Why William Zabka Says He ‘Had No Business Playing Johnny Lawrence’

William Zabka and Ralph Macchio Comic-Con

Getty William Zabka and Ralph Macchio speak at the 2019 Comic-Con in San Diego.

William “Billy” Zabka played the ultimate bully in the 1984 movie “The Karate Kid.” At the end of the film, his character, Johnny Lawrence, is famously defeated by Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) at the All Valley Tournament. Zabka currently reprises the role on the acclaimed series “Cobra Kai.” While Johnny still has some bullying tendencies, the karate instructor is now multifaceted and more sympathetic. 


William Zabka Spoke About Being Cast as Johnny Lawrence in a June Interview

During a June 2021 interview on the “Back To One” podcast, William Zabka discussed portraying Johnny. Before joining the “Karate Kid” cast, the actor, who was just 18-years-old when the film premiered, had limited acting experience. 

“‘Karate Kid’ was my first movie. I got cast after reading one audition scene and then they said here you are going to play this character Johnny Lawrence, which scared me a lot,” said Zabka. 

He explained that once he was cast as Johnny, he started attending acting classes. He also trained, alongside his “Karate Kid” co-stars, with famed martial artist Pat Johnson. 

“The rehearsal process we had for that was months so we got to work it, work it, and work it, and bit by bit Billy slowly disappeared and Johnny slowly was born and I could actually see this transition was happening. And I give all the credit to my trainer to all the other actors to [the film’s director] John Avildsen,” said the father-of-two. 

The 55-year-old went on to say he feels grateful to be a part of “The Karate Kid,” as it is something that “come[s] along once in a lifetime if that” for an actor. 

“I was so fortunate to be there at the right place and the right time. John Avildsen saw me as a piece of clay and molded me literally,” said Zabka.

He then asserted that his lack of acting experience should have hindered him from having a major role in the film. 

“I mean I had no business playing Johnny Lawrence as far as my credentials, as far as I had no resume,” said Zabka. “I had never done a film. There was nothing that they could look to and say he was great in that let’s try him in this. There was something [Avildsen] saw in me and literally took me to acting school and film school and the whole experience of that.” 


William Zabka Discussed His Acting Background in a Separate June 2021 Interview

While speaking to Collider in June 2021, Zabka shared that he had an interest in acting from an early age. He noted his father Stanley Zabka “was the associate director of ‘The Tonight Show'” and “a staff director at NBC.” The actor stated that “[his] father directed a documentary” that focused on Vietnam soldiers, which he briefly appeared in at the age of five. 

“It starts off in this kind of film style narrative and then it turns into documentary footage and I was this young kid in the backyard with my friends and remembering my dad on top of the roof with a camera,” explained Zabka. 

As a child, he would go on auditions, but viewed acting as “always a hobby.” He noted that when he was “14 – 15” he started wanting to make a career out of it. 

To see more of Zabka, stream “Cobra Kai,” available on Netflix. 

READ NEXT: Why Courtney Henggeler Is ‘Grateful’ To Play Ralph Macchio’s Wife


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