In an exclusive interview with Commyounicate, Martin Kove talks about new projects Cobra Kai season 2 and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Martin Kove, The Karate Kid actor who played Cobra Kai sensei, John Kreese, is coming back stronger than ever with appearances in Cobra Kai season 2 and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
It never ceases to amaze me how some of the most badass on-screen actors can be some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Martin Kove is no exception.
Though he is a grizzled veteran of the film industry, his intuitiveness combined with his humility and sense of humor make it difficult to reconcile the actor with the “NO MERCY” Cobra Kai Karate master we booed as kids.
Kove came in at the end of critically acclaimed Cobra Kai season 1 (critically acclaimed as in 100% on Rotten Tomatoes) to up the intensity of the series. Now, we can look forward to seeing him heavily featured in Cobra Kai season 2.
Kove was also cast alongside Margot Robbie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Al Pacino in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood — a much-anticipated Summer film directed by Quentin Tarantino.
Basically, things are looking good for Martin Kove.
From Cobra Kai season 2 secrets to landing a spot in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Here’s what Martin Kove had to say to Commyounicate.
Cobra Kai Season 2 Premieres on YouTube Premium on April 24. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood hits theaters on July 26, 2019.
Commyounicate interviewer, Ryan Mekkes: So what are your overall thoughts on Cobra Kai season two? If you had to sum up what fans can look forward to in season two, what would you say?
Martin Kove: There’s a myriad of surprises; there’s incorporation of new characters who play into the hands of John Kreese, they become formidable fighters, when at the beginning of the season they’re not. It’s all based on Cobra Kai functioning under the emphasis that mercy is for the weak. And that plays a big part in what goes on in season two. Because season two incorporates a lot of various amounts of characters that can be considered weak at the beginning and become strong at the end. And a lot of it is based on Johnny Lawrence’s instruction — Johnny Lawrence’s interpretation of Cobra Kai and my participation with him. And yet a lot of Cobra Kai is about the rivalry, how Ralph Macchio’s character changes enormously, and it’s very exciting. It’s very exciting because — without giving anything away — Ralph creates Miyagi Do, a rival dojo to Cobra Kai with rival concepts, with rival theories about Mr. Miyagi versus John Kreese. The style of Mr. Miyagi, which is quite merciful, versus the style of John Kreese in Cobra Kai, which is ‘no mercy.’ So they hold different philosophies. And there’s a fine line between what I’ve learned as a human being by watching the rivalry. A lot of me is part of John Kreese in real life, and a lot of Martin Kove is wrapped up in some of the aspects of Miyagi Do. It’s a very interesting combination of how the character feels and how the actor feels. And it’s only because the writings were so prolific. If it wasn’t so prolific, we wouldn’t get it — it would just be an imitation. The TV show is not an imitation of the first three movies. There is something in these shows, like the old Ed Sullivan show of the early-60s, late-50s, where all the family would gather around and watch the Ed Sullivan show because there was something on that hour for everybody in the family. And that’s what Cobra Kai is. There’s something for everybody in the show. Everybody can gather around and watch the show, whether you’re a teenager or a 50-year-old.
Mekkes: Yeah. I agree.
Kove: That’s kind of what I came away with. These guys created family entertainment that’s violent in moments, there’s lots of fighting, but it’s family entertainment. And there’s a little bit in it for everyone throughout each episode.
Mekkes: That’s so true.
Kove: And even more so in season two because the rivalry is so rich and the personal stories with the kids become more dominant in the episodes than before. And Ralph’s character is far more competitive and compulsive in Miyagi Do than he was before.
Mekkes: Oh that’s fun. Do you mind me asking, what’s it like working with Ralph Macchio and William Zabka?
Kove: Well where we did one scene in there, we hadn’t acted, the three of us together, in 35 years. It was really, really cool. I mean nobody walks through, because Billie is terrific in his part and Ralph’s a strong actor. Been going in the business forever. And myself, my character is a strong character. You just can’t get away with slacking off in a scene with the three of us — everybody’s got to really work to hold their position as an actor. All three of us just, we enjoy each other a lot, we respect each other a lot, and we realize we’re involved in the gift that keeps giving. We don’t take any of this for granted, because all of it could disappear in one day. Because we’ve all been in the business long enough to know that success is a fleeting virtue, you know? I think it’s been a lot of fun working together. We’ve been very respectful of each other, and we don’t have any conflicts. There are no fragile egos between us. And we see each other in different conventions, and the fans just enjoy the trio. They’re just enamored about the three of us getting together. And when people see the scenes where we’re together in season two, they’re just gonna [be so excited], especially when Billie and I get together because we’re like the dark side. We’re like the two ‘Darth Vader’s,’ you know? And Ralph is the bright light. I remember when I was doing — I think it was a commentary for Wide Earp — the producer, who was asking the questions in the commentary to me, a big Karate Kid fan, said, “The light would not have burned as bright if the darkness wasn’t as dark as it was.”
Mekkes: That’s awesome.
Kove: And what he meant, of course, is that if my character wasn’t as intense as John Kreese is, then the goodness wouldn’t have needed to burn as brightly. The light of Miyagi and Ralph would not have needed to burn so brightly. And I never thought of it that way, but that’s in essence how we do season two — the dark side was so dark that the bright light had to be so inherently responsive to that, you know? And it works; it all works.
Mekkes: And, I think the writing is brilliant also because you almost see the human side of Daniel LaRusso a little bit. He’s not this perfect person in Cobra Kai like he kind of was in The Karate Kid. You see the human side of him, and you see the human side of Johnny Lawrence as well. It’s not all clear cut always who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong. Yeah, I guess Cobra Kai is villainous, but there’s no one ‘bad guy,’ it’s just people living their journeys out. And that’s what I think is so incredible about this story.
Kove: Yeah. Well, every character is grey. There isn’t someone that’s black or white.
Kove: And you’ll see that a lot in John Kreese in season two. Everybody’s grey; nobody is white hat, black hat — like old westerns. Everybody hated my character — who started off so evil — in the movies. They loved to hate him, you know? But he’s got a lot of texture. He’s a gray character, but honestly, that’s the attraction to the show — the attraction to the show is that it is sophisticated. Audiences — especially kids who are are so hip these days — you can’t hand them stuff that we bought in the ’50s and ’60s. You just can’t do it. I was a very sophisticated filmgoer. Once a month my parents would give me money to go into New York and see The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur or any of those big movies when they came out. And I’d go in there with my friends. We lived out in Queens. But nowadays, the kids, they only have the sci-fi movies, the special effects movies, or Fast and the Furious. There’s not a lot of diet for kids in cinema for something like Karate Kid. They like hundred million dollar Marvel Comic Books or car-chase movies. But the humanity that’s professed, the humanity that’s diagrammed in Cobra Kai, where it’s gray, [connects with most everyone.] People have personal problems, it’s got to be handled; people are bullied, it’s got to be handled; people have romances, awkward romances, it’s got to be handled. In the years past, we’ve always found that the three reasons why people identified with and loved Karate Kid were, number one, there was a fish out of water in your life back in 1984 — you were a fish out of water, your father was in the military — it was that, or you were bullied in 1984 and you identified with Karate Kid that way. Or, you had a romance that didn’t work out.
Mekkes: Okay, wow.
Kove: This show is full of those moments when you’re just peeling off the layers of childhood and watching someone become adolescent or an adult.
Mekkes: Yeah. Cobra Kai also has amazing character development; the characters are incredible. It’s not extremely dark, either. So everybody can enjoy it. It’s just got the right elements of everything. I think you rarely find something that resonates with everyone. And it’s crazy that Karate Kid did that in 1984, and now Cobra Kai is picking up right where it left off, doing it all over again. The views it got and the Rotten Tomato score it got — I’ve never heard a bad thing about it. I binge-watched all of season 1 within probably a day and a half.
Kove: Yeah and it’s all bingeable. I did the same thing with my family here. We never expected to watch the whole ten; we didn’t. I wasn’t even in nine of them, but I had to watch just to see what they created, because I knew my experience on episode ten was very positive. So I watched it and wanted to see Billie’s work. It was great. And my family and I binged. I watched it on a big screen that I’ve got, it’s a 120-inch screen, and I watched it like I was screening some stuff to go to the academy awards because I’m in the academy. You know, it didn’t lose anything by being on a 120-inch screen. Sometimes you watch a TV show on a big screen and you see the flaws. Well, there were no flaws. It was just so good. And it’s all because it’s bingeable. They lure you in from one episode to the other with cliffhangers and all that. It’s an art. These three [show writers/directors, Hayden Schlossberg, Josh Heald, and Jon Hurwitz], have it together. And they work together, which is so amazing. There’s no fragile egos with those guys. It’s like they are all of one mind. And I’ve been out with them socially. I took them to see a choir and orchestra of Ennio Morricone’s music. All the Italian westerns and untouchables and the mission — they had that at the Wells Fargo Theater at the Autry museum here in Los Angeles. I took them. Just as a gift, taking them to be part of my world, and they loved it. They’re fun to be with and they’re open. They don’t hide anything. They’re just straight shooters, and that’s what’s fun.
Mekkes: That’s incredible.
Kove: I’ve not worked for anybody like that in a long time. Quentin is probably the closest thing to someone like that.
Mekkes: Yeah let’s talk about that for a bit here. Can you tell me a little bit about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? Because that’s a big deal movie coming out in July. What was your experience like?
Kove: Oh yeah, very interesting story. Say three years ago, I’m in a screening with 500 of my peers. I can’t remember if it was directors guild or screen actors guild, but there was a screening of Inglorious Basterds. And on the day, this was Brad Pitt, Quentin Tarantino, and Michael Fassbender, and they were all there answering questions. It was academy week, and I raised my hand to ask a question, and Quentin says, “Martin Kove, Martin Kove, you’re one of my favorite actors.” He says, “I loved you in a movie called Fire Hawk.” Well, Fire Hawk was a picture I did in the Philippines in 1992 that wasn’t very good. It was just a shoot-em-up action movie, a Vietnam movie, but he loved it! He saw everything because he worked in a video store, and because he loves movies! And there were parts of it that were good, but for me, it was just an okay movie. [So] I asked my question about the music, and then Brad Pitt grabs the mic and says, “And two days ago we screened Karate Kid for my six-year-old daughter, and you’re a legend in my house, Mr. Kove.” I felt like a million bucks. So we go backstage, exchange phone numbers with Quentin, and I feel just like a king. And I get home and I can’t read his handwriting. So for six months, I tried different alternatives. And I knew he was gonna do Django, which is why I came to the Inglorious Basterds screening, to somehow maybe chat with him. But, for six months, I couldn’t find it; I couldn’t get in touch with him. Tried everything. And then, ultimately, I bumped into him again at the screening of Hateful Eight. He gave me his number again, and still, his phone just kept ringing. So I figured I was done. Then, I bumped into him a third time, and I tell him, “I can’t get in touch with you, your numbers are wrong.” He says, “Martin, don’t worry, you’ll be in the next one.” And that’s after Hateful Eight and Django. And he knew how much I loved westerns — all of a sudden, in August, I get an offer to be in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. And I walked up to him at the party we had before watching the movie, and I said to him, “Quentin, did you ask me to come play in this movie because I’ve been bugging you for three years to work with you? Or because I was from Cobra Kai?” And he looked at me, took a pause and said, “A little bit of both.”
Mekkes: (laughs) That’s awesome.
Kove: It was great. He was so warm and affectionate at the party. Then on the set, it was great. He’s just someone who loves film — he’s good at it and everybody wants to work for him in town. Whether you have two lines or twenty lines, doesn’t matter.
Mekkes: Yeah, what was your experience like on set?
Kove: It was great. And working with DiCaprio was great, dressed in western gear. The stuff I did was taken right out of My Darling Clementine, the old John Ford movie about the gunfighter at OK Corral with Henry Fonda. I’m leaning on a chair, propped back up just like Henry Fonda. And it was really funny because I put my feet up on the post just like Henry Fonda does. It’s really paying homage to that scene. And Quentin would say, “You know that movie?” Because I started doing this thing with my feet like Henry Fonda did. It’s a very classic moment in My Darling Clementine. I said, “Of course I know that movie.” He’s just a lot of fun. I’d work with him again in a minute. And then I went off to do Cobra Kai the following month. He was also a big Cobra Kai fan. He loved the series, he really did.
Mekkes: Quentin Tarantino is a Cobra Kai fan? Awesome.
Kove: Yeah, he loved the show and he loved the writers. But, you know, he’s just — it’s like working for a big kid. It’s like walking in a candy store working with him.
Mekkes: I was looking at the cast [from Once Upon A Time In Hollywood], and first off, it’s Quentin Tarantino — then you look at the whole cast and it’s like, How in the world? It’s you, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Leonardo DiCaprio — like you said, people truly must love working for him.
Kove: You’ve also got Al Pacino. It was just a lot of fun. Tarantino just made you really comfortable. He knows how to treat actors, you know? And I know it comes from him, it doesn’t come from production, it definitely comes from him. I think every actor is blessed when you work with Quentin Tarantino. Just like blessed when you’re working with Josh, Jon, and Hayden. Believe me, if you’re in the business, most of the time, out of a dozen movies you do, maybe you’re proud and excited about one or two. And that makes up the difference for the pain that you went through on the others because they didn’t turn out so well for whatever reason. Promotion, editing, whatever. You’re not in this business for the money, that’s for sure. You’re in this for the emotional satisfaction of getting some good material and working with really good producers and writers.