Rarely do reboots hit it out of the park like Cobra Kai. Those who thought it’d be a corny rehash of The Karate Kid crane kick fight were in for a pleasant surprise after its first season dropped. With William Zabka shining in his role as a cranky-slacker-turned-sensei and Ralph Macchio as petty Daniel LaRusso, it’s a wonder why they didn’t reconnect sooner.
However, the pair continue to make magic as foes-turned-allies in Cobra Kai. But after The Karate Kid, Zabka and Macchio did not keep up with each other. And they never figured they’d hit the screen together again — in a movie or show.
‘The Karate Kid’ star Ralph Macchio and William Zabka did not keep in touch
Macchio is featured in the January 2022 issue of Empire and discussed his history with the Karate Kid franchise, Cobra Kai, and Pat Morita. The first two films were extremely successful, and although he’s not a fan of The Karate Kid III, it kept the flame alive. But Zabka did not appear in that film, and Macchio did not see him until decades later in 2005 — at Morita’s funeral.
“Post-Karate Kid I’d had little interaction with William,” he explained. “I hadn’t seen him in 20 years. At Pat’s funeral it was a reconnection, from a whole different perspective — we were there mourning a friend. He wasn’t just the actor who played the a*shole in the movie — all of a sudden we became more connected as human beings, and friends.”
With their newfound friendship, Macchio became more open to resurrecting the old franchise. And Zabka was interested too.
Both Macchio and Zabka considered Morita as a mentor
Zabka has revealed that in those early days of working on The Karate Kid, he forged a bond with Morita. He recalled how the late actor used to refer to him as “BZ.”
He said that Morita was a mentor and friend to him, often explaining how to work through scenes. The Karate Kid was Zabka’s first major film. Further, Zabka once told Collider that Morita’s concept for a fifth film involved Johnny Lawrence being the doctor to a terminally ill Mr. Miyagi.
Macchio, who eulogized Morita, has always spoken highly of him as a friend and someone he looked up to. He’s thrilled that the TV show infuses so much of Mr. Miyagi into the story and honors his memory.
Zabka helped convince Macchio to sign on for ‘Cobra Kai’
In numerous interviews, Macchio’s admitted that he shot down multiple offers to continue The Karate Kid story, whether as a film or TV series. He and the movie’s original director John. G. Avildsen even fielded some pitches together. But when Cobra Kai co-creators Hayden Schlossberg, Josh Heald, and Jon Hurwitz shared their idea, they got Zabka on board first.
He wound up being the one to ease Macchio into the idea. When both actors shared the reboot backstory with Vulture, Macchio said he predictably called Zabka after the team reached out. “Literally, he said, ‘I was expecting this.’ It wasn’t even, ‘We need to talk.’ I get on the phone, he just picks up and goes, ‘I was expecting you to call,’” said Macchion of his co-star.
Macchio sat through a three-hour lunch with the Cobra Kai team and was sold. All five of them began shopping the series around. The rest is history.
Reconnecting at Morita’s funeral gave Zabka and Macchio a huge chance to get to know each other, and by the time filming started for Cobra Kai, they already knew little things about one another. That includes their favorite foods. These days, the pair describe themselves as “an odd couple,” and their bond translates on and off screen.
Cobra Kai is currently shooting season 5, but fans can stream season 4 on Dec. 31 on Netflix.
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