Warning: This post contains spoilers for season 5 of Cobra Kai.
It's no joke, LaRusso: The "bad boy of karate" is a changed man.
After keeping his appearance under wraps for a year, Sean Kanan is finally able to talk about reprising his Karate Kid Part III role as Mike "your karate's a joke, LaRusso" Barnes in the new season of Netflix's Cobra Kai.
"I filmed a year ago and I've had to keep this a secret," says the actor, who returned to CBS' The Bold and the Beautiful last year. "I've had literally hundreds of people a week [asking me about it] through social media and when I would do conventions and appearances. Even on Bold and the Beautiful — the crew guys are all fans of Cobra Kai and are like, 'Dude, when's Barnes coming back?' And I can't say anything!"
Now that the gag order has been lifted, EW asked Kanan about Mike Barnes' new career and outlook on life; his unlikely alliance with Daniel (Ralph Macchio), Johnny (William Zabka), and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto); and the one joke he really wanted to make at Terry Silver's (Thomas Ian Griffith) expense.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you first become aware of Cobra Kai and did you ever think you'd be part of it?
SEAN KANAN: I became aware of it as soon as it premiered. And yeah, obviously it was my hope that at some point the character would be given the jersey and told to get in the game. It's been a little bit of a long haul, but well worth it.
When did the creators first reach out to you?
I think it was June or July of last year, and they were so gracious. They asked me to have a Zoom conversation with them. You know, it's not the norm that the creator-producers of a juggernaut successful show offer the time to an actor to sit down and hear thoughts on the character. I just was blown away that they did that. I think we talked in June or July and then I was filming in September.
Did you have a go-to deflection response when fans would ask you if Barnes would be in the new season?
I did. And it's a line from my book, Way of the Cobra. Gratuitous plug. I would say, "Keep the faith and we shall see." What else can I say?
You study martial arts, but what kind of training did you have to do to get in Cobra Kai shape?
Not really a whole lot, to be honest. I've been training fairly regularly prior to that. The training that was involved was more relegated to the choreography that we had to do. Fortunately, it's something that I've kept up with over the years.
When you first talked to the creators about Barnes and his arc, were you surprised to find out that the bad boy of karate was now reformed?
I didn't have the chance to talk to Hayden Schlossberg [at that first meeting]; he was off doing something else. So it was Jon [Hurwitz] and Josh [Heald], and I said, "Look guys, my only hope is that the character won't simply be a unidimensional thug, like he was in the film." You have to understand something: That was very much by design. That was what [Karate Kid III director] John Avildsen wanted. For me, as a guy who is now 33, 34 years down the road, both as an actor and as a human being, I wanted to make sure that I could bring different colors, different dimensions to the character.
They had an idea for the character. It was very vague. They didn't tell me exactly what it was going to be, but they gave me some idea of it. The one thing I'd really love to do if possible is, you guys have been so good at instilling in the show — I do stand-up, I want to make sure that the character has got some wit and fun to him. They said absolutely. Even when we were on set, they were receptive and open to suggestions I had.
It was an amazing work experience. I'm just humbled and so appreciative that a character that I played about 33 years ago still has some relevance. It was wonderful to reengage with Ralph and Billy and everybody. And I'd like to say thanks so much to the fans for wanting this for so long.
Did you improvise any lines that you were particularly proud of?
I did a fair amount of improv. I would run my line suggestions by the guys and they were really great about it. I had this one great line — it didn't make it in. I wanted to say to Terry Silver when I saw him, "I see you and Steven Seagal are still frequenting the same hair salon." That one didn't make it in, but a couple of them did. It was a really, really supportive work environment.
I'm still amazed that your appearance this season didn't leak since there was so much anticipation surrounding it. When you were on set, were there precautions in place to keep paparazzi and nosy fans at bay?
Well, we were filming in this production compound, which is really, really large, like multiple city blocks, with a big security set-up. But somebody that I knew from years before was on location [there] and took a picture of me and posted it. Luckily, they yanked it [down] pretty quickly, but some people saw it and they kept quiet about it. There were little holes in the dyke, so to speak, but fortunately nothing overflowed.
Netflix Sean Kanan in 'Cobra Kai'
Mike Barnes is a master furniture craftsman. Do you know anything about making furniture?
I think I got a B in wood shop, and I got a D in metal shop. I'm definitely a better woodworker than welder and metal worker. But no, I'm not real handy with the carpentry. But I really liked that [about Mike Barnes], that humanizing detail. Here's this guy whose life was in shambles at the age of 17 and he probably met a woman who turned his life around. And then her father, who was probably a surrogate father to him, taught him something [about woodworking].
Had life kept going that way, Mike probably would've kept being a responsible, good citizen. But when Terry Silver burned down his furniture store, the switch got flipped. Mike had lost everything, and he drew back on the instincts he had. It's good to see that all these years later, Barnes can still be the bad boy of karate.
When we last see Mike Barnes, he's gotten payback from Silver in the form of an original Rembrandt painting. What conversations have you had with the big three about a possible return for Mike Barnes in season 6?
I can't really talk about that. That's something for them to discuss or not discuss. But I do certainly think that the table is set for, hopefully, Mike to continue. He's now kind of like this unlikely, ersatz friend and partner with Chozen, Johnny, and Daniel. So, I hope [he returns].
For me, the best line of the entire season is when Johnny says, "The bad boy's right!" I just thought that was so funny. People speculated a lot about Mike Barnes and Johnny fighting, which I don't understand because they never knew each other and there's no reason to think that they would have any beef. But it was fun that Mike and Johnny very quickly became unlikely compatriots and buddies. And technically, if you think about it, Mike Barnes saved Johnny's life. So, I'm not saying that Johnny owes me anything but… [Laughs]
Cobra Kai season 5 is streaming now on Netflix.