William Zabka (L) and Jacob Bertrand can now be seen in Season 4 of "Cobra Kai." Photo courtesy of Netflix
NEW YORK Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Actor Jacob Bertrand says the latest episodes of his karate dramedy Cobra Kai show what can be accomplished when two very different senseis work together and blend their teaching methods to bring out the best in their students.
"Multiple styles is a big part of Season 4," Bertrand, who plays Hawk, told UPI in a recent phone interview.
The show picks up more than 30 years after California high-school rivals Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) competed at the All Valley Karate Tournament in the classic movie, The Karate Kid.
Now in their 50s, down-on-his-luck Johnny and wealthy hotshot Daniel are martial arts instructors. In the first three seasons, Johnny and his ruthless mentor Kreese (Martin Kove) encouraged kids to be aggressive and merciless at the Cobra Kai dojo whereas Daniel taught inner peace and self-defense at Miyagi-do.
In Season 4, out now, the frenemies team up to defeat Kreese and his battalion of violent followers, which includes Johnny's troubled son Robby (Tanner Buchanan.) Kreese also calls in Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith,) an old army buddy and the villain from Karate Kid III, to help him whip the Cobra Kai kids into shape.
Bertrand loves how the writers honor legacy figures from the film franchise, while constantly bringing in new characters to carry on the story.
"The way they weave in people from The Karate Kid universe is insane," he said. "How they add new people and the different roles that they fill is super-fun to see. I feel like I'm going on the ride, too. I think if I wasn't on this show, I would definitely watch it."
Hawk is a high-school student who goes from being the victim of bullies to tormenting other kids, under the tutelage of Johnny and Kreese. He follows Johnny when he starts his new Eagle Fang dojo in a public park and, ultimately, joins forces with Daniel.
"I'm one of the only characters that has been in all three dojos," Bertrand said. "I was just really excited about exploring the different relationships Hawk is going to have to rebuild [in Season 4.] He definitely burned a lot of bridges."
Because Robby started out as one of Daniel's students, he teaches Kreese and his acolytes all of Daniel's secrets, cunningly using Daniel's techniques against his own students.
"It's kind of like your worst nightmare," Bertrand said. "Good move by the enemy. They really caught us by surprise, but we know Miyagi-do the best. We know Eagle Fang the best."
As his teachers are learning to combine their skills, Hawk is also learning how to defend himself without abusing his power in the first few episodes of Season 4. He tries to help his friends and solve problems instead of constantly posturing.
"He's actually learned a lot," Bertrand said. "Hawk really finds the happy medium between those two -- to be OK with how he felt as Eli and also accept himself as Hawk."
Johnny knows working with Daniel is the right thing to do, but isn't always happy about it. This means he frequently takes his anger out on those around him, including the loyal Hawk.
"It's decently strange there for a little bit," Bertrand laughed about his relationship with his sensei at the top of Season 4.
"Johnny is the guy who birthed Hawk. He is the reason Hawk is Hawk and gained a lot of confidence and can be the man he is. There is a very, very special connection there. Hawk really does look up to him."
Another important person in Johnny's life - his X-Ray tech neighbor and love interest Carmen - gets more screen time in Season 4 as actress Vanessa Rubio moved up from being a recurring player on the show to full-time cast member.
"It needed to happen because the story is progressing and Carmen is a very strong and unique character," Rubio told UPI in a separate phone interview.
"She is a grounding and promising force, especially for Johnny. She is guiding him, saying, 'Come this way if you want to see the light.' He needs her and, in a sense, she needs him just as much."
The actress pointed out it is rare to see on television romance blossoming between middle-age and flawed characters.
"I think we are all rooting for them," Rubio said.
One of the reasons Carmen is drawn to Johnny is that he teaches and cares for her teen son Miguel, played by Xolo Mariduena.
"It's a challenge for her," Rubio said of Carmen. "She has been a single mother for so long and letting somebody else into their lives is a big deal."
Carmen also finds herself conflicted as a protective parent trying to be supportive of Miguel's involvement in a sport that gives him a sense of self-worth, but, at one point, leaves him seriously injured.
"It's a balance of seeing what truly makes him happy, what's emerging as a passion and knowing when to step back and just be like: 'It's out of my hands now. I just have to trust,'" Rubio said.
The actress loves being part of a story that has so successfully grown beyond its 1980s and '90s cinematic roots and legacy characters.
"Carmen and the Diaz family and Amanda and Sam all add to this continuation of the story and they have their own stories that they come with," she said, adding it feels wonderful when multi-generational fans tell her they watch the show together as families.
"That's amazing. It brings me such joy to know that parents are watching this with kids and they are all invested in this show."