‘Cobra Kai’: John Kreese Actor Martin Kove Won ‘Karate Kid’ Role by Insulting Director

Cobra Kai brought back John Kreese (Martin Kove), The Karate Kid movies’ ultimate villain. Kove was happy to return. In the 1984 movie, Kreese was the Cobra Kai sensei who trained Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Kreese was a bad influence and remains so in Cobra Kai on Netflix. Kove said he used that to win the role.

'Karate Kid' John Kreese actor Martin Kove teaches a student in the Cobra Kai dojo
Martin Kove | Curtis Bonds Baker/Netflix

Kove started the podcast Kicking It with the Koves with his son Jesse and daughter Rachel. On the Feb. 3 episode, Kove discussed his audition for The Karate Kid and how insulting its director and producer won him the role. 

The ‘Karate Kid’ audition for John Kreese made Martin Kove angry

John Kreese was the landmark role of Kove’s career, but by 1984 he was already established. He was a regular on the TV show Cagney & Lacey and had an arc on the soap The Edge of Night. So when The Karate Kid sprung the audition on him, it took Kove aback.

“They’d given me the script and said, ‘You have an entire week,’” Kove said on Kicking It with the Koves. “It was a Monday. Caro Jones was the casting woman. She said, ‘We’ll call you in. You’ll probably meet the director on Friday.’ I said, ‘oh, great.’ So I have a week with the script. The very next morning, I get a phone call, and she says, ‘John Avildsen wants to see you at noon.’ Literally, Tuesday. So I was livid, just livid. I hadn’t done any work on the script.”

RELATED: ‘Cobra Kai’ Star Martin Kove Didn’t Even Recognize This ‘Karate Kid Part III’ Star Today

Kove’s then-wife gave him the advice to use his anger for the role of John Kreese. 

“So that scene I auditioned with was up and down the aisles of the dojo, ‘Mercy is for the weak, here and on the streets, somebody confronts you…’” Kove said. “He’s basically bellowing and very angry. It was just his way of making sure they understood the information, the students. She said, ‘Use all that venom, go in there and tell them what you think of them.’”

Martin Kove went Cobra Kai on ‘The Karate Kid’ director and producer 

Avildsen directed the first three Karate Kid movies. Having directed the Oscar-winner Rocky, Avildsen was already a big name in sports movies. He may not have been ready for the real Cobra Kai, though. 

“In order to get myself as pumped up as I was back in the apartment with your mother in the house there, I berated him. So I would say, ‘You know, you’re a real a**hole, John Avildsen. We wait for years to meet directors of your caliber, and here you give me one day prep? And you’re an a**hole too, Caro Jones. I trusted you to give me a whole week prepping with this scene. You’re the worst. Mercy is for the weak…’ and I go right into it after berating these people. They loved it, and he just let me run with it. He said, ‘You’re great, we’re sending you to Jerry Weintraub.’

Would you believe it? Weintraub also kept Kove waiting. So Kove repeated the Cobra Kai spiel.

“Jerry Weintraub came in four days late to the appointment,” Kove said. “It was a Monday appointment or something, and he came in like Thursday, and I was on pins and needles. And I did the same thing to him. I said, ‘Jerry, you’re a real a**hole, and so are you, Caro Jones. You’re four days late to this appointment. Mercy is for the weak…’”

Insulting the director doesn’t always work 

Kove acknowledged that The Karate Kid audition was a special situation. The Cobra Kai persona was appropriate for the character he was trying to play. Kove said that tactic backfired on him later. He tried it in the audition for the HBO movie Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8 in 1987 but director Jeremy Kagan didn’t appreciate it. 

RELATED: ‘Cobra Kai’ Stars Ralph Macchio, Jacob Bertrand Vetoed 2 Bad Critics Choice Scripts

“It was a movie of the week, HBO movie, and I berated the director, didn’t work,” Kove admitted. “He kicked me out of the room, actually. It was the Bobby Seale story. Anyway, sometimes it’s appropriate and sometimes not. Years ago, you could bring a prop gun to an interview just to get a feel of it. If you were playing a heavy or something, I know actors who did that. Now you could never do that. It’s not appropriate.”

Kove said the key was to give the Karate Kid audition his all but have no expectations. 

“I was kind of secure enough at that point, I was doing Cagney & Lacey at the time, and we were on hiatus when they were shooting Karate Kid 1,” Kove said. “I actually had nothing to lose, I was doing a TV series. That mindset is the appropriate mindset to have as an actor when you go into a part, willing to lose it, just go in there and devil may care, do what you feel like.”

RELATED: ‘DWTS’: Martin Kove Got Some Advice From ‘Cobra Kai’ Co-Star and Former Semi-Finalist Ralph Macchio