To say that Cobra Kai has changed the lives of its young cast similar to the way it did for its now-older stars in Ralph Macchio and William Zabka from The Karate Kid franchise did would be an understatement. Gianni DeCenzo plays Demetri Alexopoulos, a nerdy student who abhorred violence for the longest time before finally learning the ways of Miyagi-do karate pushed to the edge as an unwilling participant in the martial arts turf war with Cobra Kai (where he was originally rejected from). To make matters worse, his bully was his best friend Eli 'Hawk' Moskowitz (Jacob Bertrand), who was in a similar position as a victim of similar abuse before embracing martial arts as a tool of revenge. I spoke to the actor about how the series changed his life, growing up on the films, how he confronts spoiler talk from loved ones, extensive training for season four's all-valley tournament, and what we can expect from Demetri and Hawk going forward?
"It's kind of been crazy. I never would have expected going into this, that the show would be as big as it's become. I mean, I probably should have seen that in hindsight, but I was a dumb 16 year-old. So what did I know? I've done a lot of positive reviews. A lot of people have come up to me and said that Demetri is kind of inspired them because my character is all about becoming more comfortable with who you are. I feel like that just kind of helps people kind of realize that. They can be confident in who they are. That's something that I've always kind of struggled with. So the fact that I get to help others is awesome."
DeCenzo saw the original 1984 film and said he's a huge fan of the franchise that starred Macchio and Pat Morita. "I got to show him around on set, it was just super cool," he said. "I would be like, 'Hey, Dad, look at this, the Cobra Kai dojo. This is where Johnny [Lawrence] flips me and then my nose gets broken. Isn't that awesome? Yeah, it was just super fun to kind of share that with them." As one of the most touted shows on Netflix, the actor would naturally have to deal with the curious. "I normally just say, 'You know. You don't wanna piss off the people that literally teach you karate, because you never know what they're capable of.' So hopefully my friends will understand that. [Laughs] I want to stay alive and also keep my job."
One new aspect of the All-Valley Karate Tournament in season four was the demonstration aspects and the point system that would be tallied for the dojos in addition to the gender-specific tournaments themselves. DeCenzo showed up his skills with Kamas and featured in a major bout against Cobra Kai's primary student Robby Keane (Tanner Buchanan). "I felt like Kamas were…it was more along the lines of Demetri," he said. "It's a good balance between Miyagi-do with the stick and then the knife part with Cobra Kai. I trained for like a solid three months on that, just trying to get them the flips, the spins, and stuff like that. There's actually a video going around online. One of the creators, Jon [Hurwitz], he took a video of me without me knowing, practicing the Kamas in between takes of the All Valley. That was just me. I was like doing that for the entire three months that we were filming, just making sure I got it down because I wanted it to look as much like a real tournament as I could possibly make it. I think everyone kind of crushed because we all had to learn those different techniques and those different fighting, fight things. I'm really proud of everyone. It took a lot of work, but I think it was worth it in the end."
Prior to the series DeCenzo had little experience in martial arts before getting back when he got cast in the Netflix series. "I took, I think, taekwondo when I was like five years old, I think I made a yellow belt, and then that was it," he said. "But more recently, I've been taking Krav Maga, which is like an Israeli sort of fighting technique they use in the military. That definitely helped a good amount with some of the stuff they throw at us on the show, at least with kicks and stuff like that. But there are a lot of intense techniques that they have to do that Krav Maga definitely did not prepare me for, but I love doing stuff like that, so it was really easy to get into. I think some of the hardest things we had to do was a spinning back hook kick. Basically where you twist around and you kick someone from behind with like your leg, like snapping back. It is really weird looking, but it's super fun to do and I love doing stuff like that."
While Demetri and Hawk were often at odds since the latter turned on him since nerds are largely ostracized in the world of Cobra Kai, things have improved. Hawk had an epiphany turning on Cobra Kai during the battle at Casa de LaRusso in the season three finale. At the start of season four, he struggled to make amends from his past cruelty while at Eagle Fang but found himself embracing Miyagi-do in time for the tournament. Despite everything that happened between the two, it was Demetri, who still believed in him and stood by his side leading him on that path.
"It's always hard to tease things for season five without giving too much away. I would just say the relationship between Hawk and Demetri is pretty complicated, but now that they're kind of becoming more binary brothers again, it's just going to be really interesting to see how their relationship develops now. I mean, this is the first time ever that they're both badass karate masters working together as a team and they could crush it, who knows what's in store for them in the dojo? That's really the best way I could explain it. When they put their heads together, they can make an entire sparring deck, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens."
DeCenzo admits he puts 90 percent of himself in that character. One of the biggest benefits being on Cobra Kai as the adult cast has done as well becoming lifelong friends with Macchio, Zabka, and Martin Kove (who plays villain John Kreese) since The Karate Kid, is the lasting friendships he's made. "In between seasons, I'll go over to Jacob and Xolo's [Maridueña] (Miguel) and we'll play a card game called Magic: The Gathering. It's a super nerdy game, but it's also super fun. They taught me back in like seasons one and two, but then I just kept getting into it and I will eventually…I think one day, I'll be good enough. It's kind of like one of those moments where the student has to be the master. So who knows? I got a new squirrel deck. It's just a bunch of little squirrels. So hopefully I'll be able to take down their creatures one day. But yeah, we like to hang out a lot. I don't know. It's just super cool being on a set with actual friends, but it just adds another layer of enjoyment to making a show like, I love acting. But to actually like the people that I work with, it's super fun."