“Cobra Kai! Cobra Kai! Cobra Kai!” Yep, that is one helluva comeback! It seems Johnny Lawrence has not forgotten the shame he felt after losing the All Valley Karate Tournament to the Karate Kid himself, Daniel LaRusso. 34 years later, Mr. Lawrence unites a group of teenage outcasts and turns them into confident warriors. His methods are often times a bit harsh but clearly instill a winning attitude, no matter the cost. Even Cobra Kai’s most dejected pupil Eli, played by the animated Jacob Bertrand, turned torment into triumph. Fan Fest News was able to catch up with Jacob to get his thoughts on being part of an iconic Karate Kid comeback in Cobra Kai.
Linda: Cobra Kai, I watched and I loved it. I sat to watch the first couple episodes and found that I couldn’t stop, it was amazing!
Jacob: That’s awesome! Thank You.
Linda: Could you tell me a little bit about getting your role [Eli/Hawk]?
Jacob: I got the call from my agent that they were doing a Karate Kid re-do, a TV show. I was so stoked that they thought of me for the role and then I went in, auditioned and when I went in there, I started reading the script but I guess I had an old outdated version of it. They gave me the new script, sent me outside and then I took like 10 or 15 minutes, went over it, went back in, did the audition and about 3 hours later I got the call from my agent that I booked it. I was completely ecstatic.
Linda: So you had watched Karate Kid prior [to auditioning for Cobra Kai]? You knew about it.
Jacob: Oh yeah, yeah. Oh definitely. My brother and I, after we saw that movie, my parents were just so mad because we ran around trying to do karate moves all over. Like knocking down vases and stuff.
Linda: I love that. When I spoke to Xolo [Miguel Diaz] and Mary [Samantha LaRussso], I learned that they actually didn’t know a lot about it.
Jacob: Yeah, I message Xolo a lot because he’s pretty much like the new Karate Kid and he hadn’t even seen the movie before! I thought that was kinda funny. It was cool to watch it with everyone.
Linda: Did you have a martial arts background going into the series? What type of training did you have to go through?
Jacob: I did karate for 4 years from 8-12, I did a couple years of grappling. I kinda knew some stuff, but the training beforehand, before the show, was just lots and lots and lots of stretching because there are so many kicks and I totally forgot how flexible you have to be to kick someone in the face. Our stunt coordinator Tito was amazing, he is crazy good at just fighting in general. It was really cool to work with him, he just knew everything and helped us out with whatever we needed.
Linda: Did you get to train with Billy [William Zabka] or Ralph [Macchio]?
Jacob: Billy is just crazy good at karate! He kept doing karate in between the movie and the show so he was just already crazy good. He didn’t train with us too much, mostly it was me, Xolo and Tanner.
Linda: What was it like working with them [William and Ralph]?
Jacob: Most my scenes were with Billy but it honestly surprised me how much he really knew about fighting and, he’s really good, he’s the real deal. Him and Ralph, they’re both really good. I didn’t know that… I thought, ya know, watching the movies as a kid, I knew they were movies and I knew about stunt doubles and stunt coordinators, so I didn’t think they knew a whole bunch but, no, they were the real deal! That was super cool, that they could just knock you out in an instant! They’re both so much fun to work with, they’re crazy talented and it’s so much fun to feed off of them. Billy really gets into his scenes.
Linda: Did they offer you any advice?
Jacob: Billy definitely helped me out a lot of the training when we were on set, while we were fighting, while we were rehearsing, giving me pointers and stuff. So that was pretty cool.
Linda: Something I also asked Xolo [Mariduena] and Mary [Mouser] was regarding the bullying aspect of both the Karate Kid and Cobra Kai. Your character was able to go from being an outcasted victim into to a confident fighter. I love how Eli took the ridicule from Johnny and ‘came out’ as Hawk. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, it was amazing! What was that like for you?
Jacob: I really loved it! I was bullied a lot as a kid, all through elementary school. I really, really don’t care for bullies, I don’t really get why people do that. It sucked, I hated it. I thought it was so cool to get a chance to embody a character that started kinda insecure, bullied by other kids. To have this kind of turnaround, join Cobra Kai, beating everybody up and getting a mowhawk and a back tattoo, that was really, really fun for me. He kinda did a total 180 from sort of victim to aggressor.
Linda: When he [Eli] left [the Cobra Kai dojo], I was sad and thinking this poor kid is never gonna come back and then he shows up [as Hawk] and I was shocked. I didn’t see that coming!
Jacob: Yeah, definitely a cool turn that the writers did.
Linda: I kind of laughed at Johnny, the way he handled his band of outcasts using some insensitive and demeaning language which actually seemed to make them stronger.
Jacob: I think it kind of all started with my character Eli because he [Johnny] would hound on a lot of kids but really just dug into him because of his lip deformation. I think how he comes back as Hawk, I think that set the standard for the other kids. Yeah, people are gonna make fun of you, mess with you and just be total jerks but, it’s what you do after that. You don’t just sit in the dirt and wallow, you get back up and you strike back harder. It’s a very aggressive, very harsh lesson but I think that’s kinda what Cobra Kai is, harsh and merciless. That’s how these kids get created, in a way he sort of creates these monsters but they’re sort of rising from the ashes of their nerdier, victim selves.
Linda: That’s a great way to look at it. I wonder now though since Johnny instills this confidence in them, is the change going in a bad way?
Jacob: Yeah, it kinda goes a little too far almost. I think he definitely starts to realize that on the last episode when Robby has the hurt shoulder and he [Johnny] comes up to me and is like, “What the hell!” In the middle of the final fight, Xolo [Miguel] walks up and they have that conversation and he’s like, there’s nothing bad about winning if it’s dirty. He [Johnny] kinda realizes how Xolo [Miguel] has turned into this monster almost, an unbeatable winning machine and he just does anything it takes to win.
Linda: It’s so entertaining and so filled with life lessons at the same time.
Jacob: It’s cool because at the end you don’t really know who you rooting for. The whole time you’ve been backing Miguel and then…. I love that.
Linda: You brought up the tattoo earlier and I hadn’t planned on asking about it but, do you happen to have any real tattoos?
Jacob: No, no! I was 17 when we shot it so I didn’t have a chance to get a tattoo. I would love for Hawk to get more tattoos for the next season. I keep calling and texting the writers, Josh and Hayden, c’mon guys, Hawk needs more tattoos to show off! I would love to get tattoos in real life but I don’t think my mom would ever let me. (laughing)
Linda: I was just gonna say, how would mom feel about that?
Jacob: She definitely would not be a fan of the tattoos. Hopefully, I can live out my tattoo fantasy through Hawk.
Linda: Perfect! When he went, he went big!
Jacob: Yeah, everything I’ve ever wanted to do that was just a little too crazy or aggressive, I get to do with Hawk. I mean who can pull off buying cases and cases of beer with a fake ID looking as young as Hawk does. He claimed to have a son and he [the cashier] bought it.
Linda: I wanted to say that I took note you were in Ready Player One and I wanted to ask you about the 80’s references throughout that and Cobra Kai. How much did you learn about the 80’s from them? Did you get into it?
Jacob: I grew up all on my dad’s music, he was born in the 70’s and so a lot of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s rock [I know is] from my dad. I kinda had that aspect already and then growing up I just loved watching movies. In that sense, I know a little bit about the culture. It was interesting because [with] Ready Player One the nostalgia will stay but [with] Cobra Kai the nostalgia kinda comes back and bites everybody because Cobra Kai ends up breeding these monsters. They are definitely similar but almost like a rebuttal to each other.
Linda: Are there any future projects you’d like to talk about?
Jacob: So stoked for Season 2, casting my net out for different stuff. Right now I’m just going to school, gonna graduate soon.
Linda: So you graduate this year?
Jacob: Yeah, high school. I’m a senior.
Linda: Congratulations on that and thank you so much for taking the time to chat. I loved Cobra Kai and I wish the best to all you guys.
Jacob: Thank you so much, thanks for your time.
I said it before and I will say it again… check out Cobra Kai on YouTube Red! Share your thoughts with Fan Fest News.