Fans of Star Trek will notice a familiar face if they decide to watch Cobra Kai, the follow-up to the Karate Kids movies. The series, which is streaming on Netflix, features actress Tamlyn Tomita reprising her role as Kumiko from Karate Kid Part II.
Here’s a bit about the actress and her characters in Picard and Cobra Kai.
‘Karate Kid Part II’ was Tomita’s First Role
In a profile the Los Angeles Times did on Tomita after her return to the Karate Kid world, the actress shared some details about her life before Hollywood and the things she learned as a teen star. Tomita was born in Okinawa, Japan, the same city where her Karate Kid character lived. However, she grew up around Los Angeles, close to the alluring chaos of Hollywood.
When she landed her first role as Kumiko opposite Ralph Macchio, she was suddenly part of a fan-favorite franchise. Opportunities came from every direction, but Tomita soon realized how limited the representation of Asian people was in film and television.
.@thetamlyntomita on our post JOY LUCK CLUB and CRAZY RICH ASIAN world: "For the first time we're the lead characters in the story, we're the only characters in the story. We belong. It's feels like a responsibility to keep telling these stories." pic.twitter.com/itU1qhNDyo
— TIFF (@TIFF_NET) September 13, 2018
Tomita spent the rest of the 80s playing the token Asian character, mostly in single episode guest spots on television shows. She did land a recurring role on the soap opera Santa Barbara, which opened up opportunities for more film roles.
In 1990 she landed the lead opposite Dennis Quaid in a movie called Come See the Paradise. A few years later, she was cast in the award-winning film The Joy Luck Club. She got to perform alongside other amazing Asian actresses like Ming Na and Rosalind Chao, a Star Trek alum at the time. Tomita told The LA Times that Joy Luck Club was very important to her because it gave the authentic representation of Asian cultures that she’d felt was lacking in her earlier roles, including Kumiko.
From there, Tomita’s career really took off. She started getting larger recurring roles on popular television shows including 24, General Hospital, Eureka, Heroes, Days of Our Lives, How to Get Away With Murder, and Teen Wolf. She landed multiple major movie roles as well.
In the past few years, Tomita has played major roles in The Good Doctor, The Man in the High Castle, and, of course, Star Trek: Picard.
Joining the ‘Star Trek’ Family
Best look at the new Starfleet combadge so far, plus an interesting additional medallion… pic.twitter.com/VI1SoOjCh0
— TrekCore.com 🖖 (@TrekCore) December 30, 2019
In an interview with ScreenRant after the first season of Picard aired, Tomita talked about what it was like to join the Star Trek universe. Though she wasn’t too familiar with Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), she was a fan of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS). However, her partner is a huge TNG fan, so she got the education she needed about the show from him.
She revealed that when she first got the audition everything was hush hush. The showrunners knew that there was going to be a big reaction when the world found out a new show about Captain Jean-Luc Picard was in the works. So, Tomita didn’t even know what kind of Star Trek show she was auditioning for when she first went in. At one point she thought it was a TNG reboot, but she got the clarification that it was a spinoff after talking to the producers further along in the interview process.
The evolution of her character was also mysterious. The character changed names a few times before they landed on Oh. Tomita wasn’t really sure who her character was or what role she played in the overall storyline until they actually started filming because the scripts were still going through revisions. She didn’t even know she was the main villain of the show until she finally got a few scripts.
Tomita said that she found it so interesting to dig into all the established Star Trek lore and find out what it really “means to be a Romulan.” She said that she was excited by the opportunity that being a part of the Star Trek universe presents. Since there’s such a wide history and so many stories to tell, she could continue to be part of those stories for years to come.
Becoming Kumiko Again
— Cobra Kai (@CobraKaiSeries) December 11, 2020
Soon after she was done with Karate Kid, Tomita got “sick and tired of Kumiko.” She wanted to do and be other things than just the Japanese girl next door. However, she eventually came to terms with the fact that Kumiko would always be a part of her. By the time the team behind Cobra Kai called asking her to reprise the role, she was ready to be Kumiko again.
However, she did have some conditions. Tomita told the showrunners that she wanted to make sure the portrayal of Okinawa and Japanese culture was more authentic in Cobra Kai than it was in Karate Kid. She said that being in the industry for decades taught her how important it was to push for accurate representation.
The showrunners agreed, and Tomita said that, overall, she was happy with the way Kumiko showed up in Cobra Kai.
Fans of Tomita’s can see her in Cobra Kai on Netflix, and in Picard on CBS All Access.