In the 1984 film “The Karate Kid,” William “Billy” Zabka played Johnny Lawrence, a ruthless Cobra Kai student who violently bullies Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). The actor returned to the martial arts franchise in 2018 by continuing his character’s storyline in the acclaimed series “Cobra Kai.”
William Zabka Discussed Johnny During a Recent Interview
While Zabka has starred in numerous projects, he is best known for playing Johnny. During a May interview with Entertainment Weekly, the actor was asked if “there was a period of time” during his career that he “want[ed] to distance [himself] from this character.” The actor revealed that he believed he had, but “not consciously.”
“I think, sure, I mean as an artist, you want to move on. You want to do new things,” said the 55-year-old.
He clarified that he “never had any animosity towards … Johnny or ‘Karate Kid’” and asserted that “it has only been a blessing for [his] career.” He did acknowledge that portraying Johnny in “The Karate Kid,” caused him to be typecast as a bully in the 1980s.
“I played a lot of similar type characters, you know. [In] the 80s I was, kind of the quintessential bad guy,” said Zabka. “I was — you know that’s how I was, kind of, defined. And most of my roles came out of that in my subsequent career and all that. But I never consciously pushed away from it. If anything I would embrace it.”
He explained that he “always wanted to do something different and new.” For this reason, he wanted to make sure that Johnny was a multifaceted character in “Cobra Kai.”
“If I went back and played a version of [Johnny] of when he was 18, a, kind of, more unredeemed character, except for at the very ending, that wouldn’t have been exciting. I didn’t want to double down on Johnny’s quote unquote d***ness, you know,” explained Zabka with a laugh.
The “Hot Tub Time Machine” star went on to say that he needed Johnny “to have a heart” and “go through a redemption arc” on “Cobra Kai.” As fans are aware, the writers on the show fulfilled Zabka’s request and the character has been given a depth that was absent in the original “Karate Kid” movie.
“I’m playing a brand new character in many ways. He’s, you know, he’s got 30 years of his life and backstory in between then and now. So that’s super exciting. If ‘Karate Kid’ didn’t exist, this character could still exist, easily,” stated Zabka.
William Zabka Made Similar Comments About Johnny in a June Interview
William Zabka shared similar information about playing Johnny on “Cobra Kai” during a June interview on SiriusXM Faction Talk’s “The Jim Norton & Sam Roberts Show.” He described his character, who has been attempting to better his life throughout the show’s three seasons, as “an antihero.”
“He’s not the quintessential villain of the story of ‘The Karate Kid.’ He’s a three-dimensional person. So in many ways, Johnny Lawrence is a brand new character. He’s Johnny Lawrence today,” said the actor.
To see more of Zabka, check out “Cobra Kai,” available to stream on Netflix.