Ralph Macchio previews Cobra Kai season 3: Daniel is at 'rock bottom'
Remember way back at the beginning of Cobra Kai season 1, when Daniel LaRusso — wimp-turned-All Valley karate champ — was on top of the world? Good. Now forget all about those happy times, because when season 3 kicks off next month on Netflix, Daniel (Ralph Macchio) is definitely not living his best life. His student Robby (Tanner Buchanan) is missing after injuring Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) in a karate brawl, his car dealership business is struggling, and his rivalry with erstwhile sensei Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) has flared up once again. So how will Daniel-san get out of this funk and save the Valley from evil Cobra Kai sensei Kreese (Martin Kove)? EW asked Macchio, 59, to wax on about what to expect. (Sorry.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would describe Daniel's mindset as he goes into season 3?
RALPH MACCHIO: At the beginning of season 3, there’s a lot of cleaning up to do. All the intentions in season 2 were good, both for Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence. Their intentions were good, even though they had different methods and everything else. One of my favorite scenes of season 2 is the elevator scene, which has no dialogue whatsoever, where Johnny and Daniel are in the elevator at the hospital and both are crushed and feel responsible. The burden of these kids hanging in the balance and the fact that it was on their watch, what happened. And I think that's a lot what's going on for LaRusso, as well as the family element and answering to his wife, who is at the end of her rope at that point.
He doesn't have his human Yoda anymore to go to, Mr. Miyagi, as I always fondly referred to that character. So this is probably the lowest point he's ever been at because every category — husband, parent, teacher — is all at rock bottom.
Going into season 3, it's how to dig yourself up off the ground and begin the healing process in all these areas. And that's really how season 3 kicks off. First and foremost, Robby is missing. So that’s an important driving force [for Daniel].
Why do you think season 3 with the right time to bring back fan favorites like Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) and Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita)?
I think we keep the ball up in the air as much as we can. We always talk about, you know, the Ross and Rachels of our show. You want to get to them, but you don't want to put them together — so we're constantly keeping that ball up in the air. [Executive producers] Jon [Hurwitz], Josh [Heald], and Hayden [Schlossberg] do a brilliant job providing fan service and the Easter eggs, and the feels, and the comedy, and yet slowly peppering in those moments that we're waiting for.
The thing I love about that third season is that it expands on the scope of the series, and dives into and explores the origins of both Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai. And so in going to Okinawa, which I never did — the second movie was shot in Hawaii — I was able to get into Okinawa and with Yuji and a threadbare crew, and we got some beautiful footage. [We] also played a decent amount of other stuff in Atlanta that we were able to construct, and create this other world.
The beauty of that is you, you tie into the nostalgia of that story, but yet you take it in a path that no one is going to expect what happens with Chozen and the Daniel LaRusso characters. It’s such a moment at the end of the fourth episode and into the fifth episode, when they see each other and you think it's one thing and it becomes the other, and it becomes informative to LaRusso as he heads back to the States to his home, to his life, to his current rivalry with Johnny Lawrence. It informs him in a different way than you would expect.
Daniel goes to Japan on business related to his car dealership?
Yes. On top of everything else that we start the season with, he's about to lose the business — or get to a place where if he doesn't sell it, he would be in trouble. And so as happens in the Karate Kid universe, some Miyagi element from his past triggers an idea, and it's beautifully done. And he takes a shot to get to Japan and talk to some of the import companies.
While he's there, another [idea] gets him to puddle-jump over to the Island of Okinawa. He doesn't even know what he's seeking. It's not the otherworldly that brings him there, but he's at that midlife crisis moment where everything's unraveling, and this is where the magic happened in his childhood. And maybe there'd be an answer. And that's when the Tamlyn Tomita character, Kumiko, becomes such a big part of that, and Chozen. It takes us on a two-episode journey and informs the character and gives a big fat nostalgic embrace to all you folks.
Why do you think it was important for Daniel to face Chozen now, at this low point in his life?
I think is important for the character, because in The Karate Kid Part II, it was a quote-unquote fight to the death. The first time, it was a tournament, the next time, you're in a foreign country and only the person who lives at the end wins. So the level of facing a character who seems so unredeemable in Chozen — what it does, and I alluded to this earlier, it kind of informs maybe for LaRusso how he could be doing better on his end with his own life, his own rivalry, the whole Cobra Kai/Miyagi-Do thing. So by having this experience in Okinawa, it will inform him to better himself and be more focused on what he can be doing better. Not only just with the Johnny Lawrence rivalry, but even just how to move forward in all aspects of his life.
LaRusso learns things about Miyagi-Do and things about Mr. Miyagi that he did not know, and neither does the audience know. So we are both, the audience and LaRusso, learning things about Miyagi-Do and Mr. Miyagi that we did not expect. That's something I've been asking for from very early on in making this show. Because there are certainly elements of that, that we got to see through Johnny Lawrence's journey in seasons 1 and 2, you got to learn things about him that you didn't know, but you felt like, "Oh, we know everything about Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi." So we were always looking for that, and in season 3, we get that. It's a nice balance. There you go — I used the word balance, because I have to. We’re talking about the Karate Kid universe.
Fans really want Johnny and Daniel to work together to defeat Kreese this season. What can you tease about that?
Therein lies our Ross and Rachel thing that I mentioned earlier. Johnny and Daniel, we love to see them have a few beers and be simpatico, and then we also love to see them at each other's throats. Another thing that works so well in the show is the audience can see the different-but-same elements of these guys. It's sometimes frustrating because you just want to put them in a room together and pour a drink and just say, "Get over it."
We certainly hear the fans loud and clear, and the show has been designed in the way to bring us to that [reconciliation]. It's important that you're staying ahead of everything, but you are satisfying your audience at the same time. It's challenging to do. We have so many characters in the show and so many compelling story lines, even outside of just Johnny and Daniel's legacy rivalry and Kreese as the wrench in the middle of it.
Yuji mentioned that you guys did extra prep for your fight scenes.
Yeah. If I can get an extra day to rehearse, I'll take it. Once you push past that 50 mark and you're getting closer to the 60 mark, the more rehearsals for the fight stuff, the better. Everything just takes a lot longer. It's a lot of stretching, a lot of Advil.
Cobra Kai season 3 premieres in January on Netflix