Why William Zabka Says He ‘Always Saw in Johnny the Goodness’

William Zabka

Getty William Zabka talks on a panel during the 2019 San Diego Comic Con.

William “Billy” Zabka first portrayed Johnny Lawrence in the 1984 film “The Karate Kid.” The character bullies Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) until the New Jersey native learns martial arts as a way to defend himself. At the end of the movie, Daniel and Johnny compete against each other during the final round of the 1984 All Valley Tournament. When Daniel wins, his rival surprisingly exhibits good sportsmanship.

Zabka currently plays Johnny in the Emmy-nominated series, “Cobra Kai.” On the show, the character still has plenty of flaws, but his struggles are relatable.


William Zabka Discussed His Character During a 2021 Panel

The 55-year-old recently appeared on a panel at the Salt Lake FanX 2021 Comic Convention with his “Cobra Kai” castmates Martin Kove, who plays merciless sensei John Kreese, and Jacob Bertrand, who plays Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz. During the panel, Zabka shared that he never saw his character as truly villainous even when filming “The Karate Kid.” 

“Johnny Lawrence when I played him, he was the bad guy in ‘The Karate Kid,’ as scripted but I always saw in Johnny the goodness when I read the ‘Karate Kid’ screenplay I was like, ‘Wow he’s really — you know, he’s not the nicest kid.’ Until the very end when [Kreese] says, ‘Sweep the leg,’” explained the actor. “And Johnny doesn’t want to do it. And then at the very end when Daniel crane kicks him and lights go out and he hands him the trophy and he says, ‘You’re alright, LaRusso, good match.’ So when I read the first movie that was the part that I identified with. And I said, ‘oh, so he’s really not all bad.’” 

The actor then shared that he has enjoyed reprising his role on “Cobra Kai.” He revealed that he is particularly fond of the fact that Johnny has a difficult time understanding modern technology. 

“I’m having a blast playing him. I love it, you know, being out of touch with today’s technologies and still stuck in the past. There’s something really refreshing about it. I think all guys in my age group, you know, we were there before there was an internet. We were there before everybody had a cellphone. You know it was fresh. It was awesome, you know, there was rock and roll. There was T-Birds and the Firebirds and Trans Ams and babes, man, and beer and that’s all there was dude, you know, so how do you not love playing that. And I’m having a ball with it to bring all the different colors and the writing on it is amazing,” quipped Zabka. 


William Zabka Shared Similar Comments Regarding Johnny in 2020

Zabka shared similar comments regarding Johnny while speaking to Comic Book in 2020. He shared that in the first film of the “Karate Kid” franchise, Johnny “wasn’t a bad guy, he was misunderstood.” He also noted that during the first season of “Cobra Kai,” his character does not have the best lifestyle. 

“He had a bad teacher. All that I carried with me and was right there to grab but the [‘Cobra Kai’] writers really painted him into this one-bedroom apartment and you know, not even have a fish in his life, you know, and drinking beer and uh stuck in the ‘80s and in the past and all that,” said Zabka. 

READ NEXT: What Xolo Maridueña & Jacob Bertrand Really Think About Elisabeth Shue


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