On the acclaimed series Cobra Kai, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William “Billy” Zabka) have a long-standing rivalry. However, the actors who portray the characters are close friends in real life.
During a 2019 interview on the SiriusXM program, The Jenny McCarthy Show, Zabka revealed that he shares a strong bond with Macchio, partly due to having a similar background.
“We’re both from New York. I was actually born in the city and lived in Long Island till I was a kid. He’s from Long Island,” said the actor.
He went on to say that their “off-camera antics are so fun.”
“We’ll drive home. We’ll have the same complaints, the same thoughts, you know, so… We drive, you know, we get lost together, crank the music together,” said the father-of-two.
The Actors Were Separated While ‘The Karate Kid’ Was in Production
The actors have acknowledged, however, that they considered each other as more of work acquaintances during the filming of The Karate Kid. While speaking on a panel, alongside his Karate Kid castmates in 2018, Zabka revealed that he rarely interacted with Macchio while the film was in production.
“Yeah, they kept us apart, but we were training different styles… So it was more by default by training. I was trained in Korean, and he was trained in Okinawan. But we came together every day and did our fight — our final fight and practiced that,” stated the actor.
Zabka also suggested the movie’s director John Avildsen wanted to keep the co-stars separated to make their character’s animosity towards each other more authentic.
“I mean John didn’t want us to get chummy… He encouraged me to hang out with the Cobra Kais where I belonged apparently,” explained the actor.
Macchio Revealed That His Friendship With Zabka Strengthened After the Death of Their Co-Star
During a joint 2019 Rotten Tomatoes interview, Macchio noted that his relationship with Zabka strengthened following the death of their Karate Kid co-star Pat Morita, who famously played Mr. Miyagi. The late actor died in 2005, following a decades-long struggle with substance abuse.
“We’ve become closer friends over the years, certainly since Pat — when Pat passed away we became closer friends just through the loss of him and moving forward and the fact that this film has stood the test of time,” said Macchio.
Macchio and Zabka shared similar sentiments during a December 2020 Esquire interview.
“After the film, we were young, we went our different ways. We bumped into each other at a screening here and there. But I remember it being Pat’s funeral where we reconnected,” said Zabka.
Macchio divulged that once the filming of The Karate Kid wrapped “there was a long chunk of time” that they did not see each other. He noted that they did eventually reunite “through a little bit of work and a little bit of fandom.”
During the interview, the actors also revealed how they believed their late co-star would have felt about Cobra Kai.
“He would love it. He’s shining down on us with a big smile. On top of everything else, he’s our friend, you know? So he’s happy for his friends. Same thing with John Avildsen, our director. Without them, we’re not doing this,” said Macchio.
Zabka agreed with his co-star, stating:
He would be having a blast with this. He’s the soul of Miyagi-do, the wise Yoda that’s maybe not with us, but still with us.