‘Cobra Kai’ Star William Zabka Said He Used a Bruce Lee Movie to Convince ‘The Karate Kid’ Director to Cast Him

William Zabka got to reprise his Karate Kid role in Cobra Kai. As fans wait to see season 4, Zabka reflects on how he got the role in the first place. It turns out martial arts legend Bruce Lee helped Zabka in his audition for the 1984 movie. 

William Zabka points at Jacob Bertrand
L-R: William Zabka and Jacob Bertrand | Netflix

Zabka was a guest on the Jim Norton and Sam Roberts show on June 15. He told his story about landing the role of Johnny Lawrence with a little help from the Dragon.

William Zabka’s long road to ‘The Karate Kid’ and ‘Cobra Kai’

In The Karate Kid, Johnny Lawrence was a student at Cobra Kai. He used his Karate to bully Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), so Daniel trained in Karate himself with Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). Zabka said the casting directors called his manager to have him audition for a role. 

“I met Caro Jones and Pennie DuPont, the casting directors,” Zabka said. “They handed me the script and said, ‘We think you’re great for this part.’ I went home and read it and this guy’s a Karate black belt and a motorcycle gang leader. Didn’t know how to ride a motorcycle, didn’t know Karate, I thought this isn’t going to work out.”

Cobra Kai Season 3: William Zabka holds up an Eagle Fang shirt
William Zabka | Curtis Bonds Baker/Netflix

RELATED: Cobra Kai’ Creators Reveal They Based the ‘Karate Kid’ Show on Their Own High School Bullies

Still, Zabka went on the audition but it wasn’t instantly fated. 

“So I went in on an audition basically and then went in, read for [director] John Avildsen,” Zabka said. “There was a whole room full of other Johnnys. I’ll never forget, the energy of the room of all the Johnnys auditioning was enough to make me go outside and sit in my Dad’s 1970 Volvo and crank some Ronny James Dio and Zebra and clear my head. Then they came out like, ‘Where are you, kid, it’s your turn?’ Then I walked in and auditioned in front of John Avildsen, a scene that was cut out of the film.”

William Zabka’s Bruce Lee reference may have sealed the deal 

Lee practiced a form of Kung Fu called Jeet Kune Do. That’s different from Karate, but Zabka referenced the movie Game of Death in which Lee fights Kareem Abdul Jabbar. 

Bruce Lee kicks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game of Death
L-R: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bruce Lee | Concord Productions Inc./Golden Harvest Company/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

RELATED: Why Bruce Lee Was Forced to Pursue His Legendary Acting Career Outside of Hollywood

“He looked at me and said, ‘You’re a little bigger than our Karate Kid,’” Zabka said of Avildsen. “I said, ‘Yeah, well, Bruce Lee was smaller than Kareem Abdul Jabbar.’ And he said, ‘That’s true, that’s true. Let me think about it.’”

Long before ‘Cobra Kai,’ there was still more work to do for ‘The Karate Kid’

Zabka said it still took a few more meetings to land the role, but the Lee comment got him to the next step.

“So I went home,” Zabka said. “He called me back another time I read with Ralph weeks later. Went home again and another week later they stretched me in a room with Pat Johnson who trained us for The Karate Kid, just bent me in different positions to see if I was limber. He got on the Batphone, said something to somebody at Columbia and I went home and got a call that I got the part.”

Source: Jim Norton and Sam Roberts