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'Cobra Kai' star Ralph Macchio: 'I said 'yes' at the right time'

By Karen Butler
'Cobra Kai' star Ralph Macchio: 'I said 'yes' at the right time'
Actor Ralph Macchio's YouTube Premium series, "Cobra Kai," kicks off its second season on Wednesday. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

April 24 (UPI) -- Ralph Macchio says countless people over the past 35 years pitched him ways to revive The Karate Kid, but it wasn't until recently that a team of super-fan writer-producers presented him with a clear vision of how to move the franchise forward.

The result is the critically acclaimed YouTube Premium dramedy Cobra Kai, which kicks off its second season Wednesday.

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The 10-episode, half-hour show features Macchio and William Zabka reprising their roles of Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence from the 1984 movie.

Instead of competing high-school karate students, the characters, now in their 50s, are rival martial arts senseis to diverse groups of teens.

Echoing the movie, the show sees one man teaching the importance of balance and the other imparting the message of "no mercy."

"I said 'yes' at the right time," Macchio told UPI during a roundtable interview at New York Comic Con, adding that Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg "know how to write for this generation and, yet, they have this nostalgic embrace."

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Macchio likes how Cobra Kai focuses on the development and relationships of the characters rather than on the over-the-top plot that likely would be contrived if he made another Karate Kid movie.

"It gets into the gray areas of these characters and the moral ambiguity between LaRusso and Lawrence and our teen characters that I think will work for the long haul," said the 57-year-old New York native.

LaRusso's wise and kind sensei Mr. Miyagi (played by Pat Morita) appeared via flashback in Season 1 of the show, and the finale saw LaRusso visiting his late teacher's house, where he trained as a boy.

Miyagi will remain an inspiring presence in the next chapter, with LaRusso training a new generation of students at Miyagi's home.

The property also is where Miyagi kept a fleet of classic cars, including the yellow 1947 Ford convertible Macchio drove in the movie.

"It's those little magical moments and lessons that still keep the ball up in the air," Macchio said.

LaRusso was Miyagi's only student in the film, but the show will see LaRusso trying to teach Miyagi's techniques to a a squad of kids, including his own daughter and Lawrence's son.

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"It will be a struggle," Macchio said, sounding excited about the challenges this poses. "Just because you've been taught something doesn't necessarily mean you can teach it and doesn't necessarily mean you can teach it to all different personalities."

Season 1 of Cobra Kai opened with former high school outcast LaRusso as the wealthy owner of a car emporium and married father of two kids.

Lawrence -- a one-time "big man on campus" -- is divorced, estranged from his son and working odd jobs to pay the bills.

LaRusso and Lawrence are reacquainted after LaRusso's daughter and her friends crash into Lawrence's car and the wrecked vehicle is towed to LaRusso's garage.

Irked by LaRusso's success and arrogance, Lawrence tries to recapture his glory days by resurrecting his old Cobra Kai dojo, where he teaches bullied kids to defend themselves.

Seeing the impact Lawrence's ruthless techniques have on his daughter's friends prompts LaRusso to start practicing karate again, as well.

Where LaRusso is now in the show isn't where Macchio thought he would be.

"I probably would have put more kid gloves on it and not taken some of the risks that these writers have created," he said, adding that he negotiated with the writers to make LaRusso more like the likable guy he was in the movie.

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Martin Kove, who played Lawrence's sensei and father figure Kreese in The Karate Kid, joined the cast for Season 2 of Cobra Kai after a Season 1 cameo. Also guest starring in Season 1 was LaRusso's Karate Kid mom Lucille, played by Rande Heller.

Other actors from the original film and its sequels -- Macchio and Morita starred in two -- could also make surprise appearances in the future.

"We're talking about all of that stuff," Macchio said. "What the guys did such a great job with is they pushed the envelope, but they didn't just stunt cast."

Macchio and the writers are exploring where they might go in Seasons 3 and 4, if given the chance.

"You don't want to just front-load everything," he said, noting no one wants the show to fizzle out. "We keep it moving."

Macchio is a former Dancing with the Stars contender whose film credits include The Outsiders and My Cousin Vinny.

Cobra Kai Season 2 starts Wednesday on YouTube Premium.

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