount of credit goes to Jon, Josh, and Hayden, our creators, who sort of came into — this is the guys who wrote “The Hot Tub Time Machine” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”

kara swisher

Mm-hmm, right. I heard that a lot of people sent you scripts to follow up on the “Karate Kid” story. You said no to most of them, correct?

ralph macchio

Right, they were pitches. I mean, some of them were the elevator pitch. Travolta just got — look what happened with “Pulp Fiction” to him. You should go back and do the David Lynch version of Daniel LaRusso. So I was like, OK, what is that?

kara swisher

That’s frightening.

ralph macchio

Exactly.

kara swisher

Yeah.

ralph macchio

Exactly. Or my favorite, which was pitched to John Avildsen, the director of “The Karate Kid” film. Someone said, “You know, I’ve always thought, what if Rocky Balboa had a kid, and Daniel LaRusso had a kid, and they met between Philadelphia and Newark and started this whole” and it’s kind of like, your reaction is exactly ours.

kara swisher

Wow.

ralph macchio

And we all just laughed, and that will never work.

kara swisher

How did you feel when you were hearing these, like yourself?

ralph macchio

I guess, I was at that place — this was probably mid late ‘90s, when things had really — outside of “My Cousin Vinny” at that time, they were starting to slow down for me. I was probably more, OK, things have gotten a little tougher, thinner, leaner. I need to try to shift into a different direction as opposed to, O.K. let’s go do that again.

kara swisher

Yeah, yeah. And a lot of actors do shift into that or live in those roles. How difficult is that to break out of a role when you’re an actor with such an iconic character?

ralph macchio

Yeah, it’s challenging certainly. And you’re definitely swimming upstream. The current is strong. Listen, there is a — call it fairy dust, call it whatever it is that’s sprinkled upon this “Karate Kid” universe that it is blessed in some way. And I allude to this story when William Zabka for the first time and I stepped on the stage together. We hadn’t been on camera together since 1980 whatever. And for the most part, any time we’re on screen together, he was kicking my ass, and I was taking a beating. There wasn’t a lot of sitting down at the coffee shop, having a conversation. And we instantly had this chemistry. This life had gone by — a little more wrinkles, a little less hair, but there was a sort of magic between us that I don’t even think we had back in the day. And I think some of that had to do with sharing a unique connection of being connected to this movie, this entity, that we all share from a different perspective. That is something that doesn’t happen very often.

kara swisher

No, you have a really amazing rapport you almost didn’t even have in the movie.

ralph macchio

Right, not at all.

kara swisher

And how old were you both then?

ralph macchio

21 for me. I turned 22, making — yeah, my birthday was on when I was shooting “Karate Kid.” And he was 18.

kara swisher

Right. So it first launched YouTube in 2018, and then it was acquired by Netflix. And you and he are both executive producers. What did you think when they came to you with the YouTube prospect?

ralph macchio

The project came to me — Jon, Josh, and Hayden came to me. I was the last one to the party because I was the most — I guess I was the most resistant. And listen, they were pitching a show called “Cobra Kai” that came in through the eyes of Johnny Lawrence. They probably said, OK, how are we going to sell him on this? They got Billy on board, and then they came in to pitch it to me. It took a couple of rounds, but I just felt now’s the time. So then we put it all together, and the deals got done, and everyone’s target was Netflix. And when the pitches came in — Sony put them together — it was Amazon, it was Hulu, it was HBO, even though they were never going to buy this show. It was cool they wanted to hear it. And then there was Facebook, which was just starting to look at originals, believe it or not.

kara swisher

Oh, that’s right, Facebook. Who did you meet with there? Did you go —

ralph macchio

We met with Mina Lefevre. And we literally, when we walked into her office, it was just boxes. She said, I got here Tuesday. This is the first thing I’m hearing.

kara swisher

Yeah. [LAUGHS] I forgot about Facebook originals, yeah.

ralph macchio

Yeah, and it was kind of fun. But our first pitch was YouTube, and it was put there kind of as our warm-up. And it was a well-orchestrated pitch. We rehearsed it. It had a visual sizzle reel, and Billy and I would interject in between. As the guys were talking through the pilot, we would add a line here —

kara swisher

So it was the two of you, you and Billy and —

ralph macchio

Me, Billy, and the three creators.

kara swisher

Three creators, yeah.

ralph macchio

And Susanne Daniels took over for YouTube Originals and YouTube Red at the time, which then changed to YouTube Premium. Her model, she was there to compete with Netflix. And they had the advertising budgets and —

kara swisher

And Google has a lot of money, apparently.

ralph macchio

Google has a lot of money, not that they gave it to YouTube.

kara swisher

Yeah.

ralph macchio

Yeah, so the pitch went incredible, to the point that Susanne and company were basically pitching us why we have to be there. The only thing they didn’t do is hold on to our ankles as we were walking out. Because what she saw there is this is the tent pole, this is the one I need —

kara swisher

Which they need. Which all these streaming services need.

ralph macchio

Yeah, you need that one. The “House of Cards” for Netflix, if you will, right? We pitched at Netflix finally. That went great as well, and Ted Sarandos was in the room for the first half of it, but had to jump out to a meeting, so we were important.

kara swisher

The top people. No, Ted now is running Netflix, for people who don’t know.

ralph macchio

Yes, right. So, anyway, to bring this in for a landing, at the end of the day during the pitch, YouTube just said here, make them. And Netflix wanted to, at that point, develop. They wanted to see something. YouTube did not see a written word.

kara swisher

Just, let’s go for it. Let’s go for it.

ralph macchio

Yeah, and the low expectations, once we did our upfronts or whatever it was, Billy and I appeared with Susanne, saying, “It’s going to be the rivalry of the ages.” And then, you start hearing, “Oh my God, I love this idea. It’s going to be the worst. It’s going to be like a bad cavity that I can’t enjoy the pain, but I hate it at the same time. It’s going to be terrible.” And those low expectations did not hurt us.

kara swisher

Thank goodness you didn’t go to Quibi.

ralph macchio

I know. It’s funny you mention, because I was at a dinner with a friend, and someone was working for Peacock, getting that started. And —

kara swisher

Yeah, that’s NBC’s.

ralph macchio

—when he heard about “Cobra Kai” and it was the first time I sort of let out information that it might not be going back to YouTube, his thing was like, well, you should go to Quibi. It’s perfect. I said, no, this is like a global — and he shall remain nameless.

kara swisher

So, Netflix. So how did it get over? So you were doing two seasons —

ralph macchio

Yeah, we did two seasons. It did very well on YouTube. The fun part of YouTube was you could watch the numbers. Like, the show launches, and you’re watching 2 million, 2.5 million, because you’re watching those views. The downside is teaching people how to get YouTube Premium and not have to hook up your computer to a toaster and make sure the kitchen light is on. Otherwise, it won’t come through. It felt almost like that. It was like a hamster on a conveyor belt. Then, let’s get it going. And certain people of certain ages had no idea how to even get it.

kara swisher

Right, and the target audience might not, right?

ralph macchio

Yes, and that was a problem. So the concept was, wow, could you imagine if this was on a platform that was easier to reach for the right demographic? And then, when we got to season — we finished shooting season three, which you saw —

kara swisher

For YouTube.

ralph macchio

For YouTube, oh, yes. And I was feeling this writing on the wall, shooting season three. It just got very quiet from YouTube. It just was — there was a disconnect. It felt like there was something going on. So when I got the call a couple of weeks after I got back from Okinawa — because we got to shoot a few scenes there, I was really proud of that — Susanne called basically as close to as an executive can be in tears, saying — I’m paraphrasing because I was not on the call, but it’s almost that embarrassing call of saying any other place, this would be picked up, but we’re not going to continue with the show.

kara swisher

Yeah, one of the issues is Google itself was not as committed.

ralph macchio

No, not at all. We felt that from day one. And so, I have nothing but great things to say about Susanne, and certainly Google and YouTube for saying go make it. And they can make a lot more watching Will Smith jump out of a helicopter on his 50th birthday. Then they can’t make sense out of that, it seems. So then it was like we were homeless. But what we all did is we said the same thing at the same time — the creators and certainly Billy and I felt the same way — please don’t put season three out. Let us have that. Let us figure out a way. And then a pandemic drops. The good news is we had 10 episodes of content, anticipated, maybe even highly anticipated content you can argue, in our back pocket. And we did plenty of Zoom calls. And we spoke of the “Karate Kid” universe, not just “Cobra Kai” alone. My part of it was saying, OK, I’ve walked in these shoes in every corner of the world and in every language. And it’s that same —

kara swisher

” Everybody knows it.

ralph macchio

And they know it.

kara swisher

Yeah, because Netflix is a global company in a way other streaming services are not.

ralph macchio

Big time. I mean, that’s a lot of what they wanted to talk about.

kara swisher

Right. Were you surprised how popular quickly — because it suddenly came to my attention, to a lot of people’s attention, once it was on Netflix. It made a big difference.

ralph macchio

Yes, it’s unbelievable. It was just insane. It just blew up instantly. It was end of August.

kara swisher

Because of the pandemic, people have time to watch it, too.

ralph macchio

Yes, that’s certainly — I think maybe in this time in the world, a big, fat, nostalgic embrace that is kind of a comfort food, like the best cheeseburger you had at 12 years old that they no longer make, but somehow, you get to taste it again. People are looking for that warm and fuzzy when we’re not dealing with warm and fuzzy when we step out of the house.

kara swisher

Let me ask you. I’m going to push back a little bit on the comfort food. I think it’s a very dark show and interesting and complex, much more so —

ralph macchio

Well, yes.

kara swisher

— It could have been super cheesy. You could easily have slid by on the ‘80s elements of “Cobra Kai,” like, oh, look at the clothes. And then, what you do in the show, which for those who haven’t watched “The Karate Kid,” is there’s so many references that you just flip off quickly. You don’t even take a minute. You do them, and you do them over and over again, which is even funnier. You know what I mean? Like, wax on, wax off, or the one with the spaghetti and the white coat.

ralph macchio

Oh, yeah, the white jacket. What, you think I want that on?

kara swisher

Yeah, you call so much attention to it, you can’t miss it even. Some of your sets are kind of cheesy a little bit. It’s nothing as fancy.

ralph macchio

That budget life —

kara swisher

I get that, but I like it. It works.

ralph macchio

It does. I’ve heard that a few times.

kara swisher

Like, you have one box of cereal versus —

ralph macchio

Yes.

kara swisher

But it works. It works for some reason. So there’s a lot of cheesy moments that make fun of the original movie, and the tropes of that era, and things like that. But it actually isn’t a spoof. And that’s where I think a lot of these ‘80s things go wrong, is that it makes fun of what people loved in the first place. That’s one. And the second one is that it’s about bullying. And we were in a bullying era. You know what I mean? And I know it sounds crazy to make the link between that and what happened at the Capitol, but those people who were running mad at the Capitol reminds you of the “Cobra Kai” people. You know what I mean?

ralph macchio

Yeah, 100%.

kara swisher

It’s really interesting. And it definitely goes into darker places in that you yourself, who’s supposed to be the good guy, and Billy, who is supposed to be the bad guy — it’s complex. You’re not so good.

ralph macchio

Very much so.

kara swisher

And he’s wonderful, by the way, as an actor.

ralph macchio

Right, he’s so fantastic. Listen, if he doesn’t deliver that performance, they could write it as brilliantly as you want, the show does not continue. And it’s the most collaborative art form in the world. But Billy’s work is so wonderful and complex and nuanced. “The Karate Kid” is clearly a black-and-white piece of storytelling. My good over evil and all that stuff. I mean, and Miyagi good, Kreese bad. “Cobra Kai” dives into those gray areas, where your allegiance episode to episode can change. And now, at this point of season three, we now both recognize the good and bad in both these guys and are rooting for both, with their two separate types of shortcomings and problems and demons. And that’s a big credit to our writers and creators in seeing the show. And “bullying” was the first word out of Hayden Schlossberg’s mouth. And he said this theme is going to resonate throughout this concept, just like it resonated throughout the concept of “The Karate Kid,” although it will be different in how it’s changed over time. It’s not, give me your lunch money, I’m going to stuff you in a locker. Technology has changed the game entirely. And bullying, being able to rally the troops, you mentioned the situation in Washington, on how the internet can reach the world in a nanosecond, and with whatever messaging you choose to put out there, if someone’s listening, you can stir up a case.

kara swisher

And also, what you were talking about is Johnny’s character is bullied. You start to see the back stories that is a little more complex of each, including your character, who is a bully in part of it. You make some very questionable choices, and there’s a lot of gray areas in your character, for example.

ralph macchio

Right, I think for LaRusso, he was always — and this was a give and take, a little bit of a struggle early on with the writers on trying to find, O.K., how do we believably make him an antagonist at times with good intentions, right?

kara swisher

Well, you’re still living in your victory when you’re an adult. It’s not comical. It’s kind of, not pathetic, but someone who had one great moment.

ralph macchio

Right, exactly. He kicked the field goal that won the Texas high school thing, and he’s a celebrity every time he goes to Dallas or Austin. But LaRusso, the character, was always knee-jerk, act first, think later, a little cocky, even though he had little to back it up. That was sort of my East Coast bravado that I brought to the role. Even the first time I read it for Avildsen, I had a little bit of that cockiness. And so, we just sort of like amplified that. He got successful. I mean, it was written more in a way than I think I would have written it. But I understood from the entertainment value of coming in through the eyes of Johnny Lawrence, how important it was that this guy would haunt him everywhere he turned. We look at when Johnny Lawrence comes to the dealership —

archived recording (anoush)

Wait, is this the karate guy? The guy from the tournament?

archived recording (louie larusso, jr.)

Oh, this is the guy whose ass you kicked.

archived recording (daniel larusso)

It was a really close match, but if you want to get technical, I kicked his face. Just busting your chops.

archived recording (johnny lawrence)

It was an illegal kick.

ralph macchio

What we don’t see in that scene and what we don’t look at in that scene where he says that’s water under the bridge. We don’t hear that. We hear, I kicked his face.

kara swisher

It’s belittling of him. You were belittling him quite a bit. Has playing the new role in this new context changed your understanding of the character?

ralph macchio

I went back and watched season one. Season one certainly is when LaRusso looks most antagonistic because it’s setting up the Johnny Lawrence story and getting —

kara swisher

Yeah, you’re in the meeting, trying to shut him down.

ralph macchio

Yeah, exactly.

archived recording (daniel larusso)

Give me a break.

archived recording (sue)

Daniel, show a little respect.

archived recording (daniel larusso)

Respect? Are you kidding me, Sue? You don’t know the history here. John Kreese and Cobra Kai were the embodiment of everything this tournament stands against. And this guy? Johnny Lawrence? He was his star pupil. He’s the worst of them all. We would be dishonoring the entire sport by reinstating Cobra Kai. Come on.

ralph macchio

When we shot that scene, I never knew visually that they were going to blur out my dialogue and just focus on him and his mind. And it made sense. You had to make a choice who were you following in this scene. But it’s interesting, I look back, and watching the film, the original film, you would see those moments that were the seeds that would breed this kind of quality in this person. Also, Jon, Josh, and Hayden are big fans of “The Karate Kid Part III.” I am not, and it has nothing against the actors involved.

kara swisher

That’s the one that John Kreese’s friend comes, is that right?

ralph macchio

Yes —

kara swisher

I do, too.

ralph macchio

Terry Silver.

kara swisher

Why don’t you love it? Why don’t you like it?

ralph macchio

I just felt for the LaRusso character. He never went forward. It felt like we were redoing the first movie in a cartoon kind of sense without —

kara swisher

Oh, you’re wrong.

ralph macchio

— the heart and soul.

kara swisher

It’s actually good. You go dark. Daniel LaRusso goes dark.

ralph macchio

Yeah, no, that’s the good part. That’s the good part.

kara swisher

Right, and you use it in this new series. You use that with your daughter.

ralph macchio

Yes, very much so. So it’s interesting to me how, when I talk about “The Karate Kid,” I’m always talking about the original film and the second movie, where, in actuality, “Cobra Kai,” the last thing that happened that we know is all the events of “Karate Kid Part III.” So now I’m fully embracing of that. And Jon, Josh, and Hayden —

kara swisher

You have to embrace it.

ralph macchio

Yeah. Oh, yeah, no.

kara swisher

I’m friends with Jennifer Beals, and she first didn’t embrace “Flashdance,” and I forced her. I’m like, you have to understand how important that was to so many people. It’s not about you. It’s not —

ralph macchio

But see, you’re not talking about “Flashdance 3.”

kara swisher

No, you’re right. Fair point.

ralph macchio

So it’s a big difference.

kara swisher

It was a very good movie. You’re wrong.

ralph macchio

Yeah, that’s awesome.

kara swisher

I suspect “Flashdance 3” would not have been a good movie. Maybe “Flashdance 2.” I don’t know. Did they make that? But it’s hard to embrace those characters that are iconic for actors like that. Did you mind doing that? Because you were the hero, and you’re not precisely the hero. You moved aside to let Johnny Lawrence become a hero, too, which was interesting. In the other one, you were the hero. That was it.

ralph macchio

Yeah, no, no one was not rooting for Daniel LaRusso in 1984. You could talk about the illegal kick —

kara swisher

This is the kick at the end, the crane kick.

ralph macchio

Yes, the crane kick.

kara swisher

Which is whether it’s illegal or not.

ralph macchio

Right, and the theories behind it and then how the internet started that conversation, which only makes this movie more relevant. I never looked at it. I mean, certainly, I would battle with the writers at times with — it’s so easy for you guys to write the rich dick line. And I’ll negotiate that out, and I’ll fight. I’ll lose most of them because they —

kara swisher

But what did you want to keep? What did you want to keep?

ralph macchio

He is a good guy and a good father.

kara swisher

Right, good husband.

ralph macchio

And a good husband and tries to follow the knowledge and lessons and wisdom that he gained from his human Yoda, who is no longer there. And always pays respect forward to Miyagi and what he — that was always important to me in this show. And it is woven throughout. Day one, I said I can’t even consider this unless the Miyagi character and the now void in LaRusso’s life is something that is addressed throughout the series, because we’re not here without that performance.

kara swisher

So I want to talk a little bit about the element of politics below the surface. I wonder about Johnny’s political affiliations, about yours. One of the things that was surprising is a lot of comments that he makes are just awful, like calling Miguel an “illegal.” They drop them in all the time. And there is politics in it.

ralph macchio

Oh my god, the absolute joy I get out of watching Johnny Lawrence say everything we’re not supposed to say, it’s very refreshing. It comes up innocent because he is just locked in that time period. I think across the board, people love that. I think there might be some people that would be offended by it. But I don’t see it that way. I see it as —

kara swisher

No, because you paint it as wrong, but he says it anyway.

ralph macchio

Yeah, he says it anyway.

kara swisher

Right, there’s no feeling as if, yeah, good job, buddy, for saying that.

ralph macchio

Yeah, exactly. No, no. But as far as from a political standpoint and connecting that, yeah, listen, I just read something yesterday. It was an article about Trump in the White House, Biden, Cobra Kai, Miyagi-Do, the different — you can draw those sort of parallels in a way. I mean, I think where Johnny Lawrence — people ask us, people ask Billy and I, what would Johnny Lawrence do during the pandemic? Would he wear a mask? Would he vote for Trump? Where does Daniel LaRusso stand this way? We tap dance around those, for the most part. But I think he alluded to the fact that Johnny would rip the mask off and say just fight this with your two hands. Whereas LaRusso would certainly be having everybody washing his hands in Miyagi holy water before he started the kata. But LaRusso probably straddles — he’s probably, I would say —

kara swisher

Because he’s a businessman.

ralph macchio

He’s a businessman.

kara swisher

He likes tax cuts.

ralph macchio

And he knows he’s going to get creamed in taxes. So I think he leans left, but straddles a little closer to the middle.

kara swisher

All right, so one of the other things is a pretty overt exploration of gender roles in “Cobra Kai,” which I think is great. But one of the things is more girls are doing karate. The questions of hypermasculinity are in there, of toxic masculinity, essentially. John Kreese is obviously the walking, talking —

ralph macchio

Right.

kara swisher

By the way, fantastic.

ralph macchio

He does a great job.

kara swisher

Especially his back story is great, too.

ralph macchio

Yeah, I really enjoyed that in season three.

kara swisher

Yeah. How do you look at that idea? Because the girls are quite active in karate in this case. And I’m not talking about “The Next Karate Kid,” that one because I know they were doing that just to show, look, a girl can kick, too. But do they think about that a lot? Or do you think about that? Because you’re training your daughter in this case.

ralph macchio

Yes, we’ve always spoken about that and trying to shine a light on the — that’s why LaRusso had a daughter, and it was important that she remembers Miyagi, and it’s part of her upbringing. And I think that’s important, that sort of empowerment. And there is a lot of, you know, I’ve gotten a handful of questions with the toxic masculinity, with, does it shine a light on that kind of violence?

kara swisher

Because it’s quite violent. The show is —

ralph macchio

Yeah, and it is quite violent, more violent than I was expecting.

kara swisher

Me, too.

ralph macchio

And I think that some of it, I feel — I think there might be a little bit of a shift not away from it, but a little bit more — less felonies with no consequences.

kara swisher

Yeah, I know. I was sort of like, where’s the police? These windows keep breaking. I’ve never broken a window.

ralph macchio

It’s like where you spoke about, OK, we’ve had our big double live album set. And now it’s time to do the cool acoustic album and go back into — so that’s what, hopefully, going forward —

kara swisher

No more window breaking or home invasions. The home invasion, I was like, wow, you’d go to jail for that one. [MUSIC PLAYING]

We’ll be back in a minute.

If you like this interview and want to hear others, hit Subscribe. You’ll be able to catch up on Sway episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with actor Bryan Cranston. And you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Ralph Macchio after the break.

As you mentioned, there’s a lot of references to Mr. Miyagi in the show. Pat Morita, who played him, sadly passed away in 2005. You really keep Mr. Miyagi in the story. And talk a little bit about that in keeping him there, because he never leaves this show ever.

ralph macchio

Yeah, no, that was — I wouldn’t use the mandate, but that was a need of mine upon first hearing the pitch for me to come on board to weave Miyagi’s character throughout.

kara swisher

You were personally close to him.

ralph macchio

Yes, I mean, personally close? I would say, no, not as far as him involved in my personal life and me involved in his. I was personally close to him in the sense of as time and years went on, the significance and relevance of our screen partnership around the world became so clear to me.

archived recording (daniel larusso)

I just don’t know if I know enough karate.

archived recording (mr. miyagi)

Feeling correct.

archived recording (daniel larusso)

You sure know how to make a guy feel confident.

archived recording^ (mr. miyagi)

Daniel-san, you trust quality what you know, not quantity.

ralph macchio

It was truly the definition of magic when we did those scenes. There was a give and take. It was like the perfect tango and without effort. It was effortless. That’s the word. I didn’t know how much richness it had. I just knew it was easy to do. So, therein lies the kind of truth for me. There was something otherworldly or whatever you want to call it.

kara swisher

In a weird way, it’s transferred to Johnny, which is interesting, the significant relation — because each of those movies were about a significant relationship that changes their life.

ralph macchio

It’s all about fatherhood. It’s all about overcoming obstacles, bullying. There’s single parents. LaRusso with his mom, he lost his dad. Miyagi was a surrogate father. You have Johnny, estranged son, trying to help Miguel and can’t mend the relationship with his own kid. Like you said early on in this discussion, that’s what makes this deeper than just comfort food. But it still is, in my opinion, because we’re looking for love, we’re looking to belong, we’re looking for all those things. And there is a comfort in that when you can relate to what the characters are going through.

kara swisher

Now you brought back almost all the characters. I thought the scenes with Johnny and his group were surprising because they were sort of just assholes in the movie, right? And they have, actually, depth. Pretty much everyone’s very — sometimes you don’t expect some people who have throwaway roles.

ralph macchio

No, everyone brings the A game. They all bring the A game.

kara swisher

Yeah, but you also focus a lot on these kids, too, the kids having an equal role. And that has worked rather well, is that you have a relationship with these kids now. The viewer has a relationship with the kids.

ralph macchio

Probably the first meeting, I said, when they were pitching Miguel and Samantha and Robbie, I said, where are we going to — you need great kids. We’re going to run out of gas with these two geezers — well, not quite — these two middle-aged guys discussing the same kick from 1984.

kara swisher

Have you been keeping up with karate moves all these years?

ralph macchio

I have done less of it, and I’m doing more of it. And after this, I have a quick photo shoot, and then I’m going into training because I want to be better each season. It’s tougher to do. Billy kept it up more than I did. Billy’s an athlete, and he looks like an athlete. So we’re blessed to have him. I’m hanging in there. It was easier when I was 22 than 59, let me tell you.

kara swisher

Yeah, so when you think about your career, thinking about it being defined by this role, you were in a whole bunch of other things. You were terrific. I just saw “My Cousin Vinny” the other day. I can’t believe you were in “Eight is Enough,” which was kind of interesting.

ralph macchio

That was nine was too many, thank you.

kara swisher

Yes, nine was too many. When you think about your career going forward and doing this, that this is a really high quality version of your biggest hit. You’ve come back. No one is mad at the Rolling Stones for doing a great job with their old hits, too. How do you look at your career? How do you think about it now from this moment forward?

ralph macchio

What’s next right now is to let this joy ride last as long as it works and is organic, because it has really been wonderfully rewarding from the aspect of doing the show, but also, just keeping this legacy alive in a positive way. And I think part of what I’ve been able to do successfully is the disappearing into that role was where Ralph disappeared into LaRusso, where you couldn’t tell where Ralph ended and LaRusso began. And that I believe is an achievement as well, as opposed to, O.K., I’m going to put on a beard, shave my head, and no one’s going to know who I am, and I’m going to use this accent. But a little of both would be fun to explore.

kara swisher

Right, right. Well, one of the things is, there’s no way to escape it. It’s a worldwide phenomenal movie that everybody remembers. And you are the face of it, in some ways. And so, that’s difficult to — they can’t not look at you and see that, right? They can’t, which I think is difficult as an actor. So you’re doing season four right now of “Cobra Kai,” correct?

ralph macchio

We’re in prep, and we’re on the launch pad, although Netflix has — I have to say, they are asking me not to say when we’re starting, so.

kara swisher

That’s all right. Are you bringing back more characters? Will Hillary Swank be joining, for example?

ralph macchio

Listen, here’s the answer. Here’s the generic. Anyone who’s part of the Miyagi-verse, any character that appeared in the Miyagi-verse, which during the life of Mr. Miyagi and any of those sequels, is canon for this show. So who knows? Yes, no, maybe.

kara swisher

So when you think about talking to people today, like my kids, or I don’t know if you have kids —

ralph macchio

Yes, I do, two in their 20s, believe it or not.

kara swisher

What do you want them to get out of it, who don’t know every little bit? What do you want to get through to a different audience, the ones that don’t know Daniel LaRusso from back then? What is your goal as an actor and as an executive producer of this show?

ralph macchio

Yeah, I think there’s a few things. I want to allude to my kids quickly because that’s been something I didn’t expect. My daughter’s 28, my son is 25, I’m 32. So, well you can figure it out another time. They champion the show. They watch it with their friends. I mean, when the show drops, and my kids — it’s like Christmas morning. That, I didn’t expect. That is something personally that’s just been so spectacular to me. Something that’s such a big part of my life and has followed me for good, bad, or indifferent to this point is such a positive part of their life and something they’re proud of. I think as far as the next generation, as far as not the OG fans, I think it’s carrying the respect of the legacy of the source material, meaning “The Karate Kid” film and Pat Morita’s performance, our relationship, that bit of magic that I spoke about, that is brought forward to this next cast, this next generation cast. I mean, how they — whether it’s Mary Mouser or Xolo or Tanner, they asked me questions about that —

kara swisher

Yeah, these are the younger actors who play —

ralph macchio

Yeah, the younger actors, sorry. They love to hear the stories when I tell those stories. And it’s rewarding to — it’s nice to see that knowledge and that legacy be passed on to the next generation, as well as Hawk coming through the door and kicking the shit out of whoever or —

kara swisher

That guy is fantastic.

ralph macchio

Yeah, Johnny Lawrence doing everything we want to be able to do, or LaRusso doing something that’s kickass. All that stuff, all the badassery is awesome because it’s entertainment. But those deeper meanings, the foundation of the heart and soul, that why we care for these characters, seeing that be handed off to the next generation is really rewarding. I would love that to continue.

kara swisher

Yeah, I think it will. I think you could have been cartoon characters. You’re not. I mean, And now I just, I remember that scene with Pat Morita crying and being drunk, and you putting him to bed.

ralph macchio

Oh, that’s as special as it gets. And the studio wanted it cut.

kara swisher

Ugh, you’re kidding.

ralph macchio

The studio wanted it cut, well, because it stopped the plot.

kara swisher

Right, there was no kicking.

ralph macchio

And the movie was over two hours, so that means less screening times. And that means less money. No, that’s a great story, too.

kara swisher

Yeah, anyway.

ralph macchio

I got a billion of them.

kara swisher

Well, we’ll tell it another time.

ralph macchio

Another time.

kara swisher

We’ll tell it another time. I thank you so much.

ralph macchio

I really enjoyed this. Thank you.

kara swisher

All right, bye.

ralph macchio

Thanks. Take care. Bye bye. [MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, and Vishakha Darbha; edited by Paula Szuchman; with original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Eric Gomez; and fact-checking by Kate Sinclair. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Liriel Higa, and Kathy Tu. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to subscribe to a podcast, so subscribe to this one.

If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” delivered to you like an illegal crane kick, download a podcast app like Stitcher or Google Podcast, then search for “Sway” and hit subscribe.

We release every Monday and Thursday. And remember, Cobra Kai never dies.

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