April 22, 2019 Interview – Xolo Maridueña
Everyone loves the story of an underdog, and if the individual is likable enough, it is near impossible to root against them. In the hit YouTube Premium original series Cobra Kai, the script is flipped from the 1984 film The Karate Kid, and the once proud Cobra Kai dojo, which won 4 straight All-Valley 18-and-Under Karate Championships from 1980-1983, is a disgraced memory 3 plus decades later. Now re-established by the defunct school’s best student, Johnny Lawrence, he looks to recapture the glory of Cobra Kai, and his key protégé is a young man by the name of Miguel Diaz.
Portrayed by Xolo Maridueña, the talented actor brings his all to the character; transforming Miguel from a shy, sweet kid, who is bullied, to a fiercely competitive, confident student of Karate. Triumphant at the conclusion of Season 1, defying the odds and winning the All Valley Karate Championship for Cobra Kai, the character of Miguel faces even bigger challenges moving forward… so are you ready for Season 2? Scheduled to premiere on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, the new season of Cobra Kai is complete with 10 exciting new episodes, and Xolo Maridueña was gracious enough to sit down to chat about it all, plus so much more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in acting professionally for some time now. First, briefly tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career as an actor?
Xolo Maridueña – I didn’t watch a lot of TV up until I was around 10. Once I hit that 10 year old mark I started to watch a lot of movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), which has been one of my favorite movies for as long as I could remember. Others like, The Usual Suspects (1995) and Up (2009), were movies in my life, and I loved everything about them.
I didn’t even know it was an option to be in the TV show or in the movie; so I never really asked about it. I then said, “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to be this character?” My mom had a friend who was an agent, she did commercials and print; I thought, “This is the kind of like being on TV or in a movie,” so we tried it. I did a couple of commercials and print jobs for a few years, it was like, “This isn’t something too hard.” For my parents, it was a lot of work though, and a lot of sacrifices they had to make, but as a 10 year old, it was like, “Life is so great and this is easy.”
I moved to a different agency and I went out for my first television audition, and that was Parenthood. It was such a different experience, because usually for print or commercials it is, “Do you have the look? If yes, you have it. If not, no,” and we will move onto the next audition. For this, you had to actually gather up some intuition or skills you brought in from an acting class. I think I went out for the role of Victor in Parenthood around 5 times before they told me I booked it.
It was very weird, you go out for the audition, and you are in a room with a bunch of other kids who kind of look like you, but you can tell why they brought in these other kids. You go to the call back, and there are even less kids. Then there was the first time I ever experienced this thing called a ‘chemistry read’ where they pair the people who are already cast with options they have for casting other people.
It was a very interesting experience, especially being 11-12 years old in a world where everyone is basically over 30. Everyone is so experienced, especially on a show like Parenthood. Being thrown into the mix with all of these A-list actors/actresses was a little intimidating at first, but it was really a great first start for me as an actor. It really solidified for me, in my brain, that this is a profession, and this is something you can do for a living.
Cryptic Rock – That sounds like a very positive first experience for a young actor such as yourself. With Cobra Kai, you have a lead role as Miguel Diaz. How did this come about for you?
Xolo Maridueña – Cobra Kai came in as most auditions do, in an email saying, “This is the breakdown with the characters they are looking for, here are the scripts.” To be quite honest, at that point, I hadn’t watched The Karate Kid since I was around 4 or 5 years old; I did not remember it whatsoever. The name Ralph Macchio was thrown around all the time; the crane kick, and the line “Put ’em in a body bag,” these are pop culture references, but I couldn’t put two and two together.
The audition came in and my mom was so excited, she couldn’t believe they were bringing The Karate Kid back. I said, “What are you talking about? How did you know that just from reading the title?” She explained it to me and I thought, “This is actually going to be a big deal, let me do a little bit of research.”
So I did a little more research on the characters and who was going to be in the show. I went on the audition and performed, and like any other audition, I tried to just do it and forget about it; that way I don’t get bummed if I don’t get the role. I got a call back maybe a month later. Usually, you hear for a call back within a week or two. After the 2 week mark came, I thought, “I probably didn’t get it, let’s move on to something else.”
When they called me I thought, “Wow, this is great!” I went back in, did the same audition and I didn’t know Billy Zabka was going to be in the room. I walk in, he is there, and I said, “Oh shoot! What is he doing here? This wasn’t part of the plan, I wasn’t warned of this!” I tried to mask my excitement, not geek out, and do the audition. We did it and a couple of weeks later they told me I was going to Atlanta. It was really a fun audition sequence and very long. It was over 2 months that I was auditions and testing out the project, but it was well worth it.
Cryptic Rock – Very cool, and you have done a great job with the character. We have seen Miguel transform from this shy, intimidated, and bullied kid to finding confidence under the guidance of Johnny Lawrence. What has it been like working with Billy Zabka and the rest of the cast?
Xolo Maridueña – Billy Zabka is one of the coolest guys I have ever met. He is really so genuine, almost to the point I think he is a robot at times. (Laughs) He is so phenomenal, such a phenomenal actor, and really puts his heart into this role. I think that shows not only on screen, but off screen when you are working with him.
As far as it goes for people like Jacob (Bertrand), Tanner (Buchanan), Mary (Mouser), and others, they are amazing as well. It is really one of the few casts that I’ve worked on where you walk on set and say, “Wow, everyone in this room is phenomenal, I’m so glad to be here.” Everyone on this show is irreplaceable and they are the perfect fit for their roles. They are so humble and respectful about it; I really admire that.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, everyone really does a fantastic job with their roles. Now, after much anticipation, the second season of Cobra Kai hits YouTube Premium on April 24th. At the end of Season 1 we see Miguel win the Valley Tournament, but now you are sort of conflicted, because you have reached the top, although, learning the concept of honor. What has it been like developing the character of Miguel?
Xolo Maridueña – Miguel is one of those characters that really does go through all aspects of what it means to be a teenager. Like you were saying, we see him at the beginning of Season 1 where he is a shy kid, and at the end of the season, this young man who has gained confidence and really finds himself in Cobra Kai; I think that it’s so real. As someone who’s 17 right now, I see that everywhere I look. I see it in my own high school and with friends. That stuff that effects Miguel, Sam, and Hawk, are all very real things.
I think that is something that is special about Cobra Kai, it is very authentic when it comes to someone who is an adolescence/teenager/young adult, growing into being an adult. I really respect that on behalf of the writers and thank them for making it authentic when it comes to being a teenager.
As for developing the character, it’s so fun to be able to portray a character like Miguel who is so three dimensional. He has his highs and lows, and they really try to express that every moment they can. I really love that.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, Miguel is a fantastic character with a lot of compelling sides; you really do cheer for him. We do not want to give away Season 2, but when you saw the development of the story, and the finale, what did you think of the direction?
Xolo Maridueña – I did not expect the finale whatsoever. There are a lot of things that go on in the finale that are surprising, to say the least. I would say for the overall arch for the second season, I love it so much.
I think it’s really fitting, not only for the show, but the direction the directors want to take the show. I think it’s hard when you have these accolades that came with Season 1 to think, “Shoot, how do we do better?” I think, not only the cast, but everyone who works behind the scenes, really did work to make it even better than Season 1.
Cryptic Rock – It is a great second season and people are going to love it when it premieres. Did you have an interest in martial arts prior to the show, and did you study at all?
Xolo Maridueña – The short answer would be yes, but the long answer would be, I did one year of Karate in the first grade. Going out for the audition an asterisk said, “If you know karate, that would be better.” After booking the role I thought, “Well, I went for a year of Karate, I’m athletic, this should be a breeze.” I went in for the first day of training, before we even started to film Season 1, and our film coordinator kicked my butt! It was so brutal, I never regretted feeling cocky so much in my life.
Now, it’s not too bad, because we stretch all the time, and we train not only with Karate, but with boxing, as well as other martial arts. At the very beginning, it was very difficult for me to gather my bearings and be like, “We’re going to be able to do this everyday.” There were times where my body was saying, “Just cry, it’s OK, you can cry.” It was all well worth it though, because Season 1 and 2 look so great!
Cryptic Rock – That sounds very intense. Would you say you have come out of the training learning something?
Xolo Maridueña – I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned from martial arts is discipline. I think that’s shown in Cobra Kai as it is in a real life dojo. We have experts come in to tell us what a real dojo is like, or tell us what would really happen. I think finding the authenticity in the show is one of the top priorities for our directors and cast as a whole. Authenticity plays a major role when it comes to the show.
Cryptic Rock – That really does show in many of the action sequences. Seeing how Season 2 concludes, there has to be a Season 3, right?
Xolo Maridueña – I hope more than anything that there is. I would hate for a show to end the way that it is right now. (Laughs) Like a lot of shows, it ends on a cliffhanger. I think this one is a little extreme, but I hope it leads us to a Season 3. I wish I knew if we will get a Season 3 or not, but honestly, the suspense is exhilarating.
Cryptic Rock – It is. With Cobra Kai in full swing, have you seen more opportunities arise for other projects?
Xolo Maridueña – There have been opportunities that have risen with other projects. I think Cobra Kai has a part in that. Cobra Kai is so easily available to everyone that it’s really an eye-catcher.
I’m so excited to be working on other projects right now, and it’s really a dream to not only be working on Cobra Kai, but animated shows. I remember growing up watching animated shows on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Disney. Now I get to be on those channels!
It’s really awesome to see it come full circle and hopefully give kids the same feeling I had when I watched Ben 10, The Amazing World of Gumball, or Everybody Hates Chris. All I want is to give somebody the same feeling I had when I watched whatever it was I watched.
Cryptic Rock – That has to be an awesome feeling. Last question for you. What are some of your favorite films?
Xolo Maridueña – I love this question! Number 1 is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, love it, it is my favorite John Hughes films. I love The Usual Suspects, the ending is phenomenal. I love Up, Princess Mononoke (1997), and Ocean’s Eleven (2001). I would say those are my top 5, not in any particular order, with exception of the first one. All the others are kind of tied for number 2.