William Zabka On Giving John Kreese A Second Chance In 'Cobra Kai' Season 2 [Interview]

Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) was the villain of The Karate Kid. Sure, he had a bad influence in John Kreese (Martin Kove), but Johnny was the one Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) had to defeat at the All Valley Karate Tournament. Cobra Kai reinvented the movie series with Johnny as the hero, or at least a co-protagonist with a middle-aged Daniel.The final scene of season one showed the return of John Kreese, so fans have spent all year wondering how Johnny is going to deal with his old sensei returning. Johnny is trying to turn Cobra Kai into a good influence on teenaged students. Meanwhile, he's also got students who've already taken "no mercy" too far in the 2018 All Valley Tournament, and he's estranged from his own son Robbie (Tanner Buchanan).Zabka spoke with /Film by phone before the premiere of Cobra Kai's second season. We spoke about some of the new things we learn about Johnny this season and some of the big picture Karate Kid questions all the fans have. Cobra Kai returns at 12:01AM ET Wednesday, April 24 on YouTube Premium.After Miguel wins the tournament the way he does, does Johnny really see what being a bad sport means?Yeah, I think Johnny's evolving. He started the dojo and his last instruction to his kids before they go in the tournament is the last secret of Cobra Kai is no mercy. He walks around and sends them out into the ring and I think he sees, to his horror, how this is playing out. When he sees Miguel fighting his son and Hawk fighting his son this way, he's realizing that maybe these aren't all good teachings. So he's realizing I think that there needs to be some tune ups in Cobra Kai.I know it's just a movie and it would never end with Johnny losing, but theoretically do you think if Johnny had not been ordered to sweep the leg, he could have won fair and square in 1984?[Laughs] In the original film? That's a good question. Sure, I think he could have won. I think he had the skills to win but I don't know. With Miyagi in Daniel's back pocket and that magical crane kick, I think somehow that would have come out. When Kreese tells Johnny in the film to sweep the leg and to have no mercy, he really programs him. Johnny at that point is starting to figure out that Kreese may not be who he thinks he is and what he's been teaching him may be wrong, so when Kreese says no mercy, it's almost a hypnosis in a way where Johnny walks back into the ring as a complete and almost autopilot ready to, at his top level go and take Daniel down. Thankfully Daniel has this crane kick in his back pocket and put the lights out on Johnny which woke him up in a way. At the end of the tournament he hands him the trophy and says, "You're all right, LaRusso." Then later in Karate Kid II he sees the true nature of Kreese that he's choking him out in the parking lot and not happy with his defeat. There's that.When Johnny decides to let Kreese back into Cobra Kai, is it different dealing with Kreese as an equal sensei?Well, yes. I think that Johnny's giving Kreese a trial run. Kreese coming back into his life, Johnny's all about second chances and if he's going to apply it to himself, he has to apply it to his old sensei. He seems to be coming with good intentions and he's trying to help him out, but at the same time, Johnny has a lot of memories. He's got an eyeball on him the whole time. Having Kreese in his dojo is a lot like having your father looking over your shoulder at everything you do. There's a little bit of a consciousness that Kreese is there and he's trying to impress him and he's also hopefully going to take Kreese on the ride of transforming Cobra Kai. Kreese comes from a different school of thought and their ideas aren't lining up, so all that was great playing with Marty Kove. Off camera we have a very much father/son relationship and a love between us. The two characters, it was very natural to have this kind of dysfunctional love between the two guys and an old kind of hard headed alpha guy trying to lead the show. They both have different ideas.Were you happy to see the hat tip to Ali?Of course. Ali is very much a part of the soul of Johnny, the heart of him that kind of got away from him. Things went off track in Johnny's life ever since he lost her. That was the epicenter of the earthquake for him in his life. I love the tip to her and we'll see what happens from there. I'm excited to see.Everyone's waiting for Johnny's private Rocky III style rematch that he suggested in season one. Will fans be happy in season two?There's a lot of tension building between Johnny and Daniel throughout their 30 years. Now that they're back in each other's life, it's a powderkeg. I think the fans are going to be happy what happens.Has it been fun exploring Johnny learning the new world of technology?It has been. I really loved in the first season that he was so disconnected from all of it. It was very refreshing to play a character who was a little more simple and not so caught up in the modern era of technology and how close in proximity everybody is. Now he's stepping into the modern world. To play that is very cathartic and very cool. We all kind of got lured into this. I remember when the internet came out and I had the old Mac II Pro or something, the first one. Now we've got FaceTime and instant messages and all that. I remember walking through that and evolving to where we are today so it's very refreshing to go back and re-explore that again and the wonder of what that is, and also the pitfalls of what that could be. Johnny's dealing with all of it and he's been handed a loaded gun. He's got to figure it out so it's a lot of fun.Do we also learn that Over the Top was an important movie to Johnny?[Laughs] Of course. All those good movies. There are many retro films in his catalog but he has his favorite.What lessons do you think Johnny took from Over the Top?Oh, I don't know. I don't know if he takes lessons from anything. I think for him it's just entertainment. I don't think he connects to why he likes anything he likes. There's that one scene in the opening of the show when he's watching Iron Eagle and the Chappie scene. There's something in there that really touched him. Over the Top, I don't know if he was moved by that but I think it's good noise in the background while he's making his baloney.Everyone was excited last year to see what Cobra Kai could be, but could you have anticipated what a phenomenon it became?No, in many ways it's very similar to doing the film. When we made Karate Kid, we just dove into the characters and dove into the storyline. The response has been what it's been and it's grown into this classic beloved film. We had no idea about that but really honestly, Robert Kamen who wrote the original Karate Kid, and John Avildsen who directed it and [producer] Jerry Weintraub and Bill Conti who did the music, all that went into that film is really all the behind the scenes. We're just players on screen. The same with Cobra Kai, these amazing creators are tenacious with their vision because there's so many things along the way where I would just say, "I don't feel like Johnny would do this. I think he might do this." Their vision and their insight to the big picture in the story and the way that they write all the characters and then direct them and cut them, really the credit goes to them. So I'm just diving into the soul of the character the same way I did in the film. Now he's evolved 37 years and you can't think about it outside of that If you're conscious of anything outside of those walls, you're not doing your job. We're pretty committed to the craft and the art of it. Then the feedback, it's been amazing. It seems like I almost want to say a party, but it's fun to see how much fun people are having with it and how they're connecting with it on so many levels. So we're just watching this happen again and it's amazing. I couldn't even describe it. I could never explain why but we're thrilled with it, that it's working and look forward to do much more.Was it also gratifying that it was advertised as a comedy but people discovered Cobra Kai is just as dramatic as the movies were?Yeah, for sure because when the guys pitched the story, the first question I had, outside of the box of who is Johnny Lawrence going to be and what does that look like, was the tone of the show. I worked with Josh Heald. He wrote Hot Tub Time Machine and cast me in that. That was a modern day comedy and then the guys who created Harold & Kumar, those are all funny movies but the tone of those films really didn't line up too much with The Karate Kid. But their passion and their vision for Cobra Kai and their love  for The Karate Kid and their knowledge of The Karate Kid and their reverence for it, really all that together told me that these are the right guys. As funny as it was going to be, there was so much heart in it. They wanted to deal with modern day bullying. They wanted to explore these areas in our culture today. So I knew their hearts are good and that their intentions were noble and they also really wanted to respect Robert Kamen and win him over that these are the right guys to continue on with his baby because he's been very protective of what he created when writing The Karate Kid.Do you think hopefully in success, maybe after six or seven seasons, Cobra Kai could end with Johnny and Daniel being friends?They have a long way to go. They have a lot to iron out between them but I think the core of them is very similar. These were two young guys, two young adults in their day that were influenced by their Yoda, by their master in a way. There's the saying in The Karate Kid, there's no such thing as bad students, just bad teachers really. Johnny was taken down a different path so all that's been downloaded to him and ingrained in him. There's a lot of hurdles for him to overcome to make peace with himself, let alone Daniel LaRusso. But I do think that there are hints of it along the way. There's a scene in episode nine of the first season called "Different but Same" where they're at the bar, they go back to the old apartment. I think if they could find some common ground, I think that they potentially can work together well but I think that they would have a lot of friction and issues between them just because of who they are and where they come from and what their life experience is. But we'll see. Hopefully they can put that aside someday but in the meantime, there's a mountain between them really.Has Cobra Kai opened up any new doors for you to do projects in between seasons?Yes. I've had many meetings and lots of interest. I'm very excited about that .It's really about time because the show takes a good amount of time to shoot, and then post-production and the press schedule. There isn't a lot of time but I've met some amazing people from it and it's exciting to see. There's more ahead but right now I'm super focused on the show and making this the best it can be, in the meantime looking at other projects too and seeing how they can fit in the schedule. And I have my family which is number one in my life so I have to spend some time with my kids before they grow up.