Since the premiere of The Karate Kid in 1984, William “Billy” Zabka has been associated with the character Johnny Lawrence. While the karate instructor is now beloved on the show Cobra Kai for many years, the actor had an issue with being identified with the role.
Zabka Was Typecast After Playing Johnny Lawrence
During a December 2020 interview on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Zabka revealed playing a high school bully in the martial arts film put limitations on his career. The actor noted that, for the most part, casting directors were only interested in giving him villainous roles.
“You know, you don’t expect that. You expect as an actor you’re like — well you know you’re an actor. You can play different things but, you know, listen it’s a business, so they’re finding, you know, which actors are people going to have an emotional reaction to, and there’s a preexisting one with [Johnny],” explained the 55-year-old.
He went on to say that the popularity of The Karate Kid never died down, which made it difficult for him to be separated from Johnny even years after the movie’s release.
“Listen, The Karate Kid … was gaining more and more steam. It wasn’t like it happened, and it lived there. It’s like, you know, HBO comes out, cable tv, the internet, and this thing is playing constantly, gaining new and new fans,” recalled the father-of-two. “So this kind of shadow of Johnny Lawrence is like growing on my side. And casting directors had a hard time getting around that. You know they would say flat out you’re too identifiable as this character.”
He then mentioned that he starred, wrote, and directed the music video “Sweep the Leg” by No More Kings in 2007. In the video, Zabka plays a version of himself, living in a trailer, and is obsessed with The Karate Kid.
“That was my first time, kind of like, meeting this whole thing head-on,” noted the actor.
He revealed he was surprised by the attention that the music video received, as he was previously unaware that the Karate Kid franchise had a passionate fan base.
“It was nice, you know … but I also kind of felt like, man, the way I’m going to get out — get to the other side is through the eye of the needle, like I gotta, you know, hit this on the head,” said Zabka.
During the Interview, Zabka Complimented the Writing on ‘Cobra Kai’
The actor explained he was excited when he was approached by the Cobra Kai co-creators, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald, to star on the acclaimed series.
“When Cobra Kai came along it was like the perfect storm of all that was happening over there, and all that was happening in my career. And now I get to dive in right to where I started and turn [Johnny] inside out,” said the actor.
Zabka also complimented the show’s writing, as it has allowed the character to be multidimensional. He stated:
In many ways, he’s a completely brand new character because he has 35 years of life that have been written for him. He just has the history that everybody’s familiar with. So it’s an exciting time with that.
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