For childhood fans of the legendary “Karate Kid” movies, Netflix’s spin-off series “Cobra Kai” is a dream come true. Although actors Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, who portray rivals Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence respectively, have since become friends and enjoy working on the show, the creation of “Cobra Kai” was never a sure thing. It wasn’t until co-creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg approached the two actors in a very particular way that things were able to take off.
Here’s what you need to know about the creation of the now-acclaimed “Cobra Kai.”
‘Cobra Kai’ Was the First ‘Karate Kid’ Project Macchio Was Open to in 30 Years
While he was alive, Macchio was very close to Pat Morita, who played the iconic Mr. Miyagi and died in 2005, even going so far as to call the late actor a “mentor,” according to CheatSheet. It was partly a result of Morita’s death which is why Macchio had famously rejected numerous ideas for a “Karate Kid” spin-off project. He told Business Insider in 2019: “The concept of going back, I was always ‘No, no, no.’ Why touch that again? It has such a blessed light on it. Everything happened right. Pat Morita’s [as Mr. Miyagi] performance is treasured.”
Given that any potential “Karate Kid” reboot needed Ralph Macchio to sign on, it wasn’t until Heald, Hurwitz, and Schlossberg came along that things began to look promising. In a 2018 Vulture interview, Zabka explained that the three men approached him first, given that Heald knew Zabka from “Hot Tub Time Machine,” a 2010 film in which Zabka played a small role. Zabka explained:
We went to a restaurant, and they brought out Cobra Kai and wouldn’t let me order … and they ended up pitching the whole thing. They had created this whole world … looking at it through Johnny’s eyes. By the end of it, they said, “Well, are you in or you out?” And I said, “I like what I’m hearing. I’m in. What’s next?” They said they needed to go get Ralph. A couple days later, Ralph said, “We need to talk.”
According to CheatSheet, Macchio sat through a five-hour lunch with the creators after they had talked with Zabka, and was sold on the idea.
Macchio has said that it was the idea of revisiting the Daniel-Johnny rivalry from Johnny’s perspective which sold him, after “[saying] no for 30 years.” He explained in Vulture that learning Johnny’s story was “the first thing” when it came to developing “Cobra Kai”: “We knew Johnny Lawrence, but we didn’t know anything about Johnny Lawrence…In “Cobra Kai,” it pulls Johnny and Daniel LaRusso together.”
Macchio also stressed the importance of carrying on Pat Morita/Mr. Miyagi’s legacy as key to his involvement in any “Karate Kid” spinoff. “[Heald, Hurwitz, and Schlossberg] listened to the importance of the Miyagi element of the show and LaRusso’s life and how that needed to be there for me to even begin to have a conversation about it,” Macchio said in the Business Insider interview.
The three creators, for their part, have said on multiple occasions that they had conceived of the idea behind Cobra Kai since the early 2000s, with Hurwitz adding on his recent Twitter Q&A that he even made a webpage dedicated to Zabka in the late 90s.
How Macchio & Zabka’s Relationship Grew as a Result of ‘Cobra Kai’
Given that Zabka did not appear in “The Karate Kid Part III,” the last time Macchio and Zabka would see each other before 2005 was in 1985, during production of “Part II,” in which Zabka made a brief appearance near the beginning of the film. Per CheatSheet, it wasn’t until Morita’s funeral in 2005 that the two would reconnect.
“I hadn’t seen [Zabka] in 20 years,” Macchio said. “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**hole in the movie — all of a sudden we became more connected as human beings, and friends.”
Nowadays, Macchio and Zabka are closer than they have ever been before. In January 2021, the two revealed that they were now friends, per Designer Women. Zabka explained, “We’ve been friends for years and we get even closer by attending Comic Cons and pop culture events. But it was after our participation in ‘How I Met Your Mother’ that this friendship was strengthened. After that, we were more and more present in everyone’s life,” Zabka said, referring to their famous 2012 joint appearance in CBS’s long-running sitcom.
According to CheatSheet, the two are even familiar with even the little things about one another, such as their favorite foods, and even describe themselves as an “odd couple.” Many fans might describe Daniel and Johnny similarly.
Season 4 of “Cobra Kai” will be released on Netflix December 31.