As fans of the Karate Kid franchise are aware, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William “Billy” Zabka) are long-time adversaries. In the first film, Johnny began bullying Daniel because he was interested in his ex-girlfriend Ali Mills. Throughout all three seasons of Cobra Kai, the men are constantly at odds.
For over three decades, Macchio and Zabka have convincingly played rivals, even though they are currently good friends.
The Actors Were Not Particularly Close During the Filming of ‘The Karate Kid’
However, it appears that Macchio and Zabka were not close during the filming of The Karate Kid. In a May 2018 interview on the SiriusXM program, The Jenny McCarthy Show, the actors noted that they were separated on set.
“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 Zabka.
The actor then disclosed that he believed that there was another reason for the co-stars’ separation.
“I mean John [Avildsen, who directed the movie] didn’t want us to get chummy… He encouraged me to hang out with the Cobra Kais where I belonged apparently,” quipped Zabka.
Macchio shared similar sentiments, stating,
Because I would train with Pat Morita [who played Mr. Miyagi] and Pat Johnson who was the referee on the film. He was our stunt coordinator and martial artist choreographer. He was a great guy. And then we would have a lot of scenes to shoot because I had the Miyagi side of the story and the Ali side of the story besides [the Cobra Kais] … beating the crap out of me. So we didn’t get to hang out that much.
He noted that this lack of closeness with his co-stars made him feel uncomfortable during lunch breaks.
“I would always joke when I was at the lunch table time I’m like do I even belong over there?” said the My Cousin Vinny star.
Zabka & Macchio Developed a Strong Bond Later in Life
During a December 2020 interview with Esquire, Zabka and Macchio noted that they got closer later in life, specifically following the passing of Pat Morita, who died on November 24, 2005.
“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,” explained Zabka.
Macchio added that they had also “connected through a little bit of work and a little bit of fandom.”
In April 2019, Zabka talked about his friendship with his co-star on The Jenny McCarthy Show. Zabka explained that they, like their characters, “are very different but same in many ways.”
“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,” explained the actor. “But our 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.”