'Cobra Kai' Star Ralph Macchio Reveals How 'Karate Kid' Spinoff Honors Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi

While the Karate Kid spinoff series, Cobra Kai has jubilated audiences with a roster of familiar faces across its first two seasons, one notable personality missing from the fold has left an irreplaceable hole for fans and the stars of the show.

In an exclusive with PopCulture.com, series star and the “karate kid” himself, Ralph Macchio admits how maintaining the presence of the franchise’s beloved mentor figure, Mr. Miyagi, portrayed by the late Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, was a real “deal-breaker” for him upon taking part in the successful revival.

“[The showrunners] knew that it was so important to me,” Macchio, who plays Miyagi’s student, Daniel LaRusso, told PopCulture.com. “It was a deal-breaker for me deciding to jump in to do the show.”

While Macchio discloses he knew the concept for the series focused on Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) at first, his interest piqued in its unique direction the story would dive into while preserving an equilibrium between Johnny and Daniel.

“There was a promise that there was going to be a balance, if you will, between these two characters and their two worlds,” he said. “That was just something that I said is so important to me, [and] how that legacy would be woven through.”

Macchio goes on to add that the Okinawan philosophies, martial arts, and all the “Miyagi-isms” that influenced his character in the ‘80s franchise and still do by the end of Season 2 in Cobra Kai, played a big role in honoring the karate master.

“At the end of Season 2, LaRusso feels he’s failed Miyagi. Failed everything,” Macchio said. “His intentions were all good but at the end of the day, now that there’s a negative cloud, that’s where Season 3, I’m sure will pick up. How does he figure it out from there... those are real, rich things to play.”

The 57-year-old actor adds a pivotal moment for his character comes in Season 2 when members of the Cobra Kai vandalize the Miyagi-Do and spray paint the side of Daniel’s iconic yellow car.

“[It] is the actual car that I had in the movie,” Macchio explains. “[But] when he sees that moment, and [Miyagi’s] Medal of Honor is stolen from, there’s a massive burden that’s on LaRusso’s shoulders that he’s responsible for all of that.”

Of course, fans will recall that Daniel’s anger over the abhorrent actions drive him over to the Cobra Kai dojo to confront his nemesis Johnny and his students.

“But that’s always been LaRusso,” Macchio quips. “He’s always been the guy that doesn’t give up, even when he’s not in the right. So, when you look at those things and say, ‘Wow, LaRusso’s the antagonist.’ Well, in essence, he has a great duty that he puts on his shoulders to carry out that legacy. When it’s tainted or disrespected, he feels he’s coming from a true place because he’s respecting his master.”

Macchio adds that it’s all in how you “view those moments by putting them in perspective.”

Since its premiere, Cobra Kai has managed to pepper in mentions of LaRusso’s iconic sensei, Mr. Miyagi. But one moment, in particular, touched Macchio and acts as a most befitting tribute to the iconic actor and on-screen legend — who died in 2005 due to kidney failure. In the scene, Daniel loses his way a bit and visits the old friend at his gravestone. The moment is then blended with a Miyagi quote from the first film that sees the karate master reiterate what balance means to his young student.

Macchio adds that with the direction of the show having Daniel become a mentor to a new generation of students is something he really enjoys as the series allows him the opportunity to step into another set of shoes without taking away from Morita’s Miyagi.

“I think sharing some of the wisdom or what he believes is the wisdom, and having those moments [has been enjoyable],” Macchio said. “Like when Miyagi’s grave in Episode 5 of Season 1, when it sort of switched, and he tries to let martial arts back into his life…those moments, those in-depth moments bring feeling to the essence of what Pat Morita’s character as Mr. Miyagi brought to this franchise.”

He adds that tying in those elements are not only “important” to him, but “great to play”— especially the “good amount of stuff” he carries with co-star, Zabka.

“When [Billy] and I get to have fun and not just be ready to kill each other,” he laughed. “It’s really fun to be the odd couple, but it’s also fun to lay into each other. I think those scenes really play nicely and they carefully lay those out where they’re separated by time, so when they come together it’s really exciting to see.”

Cobra Kai and its first two seasons are currently streaming on YouTube.

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Stay tuned to PopCulture.com for more with Macchio as he opens up about the impact of The Karate Kid 35 years later and what fans can expect from Cobra Kai Season 3.

Photo credit: Getty Images, Moviepix / Columbia Pictures