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Jacob Bertrand never imagined that he would be a role model to kids — until he took on the part of Eli Moskowitz (Hawk) in “Cobra Kai.”
In the Netflix series, which is based on the “Karate Kid” movies, the 21-year-old’s character has a cleft lip, which inspired him to join forces with nonprofits including Smile Train and connect with young fans.
“A lot of kids reached out to me and were like, ‘Hey, I have a cleft palate and your character really speaks to me. I love how he stands up to his bullies and seems confident,’” Bertrand told Page Six.
Since joining the “Cobra Kai” cast in 2019, the “Kirby Buckets” alum — who does not have a cleft lip in real life and has makeup applied for the role — has started to work closely with organizations that help children with the condition. He most recently signed on as the first-ever youth celebrity ambassador for Smile Train, a charity that performs surgeries at no cost to the families and provides other services.
“They genuinely care about these people and their happiness,” he said of the organization.
He also learned more about the condition since taking the role, saying he didn’t realize it was “fairly common.” About one in 700 babies are born with a cleft globally, according to the Cleft Lip & Palate Association.
Although his role has brought along new opportunities, Bertrand admitted that he has been on the receiving end of some harsh comments online due to Hawk’s transformation from bullied teen to villain.
“People either love or hate my character,” he told us, adding that he gets a lot of comments like, “Hey, I love ‘Cobra Kai,’ but man, you’re an a–hole!”
In turn, Bertrand has relied on his co-star William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence) for advice, as 30-plus years ago, the veteran actor, now 55, got grief for playing the bad guy in “The Karate Kid.”
Bertrand called Zabka a “great rabbi” who is “legit” (“That guy can actually mess you up!”) before hastily adding that the Oscar nominee is “super cool and super laid-back.”
“Cobra Kai” is now streaming on Netflix.
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