Cobra Kai Season 5: Sean Kanan on The Karate Kid III & Barnes Return
Sean Kanan is always grateful for what The Karate Kid franchise has done for him. The actor played karate's bad boy Mike Barnes in 1989's The Karate Kid Part III as Daniel LaRusso's (Ralph Macchio's) rival and tormentor, working with Cobra Kai's Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). Cobra Kai season five finds Barnes back into the fold, but perhaps not in the way you might expect. Kanan spoke to Bleeding Cool about returning to the TKK franchise, reuniting with Macchio and Griffith, working with Yuji Okumoto and William Zabka, and reflecting on what Part III has taught him. The following contains major spoilers for season five.
Bleeding Cool: How does it feel to get back into The Karate Kid universe in Cobra Kai?
Kanan: It was incredible. I watched on the sidelines for multiple seasons hoping that it was going to finally happen, and it did. It was a tremendous experience. It was a lot of fun, and I'm just dying to see what the fans think of it, but I had a blast.
What did you think of the script when it was handed to you and the arc that Mike was put into as a family man and furniture store owner?
It was more initially a conversation, and truth be told, I didn't quite understand what they were going for. I said, "I put myself in your extremely capable hands, and let's see what it is." I liked there were a lot of different colors and facets to Mike Barnes this time around that didn't exist in the original film. There was [Mike's] redemptive moment with Daniel, which was great. Had it just been that, it wouldn't have been nearly as interesting as having the other side of the Barnes character: the bad boy karate, when everything's taken away from by Terry Silver. We see that when push comes to shove, karate's bad boy lives.
Could you describe sharing scenes again with Ralph? What was it like working with Yuji and Billy?
Working with Ralph was terrific. It was great getting to know him again as an adult, as opposed to when we had first got to know each other…me being at 22 years old [Macchio was 27]. We both had a moment of, "Can you believe this? Here we are all these years later." I really loved working with him. It was terrific. I've known Yuji for years, too, but we never worked together. I was really excited to work with Yuji, and he just kills. Who knew Chozen was funny, right? I was also really looking forward to working with Billy because I know how funny he is. I loved the scenes we did at the Reggie's Ride or Die Limo on the way to Terry Silver's [in the season finale]. I had a blast doing this.
Given the existing rapport in the third film, were you disappointed you didn't have more screen time with Thomas?
Nah, I was really appreciative of what I got to do. Listen, who knows? We don't know if potentially there's more to come in season six. I don't know. I was glad that I had the opportunity to confront Terry Silver. I thought that was great, and I don't necessarily think their story is over yet.
When'Cobra Kai originally came out, I can only imagine how fans bombarded you with questions about if you were going to return as Mike Barnes. What was that like?
Once the show came out, it was pretty much open season. I went from being like a dozen times a week to the last two years being hundreds of times a week. It was especially difficult because I filmed a year ago, so I've had to keep it a secret that entire time. Everybody would ask me, and it just was beyond freeing and liberating to finally be able to say, "Yes, I'm in season five."
What major takeaway did you take from The Karate Kid 3 you took professionally as an actor or martial artist that helped mold your life and career?
I've spoken about it many times. I had a life-threatening injury while doing 'Karate Kid 3'. There were no flowers, cards, and balloons in my hospital room. I got a phone call that I needed to be back at work in ten days, or I was going to lose the role. That was a tough lesson and a tough look behind the curtain of the realities of the business aspect of show biz: Generally, your value is predicated on the value you bring. The other lesson I learned was that I didn't allow it to fester into cynicism or jade me.
It taught me that this is a business, and it is what it is. On a personal level, I had to not only fight my way back into the film, but I also had to fight my way back into this world because I almost died. It taught me a lot about myself and my character. As horrible an experience that was, I wouldn't trade it because it was one of the most life-affirming, seminal experiences I've ever gone through in helping redevelop who I am now. When they asked me to come back, I didn't give it a second thought.