The man behind Karate Kid Part III's manic, ponytailed villain tells EW his character will "cause a little trouble" for Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence in season 4.
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Thomas Ian Griffith hadn't thought much about Terry Silver — the maniacally giddy, ponytailed toxic-waste magnate who spent a ridiculous amount of time terrorizing young Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) in 1989's The Karate Kid Part III — for quite a while.

Then came the 2018 premiere of Cobra Kai. While Griffith found the show "charming and smart," he figured there was no place for his over-the-top villain in the modern-day sequel series. Even when the call came from Cobra Kai creators and executive producers Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg, Griffith was so busy with his day job — writing scripts with his wife, Mary Page Keller — that he didn't think much of it.

"We had a deadline at Warner Bros., and we were under pressure," he recalls. "It was like, 'Okay, I'll take this call and we'll think about it [later].'" But by the end of that hourlong conversation, Griffith knew it was time for Terry to bring the pain in season 4 (premiering Dec. 31 on Netflix). "They answered the question that I had: What has this guy been up to for the last 30 years?" he says.

EW pumped Griffith for more details on what fans can expect when Terry reunites with Sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) ahead of the all-important All Valley tournament.

Thomas Ian Griffith
Martin Kove (left) and Thomas Ian Griffith in 'Cobra Kai'
| Credit: netflix

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You mentioned that when Jon, Josh, and Hayden called, you were working as a writer full-time. Were you looking to go back to acting at all?

GRIFFITH: You know, I'd been working as an actor my whole career. Our two boys were young, and I was out of town literally eight months out of the year. I'd be in Eastern Europe or wherever, and I'd be hearing these little milestones I've been missing in their lives. I said, "I have to make a change." We had sold a couple of scripts early on, so when I got back to LA, I went to my literary agent and said, "I want to do this full-time." Then the horse took off in that direction. And, you know, I had no regrets simply because I felt I had been running in place with my career, doing the same type of thing as an actor.

And I loved the writing process — you still get to play all the characters as you're creating. In fact, I drive my wife crazy when we're in the office. I have to say all my dialogue out loud to make sure [it works]. My wife always said, "You'll go back eventually." And I was like, "Eh, if the right role came along," not thinking this would be it at all. God's honest truth. Then when it came up, she was the one that said, "You have to do this. This would be incredible." And my boys watched the series, and they were like, "Dad, you're doing this!" They loved it. And that's what I think is so special about the show: that it crosses over with the different generations.

What was your hair situation when you went into production? Did you have to wig it at all to recreate Terry Silver's iconic ponytail?

It's funny, Kristen, because during the pandemic, we were sitting in our office, and we didn't go anywhere, and I didn't get a haircut. And when I first Zoomed with the guys, I forget which one of them said, "Oh, by the way, don't cut your hair." Hayden was obsessed: "Make sure that ponytail is as long [as it was in the film]." So I think they had to add a little piece to make sure the ponytail was as long.

The Karate Kid
Thomas Ian Griffith in 'The Karate Kid Part III'
| Credit: Columbia Pictures

You've been a student of martial arts your whole life. What kind of training did you have to do to get back into kick-ass Terry Silver shape?

It's been part of my life forever. Like I always say, it's my therapy. It just grounds me and, uh, I just feel better. And so I had kept it up. You know, the first day doing it 12 hours — you're going to feel it at your age. But they have such a great stunt team and the fight choreographer, Don Lee. Once they saw what I'm capable of, they could expand on that and just take advantage. My hat's off to Ralph and Billy [Zabka, who plays Johnny Lawrence], who are just incredible… I'm watching on set, these stunt guys doing their flips and their splits, and I just want to slap one of them. Don't make it look so easy! It makes you feel a little old [laughs].

What can you preview about the dynamic between Terry Silver and John Kreese in season 4?

Well, the beauty is in season 3 I thought they did such a great job setting up the backstory with the whole Vietnam thing. Then they brought that into season 4. All the questions I had about what that relationship would be about got answered. I think it's going to be a really nice surprise for the audience, and fulfilling for them as well. Terry's been living a very full life, and he brings that to this Cobra Kai world — some of it will be for good, and some of it not so good. I think he's going to cause a little trouble.

Your performance in Karate Kid Part III was really big and over the top, by design. How did you adapt your take on Terry for 2021?

I really have no interest in repeating anything. So how do we round out a guy like that? How do we get back to what made this guy tick? What drove him inside and what would make him come back into this world? The [Cobra Kai] creators had really thought that out. With [Karate Kid Part III director] John Alvidsen, I'd be like, "This is a little over the top." And he was like, "I want every little kid in America kicking you in the shins." He just gave me free rein to run with it.

[Something] I think we've kept alive with Terry [on Cobra Kai] is bringing back that glee he has. He actually enjoys this — he's this billionaire who will have all this going on and [still] go back to the small little world of a karate tournament in the Valley. It's so absurd that it's fantastic!

Cobra Kai season 4 premieres Dec. 31 on Netflix.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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