30 years after the story of Johnny Lawrence seemingly ended with a kick from Daniel LaRusso at the All Valley Karate Tournament, fans of The Karate Kid finally got a chance to see what became of the film's villain. Cobra Kai brought Johnny and Daniel into the present day as middle-aged men, still not exactly over their high school feud. Unlike in the movie, Johnny isn't quite the antagonist of this new story, as he actually tries to make a difference in the lives of the young people around him. He's just not always great at getting the right point across.
After spending two years as a YouTube original, Cobra Kai is moving over to Netflix where it will be released for a much bigger audience. The first two seasons are arriving on August 28th, giving fans who may have missed it on YouTube a chance to finally see the continuation of the story. Ahead of Cobra Kai's Netflix debut, we talked with star William Zabka about his iconic turn as Johnny Lawrence, and how the character has changed since The Karate Kid.
"Yeah, I think the soul of Johnny Lawrence is the same," said Zabka. "The way I always saw Johnny Lawrence and the way I played Johnny Lawrence during The Karate Kid was, he wasn't a bad guy, he was misunderstood, he had a bad teacher. All that I carried with me [to Cobra Kai] and it was right there to grab, but the writers really painted him into this one bedroom apartment and having not even a fish in his life and drinking beer and stuck in the '80s and the past and all that. So it was the writers painted all that on me. And it was actually really, it was painful in a way to play him.
"There's a scene in the dealership when Johnny first bumps into Daniel LaRusso. And that was like the pain of what happened in the past. Working with Ralph [Macchio] is amazing. So it was kind of vibrant and alive. The writers brought it to me and it was a big challenge, but I just had to kind of plug in the spirit of Johnny Lawrence that I embodied in the original film. And he's still right there. And then there's a lot of life between then and now, 30 years later. And so I think as an actor, it's really nice to get to mature and kind of, you know, experience life, and bring all that to the table. Sometimes life experiences inform your performance. Not that I've been like that, but with... kids just, just trying to, you know, there's a lot of things that you bring to a performance. The last 30 years definitely helped with that."
Johnny Lawrence isn't the villain of Cobra Kai, but he's not exactly the story's hero, either. This is a much more layered, complicated version of the character you thought you knew, making him an even more interesting study than ever before.
You can watch the full interview with William Zabka in the video at the top of the page.
The first two seasons of Cobra Kai arrive on Netflix on August 28th, with Season 3 coming in 2021.