William Zabka Reveals He Pranked ‘Karate Kid’ Director John Avildsen

William Zabka

Getty William Zabka strikes a pose at the premiere of "Where Hope Grows" in 2015.

Ralph Macchio and William “Billy” Zabka famously play rivals, Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence, in the 1984 film “The Karate Kid” and its spin-off series “Cobra Kai.” During a 2017 New York Comic Con panel with their co-star Martin Kove, the actors spoke about the movie’s director, John G. Avildsen, who also directed the Academy-Award-winning film, “Rocky,” starring Sylvester Stallone. 

William Zabka Revealed the Cast Pranked John G. Avildsen

During the New York Comic Con panel, Zabka shared that he and the other actors who portrayed Cobra Kai students pulled a prank on Avildsen during the production of “The Karate Kid.” He noted that they had been filming a scene that took place in the Cobra Kai dojo, owned by ruthless sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove). 

“We did one joke in the movie, we played it on the director, we were in the dojo and Sensei [Kreese] comes in and we were all lined up and he says, ‘Fall in’ and everybody had to come in and fall in and do a karate stance and we had it pre-planned that we thought would be funny when he came in and said, ‘Fall in’ and all the Cobra Kai, we all literally fell down on the mat,” shared Zabka. 

The “Back to School” star then shared that Avildsen, who passed away in June 2017, did not seem to appreciate the cast’s antics. 

“That was really funny to us and the director came over — John Avildsen — he said, ‘Um, guys, that was very funny, don’t do it again.’ It wasn’t too much laughing really on the set,” said Zabka. 

The father-of-two clarified that the film’s director “was very focused on what he was doing and he’s kind of commanding a big train there.” Martin Kove then asserted that Avildsen “was very dry, but he really had a great sense of humor.”

Ralph Macchio shared similar comments and noted that the director was fond of “lame puns.” He explained that while filming the scene where Daniel practices his martial arts skills at the beach, Avildsen made a pun involving his film “Rocky.” 

“I remember I was doing this sequence when I’m in the ocean water and trying to stand on one leg and the waves are just pounding me down. I was there for what felt like two hours, probably was 10 minutes, it felt like two hours and he said, ‘Well how is it out there’ and I said, ‘You know, it’s kind of a little rocky,’ because there was sand on the beach but once I got out further, it was a little rocky,” recalled Macchio. 

The actor shared that once he said this, Avildsen referred to the fact that “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid” share some similarities as they are both sports movies with an underdog as a protagonist.

“And he said, ‘Well that’s what people are saying about this movie, it’s a little Rocky,’” said Macchio.

John G. Avildsen Spoke About ‘Rocky’ During a 2014 ‘Karate Kid’ Panel

Three years before he passed away, John G. Avildsen appeared on a panel celebrating the 30th anniversary of “The Karate Kid.” He explained that he has “always disagreed with” the notion that the 1984 martial arts film has that much in common with “Rocky.” The director noted that “The Karate Kid” focuses on Daniel’s relationship with his beloved mentor Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). 

“They are very, very different movies. This is the story of a surrogate father that everyone wanted to have and it’s a much more touching story than ‘Rocky,’ in many ways, it has a lot more emotion and I cry a lot more in this one than I do in ‘Rocky,’” asserted Avildsen with a laugh.

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