‘Cobra Kai’: Why William Zabka Described Himself as ‘the Daniel LaRusso’ When He Was Younger

Cobra Kai season 3 dropped on Netflix last month and fans are already hungry for more. Reprising their roles from the 1984 film The Karate Kid, the series stars Ralph Macchio (Daniel LaRusso) and William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence) continuing their decades-long rivalry.

The third season of Cobra Kai revealed some similarities between Daniel and Johnny, despite being from very different backgrounds. In real life, Zabka can relate to Daniel’s youth more than Johnny’s.

William Zabka and Ralph Macchio of 'Cobra Kai'
William Zabka and Ralph Macchio of ‘Cobra Kai’ | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for dcp

William Zabka of ‘Cobra Kai’ was the new kid in California

In the original film, Daniel moved with his mom from New Jersey to California. He was instantly pegged as standing out from the residents of San Fernando Valley, which is something Zabka can relate to on a personal level. His family had to embark on a cross-country move due to his father’s job,

“I was born in New York City, lived in Long Island for 10 years,” Zabka told Uproxx in June 2019. “I moved to California when I was 10. My dad worked for NBC. He was a director on The Tonight Show and a lot of different shows. So did my mom, she worked at NBC. And my dad got transferred to California.” 

Zabka had to acclimate to a new environment, where the actor noted the similarities between his real-life background and that of his onscreen nemesis.

RELATED: ‘Cobra Kai’: Why William Zabka Calls Johnny Lawrence ‘A Caveman’

“I was the Daniel LaRusso really, coming out here,” Zabka explained. “I was a fish out of water with the weird accent and the funny bike, and I had to make my way in the first couple weeks and months of California and try to blend in.”

‘Cobra Kai’ star had to leave college for ‘The Karate Kid’

Zabka pursued an acting career early on, and was on a path toward filmmaking when he got his big break in The Karate Kid.

“I had just graduated high school, and I was going to film school at Cal State Northridge,” the Cobra Kai star recalled. “I was in my first semester of school, and I started going on auditions for Karate Kid. About halfway through my first semester, I booked the job.” 

The role changed his academic schedule, where Zabka decided to pause his college studies in order to take on the meaty role.

“I got pulled out of film school and thrown into a film,” he said. “Ironically, the ending tournament scene, where we did the final fight, happened to shoot at Cal State Northridge in their gym. So I went to college as a student and came back by the end of the semester as one of the stars of Karate Kid.”

William Zabka says there’s ‘so much to learn’ from the classics

Cobra Kai’s revisit to the 80s has resonated with audiences, with the series bringing in massive ratings. Zabka noted how viewers find comfort in nostalgia for simpler times. 

“We used to go out at night and come home when the lights went out,” he shared. “It felt like a more safe environment, a safer world, and the kids got out of the house more, and they went and played more. There was just something about playing baseball rather than playing X-Box baseball and Wii Tennis. We actually played tennis. Forget the virtual world. There’s a real world out there.”

With Johnny’s lack of techno savvy and love of classic rock, Zabka sees him as a more relatable and authentic character that tracks with fans. 

RELATED: ‘Cobra Kai’ Season 3: Why William Zabka Said Reuniting With Elisabeth Shue Was ‘Like Seeing an Old Friend From High School’

“I love that Johnny Lawrence is, in a way, a fossil of that time and a reminder of the simpler things,” The Karate Kid alum remarked. “And that’s very easy and natural to step into those shoes. Go river rafting, go climbing, go jump in the mud, go live, ride your bike, fall down. This culture is a little bit more… We’re a little isolated. We’re connected online, and that’s a big change.”

As a father of two, Zabka is bringing his children up with some traditional staples rather than overloading them with online offerings. 

“I have kids, and I’m trying to balance that myself, making sure that they get a dose of the good stuff, the real stuff, real-life experiences,” he said. “Turn on the classics, classic music, classic movies. There’s so much to learn from that, and it’s good for the soul.”