Although nostalgia enthusiasts were excited to see original actors Ralph Macchio and William Zabka recently reprise their roles as Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence on YouTube Red’s “Cobra Kai,” there’s no denying how much heart and talent the younger cast members have added to the new series based on “The Karate Kid.”
Leading the latest group of martial arts trainees in the resurrected franchise is 16-year-old actor Xolo Maridueña, who portrays main character Miguel Diaz. On the show, Miguel is the first novice karate student Johnny takes in to train when he decides to resurrect the Cobra Kai brand by opening his own dojo under the same name and taking on the role of sensei. Johnny meets Miguel when he saves him from a group of bullies outside of the strip mall where the dojo is located.
Miguel is a nice enough kid who lives with his loving mother and grandmother. We don’t know too much about his father except that he stayed behind in Ecuador and might’ve been caught up in something shady. Miguel’s mother describes him as a “very bad man.” In Johnny, Miguel finds the father figure that he’s always wanted.
Along with his new interest in martial arts, Miguel has his sights set on making an impression on a girl at school – Samantha LaRusso (Mary Mouser), who happens to be Daniel’s daughter. As the 10-episode season progresses, Miguel becomes closer to Samantha, although her father has no idea that he is Johnny’s student, which Samantha knows would not be welcomed news in the LaRusso household. While that drama plays out, Miguel finds a new foe in Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), Johnny’s estranged teenage son who happens to work for Daniel at his car dealership and begins a friendship with Samantha while under Daniel’s tutelage.
During an interview with me last week, Maridueña talked about why everyone should give “Cobra Kai” a chance even if they haven’t seen the original movie, and why viewers should stick around for Season 2, which was greenlit by YouTube Red the day before our interview.
Why do you think this reboot of “The Karate Kid” franchise has registered with audiences?
I really want people to give [“Cobra Kai”] a shot and at least watch the first episode. I think it hooks in the audience. The cast is phenomenal. They portray their roles perfectly. By the end of the first episode, you’ll want to know everyone’s life story and what their character arcs are going to be. Once you’re in, it’s a wrap.
Should viewers interested in seeing “Cobra Kai” go back and revisit the original films or can they start from scratch with this new show?
Since there are a lot of references and a lot of nods to the first “Karate Kid,” it would only make sense to watch at the very least the first one just so you can get a couple of the jokes that you may not have understood otherwise. But I really don’t think it’s necessary. I think [“Cobra Kai”] is its own project and separate from “The Karate Kid.” Because of that, you don’t need to, but I would advise it.
You know, this show can go into so many different direction for Season 2.
I was on a call with the directors yesterday and was begging them, “Just tell me what you guys have planned [for Season 2]!” There are so many different directions [Season 2] can take. In the first season, our writers and directors knew from the get-go where they wanted a lot of these characters to end up at the season finale. They didn’t have it perfectly written down on paper, but they knew. I can only imagine they’re going to come into Season 2 with the same [concept]. There’s no way they haven’t planned for like [as far ahead as] Season 5. I think they have the right idea. You should always feel confident in yourself.
How does it feel being the first Latino “Karate Kid” ever?
Latinos are the No. 1 moviegoers and TV viewers, but the representation is not there in front of the camera. Latinos are towards the bottom of the list when it comes to being in [movies and TV shows]. It really feels great to be a character who is explicitly Latino. It really is a huge deal for me just because it’s not a stereotypical role. It is great because there are so many young kids that don’t see people that look like them on screen. Having someone who has the same skin tone as you is world changing for a lot of these kids.
What did you think about your character toward the end of Season 1 and how much he changed?
I really love both sides of Miguel. I don’t think he’s that much of a different character. I think a lot of his motives and ideals are different. I don’t think his personality has changed. I think he’s a very passionate person. When he’s set on something, he’s set. With that being said, I know Season 2 is going to be a lot different from Season 1. We’ve established all the characters, so I think Season 2 we’ll see a change in Miguel and [all the characters]. You come to watch [Daniel and Johnny], but you’re going to ultimately stay for the new generation of karate kids.