Despite its connection to the original Karate Kid saga and the presence of its old stars, Cobra Kai ultimately belongs to the new generation of karate talent. Its young stars like Xolo Maridueña, Tanner Buchanan, Mary Mouser, and Peyton List have stood out both for their acting and for how well they’ve taken to karate over the course of the series. During an interview with Collider’s own Perri Nemiroff, Ralph Macchio attested to the talent his younger co-stars bring to the table, though he had particularly high praise for Jacob Bertrand, comparing him to none other than Mr. Miyagi himself Pat Morita.
Bertrand plays Eli in the series, perhaps one of Cobra Kai’s more complex and changed characters over its run. Starting out as a bullied loner, he builds up both his strength and self-confidence under the tutelage of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and later John Kreese (Martin Kove), becoming the exact thing he once hated by using that strength to torment others. As time goes on and his conscience gets the better of him though, he becomes a pivotal part of the fight against Cobra Kai and helps bring Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang together in the end. By the time he wins the 51st All-Valley Karate Tournament, he’d become one of the strongest fighters among the cast all while rekindling many of the relationships he damaged along the way. Throughout that journey, he’s done his best to capture the more vehemently detestable Hawk personality and his more upstanding Eli side. Close
When asked about his own journey with Karate Kid and what he’d tell his younger self now to be more successful as a young actor, Macchio heaped praise on Bertrand and the others for how they seemed to nail the martial arts and the physicality of the series:
I’d like to be as good as all of them at martial arts. I would like to just be Tanner and Jacob just for one afternoon. And Mary Mouser! How about Mary’s work from Season 1, never throwing a kick in her life, to how much work she’s put into Samantha’s martial arts? I mean, I was dedicated. I certainly was. At least I have one crane kick in my back pocket that’ll always be heard around the world, right?
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Regarding his likeness to Morita, Macchio noted that Bertrand seems to share the same preternatural ability to fall in and out of the moment as needed, going from completely serious in character to light-hearted and joking when the cameras are off. Compared to his own abilities, he found it shocking how easily it comes to Morita and Bertrand, both of whom could easily come in and out of their characters’ most heartfelt and challenging moments with a smile and some jokes. He explained:
Pat Morita had this as well, and Jacob is great at this, it’s the ability to come in and out of it in a snap of a finger. He’ll just be cracking jokes, prankster-ing, and cry, and then back. Pat Morita would do that, too. He’d do the great Miyagi drunk scene, tears in his eyes of losing his wife and child in the internment camps, and then we’d cut and he’d have a few fart jokes for me and make me laugh. And it would take me 10 minutes to get back into character. So I marvel at people that are able to do that.
Macchio, Bertrand, and the rest of the cast just returned to Netflix last month with Cobra Kai Season 5 which centered on the fallout from the aforementioned All-Valey Tournament. Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) sets out to expand the Cobra Kai empire while Johnny looks to repair all the damage he’s caused, leaving his sensei days behind. With the heart of the valley on the line, Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) calls on old friend Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto) to help settle the score with Silver. By all accounts, it’s been yet another success for the series, owning a perfect 100% critic score and 92% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes