Ralph Macchio Reveals What Convinced Him To Return As The Karate Kid

Daniel LaRusso is back and so is his Cobra Kai arch-enemy Johnny Lawrence.

Daniel LaRusso and Mr Miyagi Ralph Macchio and Pat Moriya Image Columbia Pictures

It feels like pretty much everything we ever loved from the 80s and 90s is getting a gritty reboot or long-delayed sequel but that’s not entirely the case for Karate Kid.

The new YouTube Red series called Cobra Kai isn’t a standard follow-up to the original Karate Kid trilogy but it is starring the first film’s main star Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso alongside his old nemesis in the first film, William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence.

Set 30 years after the events of the original movie, it follows Zabka’s Lawrence, who seeks redemption by reopening the previously villainous Cobra Kai karate dojo. Macchio’s LaRusso, by now a successful business man, is also seeking guidance following the passing of his mentor, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita died in 2005).

Together, the two are out to settle old scores, have a few laughs and do a hell of a lot of karate. It’s way less heavy than the synopsis suggests too, with the series being put together by the creative minds behind Hot Tub Time Machine and Harold & Kumar.

The real question everyone is asking, however, is why Macchio is returning to the role now, having said no for so long. Macchio, you may recall, turned down the chance of doing a fourth Karate Kid film back in the mid-90s, with a pre-fame Hilary Swank stepping in for The Next Karate Kid, which was a flop.

Though Macchio and Zabka reunited for a Funny or Die sketch, they both steered clear of the recent remake with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. So what changed? Here’s what Macchio had to say on the subject:

“What made me say yes after all these years, and I’ve been very protective of the franchise and where Daniel LaRusso sits in the world 30 years later, these guys, Josh[Heald], Hayden [Schlossberg] and Jon [Hurwitz] had such a smart and fresh angle in. It was relevant today yet had all the pop culture, they had the perfect marriage and angle in bringing it from the Johnny Lawrence [point of view]. It’s not unlike how Creed was a film that was about Apollo Creed’s son but you had Rocky Balboa in it in a certain way. 

“Cobra Kai is not the first time anyone looks at a fresh angle from the villain’s point of view, but it was just smart to go that way and to cover these dual lives and do a rivalry series in a smart and funny way, and on top of that infuse the high school world, which is a big part of the show as well, for the new generation. Johnny befriends one of Daniel’s kids, and that is how it connects that world into our own rivalry world. There’s a tremendous amount of heart and kick-ass action sequences and martial arts, but the inherent humor comes from the fact that these are two guys who are in their 50s and still have an ax to grind. It goes back to those places where you just can’t let go and you’re still a teenager at heart and yet balancing your adult life, it’s like the rise of the Cobra Kai. It’s the worst nightmare for someone like Daniel LaRusso.”

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Macchio also explained why it was so important to acknowledge the passing of Pat Morita’s character Mr. Miyagi and the effect that had on Daniel LaRusso:

“In the early stages of us pitching to the networks, it was really important to me to have that element and that void that’s in Daniel’s life right now. He used to train his oldest daughter when she was a kid, but now she’s at the age where it’s not as cool to hang out with dad. So there’s a real void in his life when he doesn’t have that.

“Mr. Miyagi is the human Yoda to young Luke Skywalker. So as an adult and a parent, my kids are in their 20s now, I would love to have had Mr. Miyagi’s wisdom many times in raising my own kids. There’s a piece of that void in his life that is going to resonate on the dramatic side of the show and where martial arts, [which] was such a piece of his adolescence and young adulthood, is now brought back by the nemesis raising the banner on the Cobra Kai. And now Daniel can’t sit and let that happen.”

Though details remain scarce on who else will feature in the series, it’s shaping up to be an amusing and emotional trip down memory lane and may be the first of many, with plans also afoot for a tongue-in-cheek update on Knight Rider with David Hasselhoff back as Michael Knight.

Maybe having all these reboots and remakes back on our screens isn’t such a bad thing…

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