After 'Cobra Kai' Cliffhanger, Ralph Macchio Says Daniel Will Turn To Spiritual Side Of Martial Arts [Interview]

Cobra Kai flips the script of The Karate Kid by focusing on the protagonist's rival's dojo, but The Karate Kid himself is still a major character in the saga. You know the premise by now: years after the events of the movies, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) reopened the notorious Cobra Kai dojo, which brought back painful memories for Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). Now both men try to teach teenage pupils their distinct forms of karate.

Netflix is premiering the first two seasons of the show, which originally streamed on YouTube Premium. Netflix will be the home of Cobra Kai moving forward, including the upcoming third season next year, but first, the streaming service wants subscribers to be able to catch up with what they might have missed.

The first two seasons are now streaming on Netflix, which gave /Film a chance to speak with Macchio again about some of the moments from the first two seasons he perhaps couldn't talk about before they aired. During the interview, Macchio also looked ahead a little to the aftermath of that season 2 cliffhanger.

Ralph Macchio Interview

Is it a little different this time? Because when you debuted on YouTube, Cobra Kai was an unknown and people may have even thought it was a joke. Now Netflix viewers have heard of it and know it's good.

I always say that the low expectations when the show launched worked very, very well for us. Getting the 100s on Rotten Tomatoes from all the critics and the fans. Season 2 was right up there as well. Everyone [said], "Is this a cash grab? Is this a one-off concept that's going to be like good pain? I'll watch it anyway even though it's going to be horrible." Then it turned out to be all and more than what anyone expected. I still think the content is going to drive that. There's always some element of the apple gets less shiny the more that you look at it, I always say. This one has a pretty good luster on it. I think it's going to be pretty shiny and the new fans should get that same reaction that the Day One viewers did. There's a lot of people that are like, "I wanted to watch but I'm not signing up for this." Now it's there to be had and on August 28, there will be 20 episodes. The first two seasons will be available around the globe for everyone who's either heard of it, there's a ton who haven't even heard of it, and then hopefully a big rewatch and more people come back with the friends that have been there since the beginning of the YouTube launch.

Were you involved as an executive producer in the Netflix deal?

I was involved in some of the pitches. As far as the deal, no, except for me saying, "Let's get the deal done." That was my involvement, but I was involved on some of the calls and some of the pitches with the various platforms that were interested. It was a funky time because we were doing this in March/April in the middle of everything, so everyone was becoming acclimated with Zoom pitches. A lot of people, a lot of square boxes and you're trying to light the fire. I mean, the fire was lit because the content was there, but it was economically a crazy time – and still is. So there was no guarantee there. Netflix always wanted the show from the beginning. I'm saying that because Ted Sarandos and company have said that, so it's not like I'm just paraphrasing. They were very much in the game at the onset when we first came to market with the show. It just made all the sense in the world at the time for YouTube and certainly creatively for the showrunners to make the show they wanted to make. So it's kind of in a way Groundhog Day, but just cutting two years later. And it'll be really interesting what it feels like at the end of August, in September when the show's available all over again to the Netflix platform.

You were really done with this character for a good 30 years. Has your life become all Karate Kid and Daniel LaRusso again?

That's an interesting question because I certainly spent – you talk to me ten years ago, 15 years ago, for sure, not that it was the last subject I wanted to talk about because I've always embraced the privilege. I never took for granted, or at least I don't believe I took it for granted, what success we had with the film and that character and what he meant and means to so many people. But I certainly was not as vocal about it as I am now and in support of it all because as you get older, this stuff means more and you begin to recognize those pieces of your life that have had a positive impact on, whether it's your family, friends, or in my case, the public as well. To not embrace that and wholeheartedly carry that torch forward is kind of silly to me to shy away from it. Now, your question is, am I dealing with Daniel LaRusso every day and the wax on/wax offs of it all and the Johnny Lawrence rivalry and all? Yeah. It's all backed up, but I get it from 10-year-old kids and then old school OGs who've been on it since 1984. It's kind of wonderful as we walk the Earth right now where everything is so negative, to have something that is positive.

Does Daniel become a little bit of a bully himself when he's pulling his tricks to try to get Cobra Kai closed?

I think he doesn't see it that way, but when you step back, he just remembers I think getting his ass kicked constantly as a teenager and remembers and recalls on the lessons of his mentor and feels the responsibility to not allow this negative violent side of martial arts to contaminate the San Fernando Valley and will do that at all costs. From that perspective, you're trying to stop a very dictated negative form of martial arts where he came up and was taught a very balanced, center, inner peace version of Okinawan style karate and is honoring his master, I think, moving forward. Yeah, he does get to that point where he is pulling out every chart, everything he can to undercut Johnny Lawrence from growing Cobra Kai. But then in episode 105, he has that great moment where his wife, Amanda, sort of sets him thinking. He visits the grave of Mr. Miyagi and begins to close that void and allow martial arts back into his life and find his center. But there's nothing like a good Johnny Lawrence thorn in his side to send him off the rails again, and that's fun about the show.

Is Daniel as a teacher less patient than Mr. Miyagi?

Yes. I can answer that pretty quickly. He is definitely less patient than Miyagi and he struggles with that, saying he had it all figured out and I don't. He feels inferior to Miyagi, and I'm sure that plays on his mind and also feels that just because you have knowledge of something doesn't mean you necessarily can teach it. That's another lesson that LaRusso learns certainly in our second season: that it's not so easy to share these lessons. But he does find his way and he finds those little rays of light and those little shining moments where he uses his own LaRusso-esque kind of finesse to get the point across. It's kind of fun to watch LaRusso's Miyagi which is a far cry from the master, but his intentions are good, very good.

Is he more like Miyagi as a father?

That's a good question. I think he uses that, because he had the father figure, that surrogate father figure, Miyagi, in his life. That's when he is the most grounded, certainly in some of these scenes with Samantha. I think it feels, even with Robbie, where Daniel takes him under his wing to show some guidance to this kid. That's when he shines the most in LaRusso and is able to challenge the knowledge he gains from Miyagi and find his own way to give it back to this next generation, and those moments are really beautiful and grounded. Then, once again, just like always, you need to throw a wrench in the plans, and that's what creates the drama.

Is teaching Robbie different than teaching his own daughter?

I would imagine there are times when it's your own kid – and I can draw from my own life – at times you're a little tougher on your own. There are certain moments that that is true. It's not heavy handed because Samantha and Robbie sort of respond alike in certain cases. So he moves forth with trying to get the point across and how to reach them with the lesson, be it a physical martial arts lesson or a spiritual one or a mental one and how they can navigate all that they have to deal with. So that is a good question. I don't think it's much different. Put it this way, it's kind of "different, but same," to quote Mr. Miyagi.

Daniel had three different love interests in three movies. Why do you think Amanda was the one?

We went round and round about that when the writers had pitched it to me, the initial concept. I think Amanda was someone that I think Miyagi introduced him to. We never did the deep dive into that and I think in subsequent seasons, if we're so fortunate, and that's what the guys do so well with this show, is they give you this information as it goes along, not all up front. I think they fell in love and they worked together and started the dealership together. There's a combination and sort of a perfect balance in how they complement each other and have this success together, but going forward like any marriage, certainly in a soap opera format which Cobra Kai sometimes is, there'll be bumps in the road. That's always fun to play.

Daniel promises to stop teaching karate, which is understandable in the heat of this season 2 finale tragedy, but how long can that actually last?

I think Amanda mandates that there's no more karate. I don't think that was his intention. Let's put it this way: season 2, so clearly, both Johnny Lawrence and certainly Daniel LaRusso's intentions were very, very good and positive from their perspectives. What happened is everything became unraveled. One of my favorite scenes is in that episode in the elevator where Johnny and Daniel are there side by side and have nothing to say, but totally understand everything in the aftermath of what happened with the Miyagi-Do kids and the Cobra Kai kids. I think martial arts will find its way. Martial arts is not so specific to punching and kicking and the physical aspect. There's a big part of it, certainly in Miyagi-Do style, that is spiritual and it's a mindset. So that will, I believe, enter the fold and the physical part of it will follow soon after. It's just the wounds are just too far open right now with Amanda and Daniel and what's happened with Samantha and Miguel and Robbie to dive back into the dojo. So we shall see.

Daniel and Johnny got into pretty serious trouble when they were their age too, didn't they?

That's for sure. They do a great job. We work very hard at tempering all that sort of nostalgia and tie-in and pay homage and respect to the original and keep that woven throughout the series and yet tell a fresh, relevant story for today. It's working and we're going to keep it going as long as we can.