When it comes to sports movies from the ‘80s, The Karate Kid is one of the most recognizable and iconic franchises to date. Spawning a solidified legacy over the years through a plethora of quotes and astounding martial arts sequences, the film’s two stars never imagined they’d be bringing their characters back to life with YouTube’s Cobra Kai — let alone, get back into karate-kicking shape.
In an exclusive with PopCulture.com, actors Ralph Macchio and William Zabka admit that returning to their respective characters, Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence 35 years later with the film’s sequel series isn’t as effortless on their joints this time around.
“It was a lot easier 35 years ago, I can promise you,” Macchio laughed with PopCulture.com. “Everything hurts and there’s just a lot of stretching now. A lot of injury prevention.”
The 57-year-old reveals that ahead of filming for Season 3 of their series set to premiere in 2020, he has returned to training, while adding in a lot of strength conditioning and stretching as it’s all about “avoiding injury” since it’s “much tougher” to do after all these years.
“I’ve never been an athlete, [but] it’s part of what works for me in this role,” he said. “I’ve done athletics and been physically active, but there are certain people that are just built like athletes and there are ones that aren’t [and] have to work a little bit harder to make sure they don’t get themselves hurt.”
Macchio adds though that so far he feels “really good” during his fight sequences in Cobra Kai, but knows with the dramatic events that unfolded in the Season 2 finale, “there’s more to come.”
His co-star and onscreen “frenemy,” Zabka tells PopCulture.com that while he had trained for martial arts for years after The Karate Kid, he had to return to martial arts training to get camera ready.
“It’s a lot like being a skier back in the day,” Zabka said. “You still remember it. You have the mechanics, but you have to stretch a lot more.”
In addition to a balanced diet of lean proteins and vegetables, the 53-year-old was practicing karate, taekwondo, strength conditioning and cardio amid a 12 to 14-hour workday while Cobra Kai was in production. But Zabka admits, it’s all about his trainers helping him get to a place of comfort and superlative tuning.
“I have amazing trainers around me right now, so they keep me limber and safe,” Zabka said. “And it’s all right there, all for the grabbing, but I definitely needed to do some calibration with my kicks that were off.”
Zabka adds that he “needed a kind of tune up,” so to speak when it came to retraining.
“The Karate Kid gave me that gift of martial arts from the beginning, and this is the gift that keeps giving and I get to train with the top guys again in the world and perform it,” Zabka said. “And it’s an honor to do that and represent martial arts.”
With advertisers equally engrossed by the martial arts sequences, in addition to Daniel and Johnny’s hot and cold friendship, YouTube recently inked a deal with Enterprise to catapult the series to new heights while highlighting the duo’s playful friendship in a commercial spot with exotic cars.
“The spot is really natural and it’s exciting because it’s the first time YouTube has partnered with somebody like this,” Zabka said of the collaboration. “It’s very much art imitating life in a way.”
The two admit that as they reprise their onscreen personas, they are also more than happy to be filming together after more than 30 years since their first shared onscreen moment.
“It’s been so great — Ralph and I have become good friends over the years and from the ground-up, when we first got pitched this, we’ve been in close contact since,” Zabka told PopCulture.com with a smile. “We’re both very careful and respectful of The Karate Kid and we have that shared history together.”
Zabka adds that their relationship is a rather special one, admitting how two have a shared experience like no other.
“The two of us sharing something that only we can understand and relate to, and Martin Kove too, and the original cast,” he said. “So, to get the chance to work with them again is a sort of thrill, and to see [Ralph] turn into Daniel LaRusso and when I step into Johnny, those guys still live in us and it’s happening.”
Cobra Kai is currently streaming on YouTube with Season 3 set to premiere in 2020.
Photo credit: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic for YouTube