Ralph Macchio And William Zabka On Cobra Kai Season 5's Bromance, Cameos, And Pat Morita [Interview]

Spoilers for "Cobra Kai" season 5 ahead.

"Cobra Kai" season 5 has been released in its entirety on Netflix, and it's time to belt up your gi and prepare to show no mercy! /Film participated in a roundtable discussion with stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, who play Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence respectively in the "Karate Kid" sequel series. Throughout the show, we've watched Daniel and Johnny reignite their teenage karate rivalry, mentor each other's proteges, and pit their dojos against each other. But now, they've been forced to work together in order to take down "The Karate Kid Part III" villain Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). 

This season, not only is Daniel working with Johnny, but also with his "Karate Kid II" enemy-turned-friend Chozen (Yuji Okumoto), who is the comedy MVP of these new episodes. Macchio said they knew in the third season, with the three lines of dialogue Daniel and Chozen share, that the sequel's character be "coming back in a big way." But that's not all, because "Karate Kid Part III" character Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) also shows up in season 5.

Zabka never shared scenes with Okumoto, Kanan, or Griffith in those films, and spoke about getting to do it in "Cobra Kai." He said:

"I knew Sean. I knew Sean before he even got 'Karate Kid' ... but I never met Thomas. Knew Yuji well. But I was fans of them in the film and the 'Karate Kid' franchise as their characters. So to get to rub arms with them on screen has just been really fun. What a joy. And all the great dynamics that the creators have come up with for how these characters rub in today's world. So it's been a lot of fun."

The dynamic between them is a delight, and Zabka had nothing but praise for their work, calling it a "win-win love feast." Zabka added:  

"They're total professionals. They come prepared, ready to go. And they're killing it. I especially love my stuff with Yuji, because that's the stuff where I get to have a conversation and not just be in fight or flight mode. So we had some fun things where Johnny and Chozen get to go arm-in-arm. And that was exciting."

Daniel and Johnny role reversal

The relationship between Daniel and Johnny has evolved over the years, from bullying to one upmanship to reluctant allies. In season 5, though, they sort of switch who is the responsible one and who is falling apart. Zabka spoke about the role reversal:

"Daniel's getting in the bottle and flying off the handle and Johnny's trying to become a little more level headed. So the role reversal in that... It was fun ... Johnny's always the one going off and ready to lead the charge, and Daniel's always trying to talk sense into him. And this has flipped, so that's really fun to play. "

A drunk and unshaven Daniel LaRusso might be the best part of the season outside of any second that Chozen is on camera. It's been sort of fun to see Daniel break down after four seasons of being the one in control. Zabka explained why Johnny's formal rival is in a bad spot now:

"But of course, Daniel's seeing the beast that only he can see [Terry Silver] and warning us all of this danger, this imminent danger, over the valley that he knows intimately. And [he's] trying to save all these kids from falling into the grass of that. So Johnny gets to turn around and open his eyes to that, have his own reasons to join the charge."

Zabka said he loved playing with the bromance, and, "They find a nice balance in season 5 ... that was really refreshing and nice that we didn't have a big explosion like every other season."

Macchio also loved Drunk Daniel™ moments. He said:

"[Johnny is] Daniel's only friend that sees it all and can understand it all, even though he doesn't see it all. There's a history there. In the performances, in our performances, it feels like when Billy and I are just deciding whether to have chicken or fish. It's just very casual and comfortable, and they each help each other in that moment. And that's really a testament to the writing, and then what we bring to it to hopefully heighten it."

Father and sons

It feels like we've been waiting for four entire seasons for another reconciliation between Johnny and his estranged son Robby (Tanner Buchanan). Zabka said that his favorite moment was at the end of season 4 when Johnny and Robby finally have a real moment and forgive each other. That doesn't mean that the tension is gone this season, including the tension between Robby and Johnny's surrogate son Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), especially after Robby finds out that the father/son trip to Mexico is happening because they're looking for Miguel. Zabka said that the understanding between Johnny and Robby last season was a great launching point for the tension:

"All that complexity is really great. And I love working with Tanner on a way where we're trying our best to see eye to eye. And he gives a lot. His side is really understanding, and he's matured as a character, and seeing Johnny in a different lens. So that opens up the relationship, and it allows Johnny to be more of the father that he's been trying to be with him for so long.

So it's a sweet starting point. It's a little bumpy takeoff. And then he's got to bring these two kids together that are both his heart, so we'll see how that goes."

A new appreciation for The Karate Kid Part III?

We know that Macchio has said in the past that he didn't like "The Karate Kid Part III." Of course, we've had Terry Silver from that film as the villain since last season, and now Mike Barnes has returned too. Did this change his feelings about the whole thing? Macchio said that it doesn't, but that even the issues with that film produced some great content for the series:

"Early on my first meeting with Jon [Hurwitz], Josh [Heald], and Hayden [Schlossberg], who create this show, they were talking about the potential of Terry Silver in the distance, and Mike Barnes and all this stuff, if it ever got up in the air ... To them, that was the last time they saw the 'Karate Kid' stuff, and those characters, and those guys being substantially younger than me.

That was their kind of movie that they saw in the movies. So it means something to them, and that heightened element of what 'Karate Kid III' was, has been brought forth into Cobra Kai's heightened tone. But taking those characters, Terry Silver and what Thomas Ian Griffith is doing, and Sean does this season, and adding other layers to them, it shows how you could use that and grow different paths and different directions, and unexpected.

Macchio also mentioned that Daniel is the only one who really knows exactly how evil Terry Silver is, and it's causing problems with his entire family. While that isn't great for Daniel, it is for the viewers who know what Daniel knows. What it does for the series doesn't clear the film from the bad side of his ledger though. 

" ... will I go back to watching Karate Kid III and say, 'Now this is a brilliant film. And I feel the LaRusso in that story is the best he's been in all three movies,?' No, it's not going to change that. But man, has it been an amazing gift going forward now."

A tribute to Mr. Miyagi and Pat Morita

There is a beautiful scene in episode 6 where Daniel walks into the space where he's kept all of Mr. Miyagi's things. Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, who played the role, died in 2005, but between flashbacks and the teachings of his character, he's been very much a part of this series. Add to that the new generation of people who have gone back and watched him in four "Karate Kid" films, and that's a tribute on its own. Macchio spoke about how moving it was to walk into that room and shoot the scene.

"I think it was very moving to walk in there. Director, Joel [Novoa], asked me, 'Do you mind if I play some music when we do the scene?' And I said, 'No, no problem.' Because he had it in his mind he wanted to play a beautiful, training hard scene from the original 'Karate Kid' film. Bill Conti's just wonderful, melodic score with the pan flute and all that stuff. And we did that in rehearsal. 

When I opened the door, it just starts playing that music. And it was a rush. I just immediately welled up, and seeing these pictures and thinking of that. And a bunch of the crew were commenting about that."

You maybe even welled up while reading that. I certainly did. Macchio said it was a wonderful moment for both Daniel and Amanda, helping to heal the rift between them: 

"You have to do scenes over and over, but I think... It was nice to go back to the roots, and he needed to see that. And for me that's always the thread that's important in the show for Daniel LaRusso, and for Ralph, to have those elements of the magic of what Mr. Miyagi was, and still is. It was nice for the Amanda-Daniel relationship too, because it was like one of those, 'I'll marry you all over again,' kind of moments. And I thought that was good for those two characters because they have a blow-up the episode before that."

Macchio and Zabka were asked what Morita would think of "Cobra Kai," and they both said he'd be a "big fan." Zabka said that he thought Morita was watching it somewhere out there, "trying to figure a way to get on it. Zabka added, "I think this is so right up his alley. He was just great. He was so funny, and he personified Miyagi. I think he would be thrilled. And, well you miss him." Macchio said that he really is on the show, though, just living on through so many of the characters:

"I think he would be very, very proud and rally embrace that. And for those reasons, outside of the fact that Cobra Kai is entertaining as hell and awesome, I think he'd be very, very pleased with the care that's been taken with the original franchise."

The first five seasons of "Cobra Kai" are currently streaming on Netflix.