While speaking on a panel with “Cobra Kai” stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, Daniel Henney cited “The Karate Kid” as a major influence in his choice to pursue an acting career.
“It was very special to me growing up,” said the “Wheel of Time” actor. “I was in a small town, the only Asian kid there, and that movie gave me the confidence to stand up to people, to get out and try things. And that’s what eventually got me into theater.”
“The Art of an Actor” panel was presented as part of Variety and Sony Picture Television’s Virtual FYC House and also included actors Lamorne Morris (“Woke”) and Will Yun Lee (“The Good Doctor”), moderated by Variety’s deputy awards and features editor Jenelle Riley. The group of actors discussed how they broke into the business and the biggest challenges of their current roles.
Macchio and Zabka reflected back on when they were first approached about “Cobra Kai,” which will launch its fifth season in the Fall. Macchio admitted that the success of the show has “exceeded expectations,” not just winning over fans but critics and landing an Emmy nomination for best comedy series. Zabka, who brings Johnny Lawrence some redemption after he was villain of the original film, says his sole hesitation when he was approached by the show’s creators was getting the genre right.
“My one thing was, ‘What’s the tone? Is this comedy? Is it family?’” revealed Zabka. “And they said, ‘It’s a little bit of both.’ And, if it wasn’t called ‘Cobra Kai,’ it could be called ‘Bad Sensai.’ And, that gave me an idea of what Billy Bob Thornton did, that’s who Johnny’s going to be today.”
Morris admitted his role as a cartoonist who initially tries to shy away from controversial topics until inanimate objects start speaking to him on “Woke” came with a unique challenge — he’s portraying a version of the show’s co-creator Keith Knight. “[It’s] a little intimidating, I got to be honest,” Morris said. “I mean, he’s staring at you the entire time. He’s like, ‘You’re playing me, bro. So don’t fuck it up.’”
Lee cited an episode of “The Good Doctor” that centered on Asian hate exacerbated by the pandemic as a challenging day — particularly because he was harassed at a convenience store by a man who shook his car and hurled a racist slur on his way to the set. Lee added that he is grateful for the global reach of the show, stating, “For most of my career, I’ve played the faceless villain. And I had to eke my way out of trying to humanize these characters. But, when you have three pages or a page and a half to put a heartbeat on your character, it’s very difficult. So with a show like this, in its totality, is very important for me because … so much of the time, we are never given enough yardage. We are never given enough real estate to go, ‘We have a heartbeat. We have a face. We have a life.’”
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Watch the full panel discussion above.