You can't talk about great movie "bad
guys" without mentioning Billy Zabka's excellent portrayal of Johnny
Lawrence in The Karate Kid. As Cobra Kai's champ du jour,
Zabka was able to create an all time classic jerk that was complex
enough to make you feel sorry for him. It was Zabka's first film role
and he went on to play more legendary assholes in Just One Of The
Guys and Back To School. Keeping busy through the '80s and
'90s, he made a short film, Most in 2003, which was a film
festival darling that ended up getting an Academy Award nomination.
Johnny may not have won the All Valley Karate Championship in 1984,
but decades later he's soaking up acclaim for his film work, never
having to revisit that troubled dojo again.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE "SWEEP THE LEG" VIDEO
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That is, until he created a brilliant
video for newcomer rockers No More Kings for their song "Sweep The
Leg" which reunites the Cobra Kai gang, 20 years later. With nearly
every living player from the original film making an appearance, it's
a hilarious and kickass video and brilliant tribute to the beloved
film. What if Johnny had a second chance? What if, indeed...
Billy talked with us about the video,
and indulged our fanboy questions in an exclusive interview that
we're honored to share with you.
So how did the "Sweep The Leg"
video come about?
The artist from the label and I just
hit it off and started hanging out. Next thing he's talking to the
guy who owns the label, we're driving, we know the guy who owns
Astonish Adam DeGraide, he freaks out that I'm in the car with him
and says, "No way my other band just wrote a song today, I just got
it on my desk, my email, on "Sweep The Leg", I gotta talk to this
guy." So he showed me the song and sent it to me, I got a little kick
out of it, but that was pretty much it, but I wasn't really planning
on doing anything until I started sitting down with the artist and
heard all their music and got to know the label. You know The
Karate Kid is kind of a sacred thing, maybe better left
untouched. But I got an idea that if we do something a little fun and
retro hip and cool, not take it seriously I think we could have a
good time with it. So that's how it came about.
Originally they just wanted me in the
video, and I was just gonna do it, but kind of threw out that if it
goes the right way, I threw out I was pretty sure I could get some of
the guys involved, but I said if it goes the right way and we get the
right vision executed, I'm pretty sure I could get some of the guys
involved. I'm sure I could get the Cobra Kais involved, Marty Kove,
maybe Ralph even. You know, Ralph would be the last one to jump on
board...but it kind of grew from there. I wrote a treatment for them,
and the label loved it, got my team together, next thing I know, I
How hard was it to assemble the old
gang again for the video? Have you guys kept in touch or was this a
long overdue reunion?
Ralph and I connected last year over
Pat's (Morita) memorial service, you know Miyagi died last year. We
reconnected there and exchanged information and everything. The
Cobra Kai guys and I have been on and off buddies throughout the
years. We've kept in touch individually, not as a pack...we were all
friends, it was a really tight group we had on that film. The times
we shared, it was a pretty cool thing, so we kept in touch. It wasn't
too hard, everyone got excited. At first it was a little tentative to
dish up that part of our lives, and bring it back to the surface,
after we were handling it in a comedic way, everyone dug it and
It's a pretty faithful recreation
of that final scene at the end, I was surprised at how seamless it
looked when compared to the original movie.
It felt like it, honestly, when we
were on the set. My art department was amazing. As soon as Marty Kove
showed up, and then Pat Johnson who was the referee in the film...for
the two hours that we filmed on that soundstage, it was really
electric. The crowd was amazing, and you know it was just really...it
just felt liked it looked, like we were just back in time
somehow...then the set got torn down and it didn't exist anymore. It
was really fun.
I've read some message boards where
people were talking about the video and they were saying like
"Well...that's the Karate Kid sequel we wanted to see!"
That's the Karate Kid sequel that
Johnny wanted to see, that's the end of Karate Kid 1 he wanted.
So, you know, it's a fun alternate
ending. But yeah, it could be the Karate Kid 5.
Why do you think Johnny Lawrence is
such a fan favorite, why does that character endear to people after
all this time?
I don't know, honestly, I think it's
just kind of beyond me. But Johnny kind of embodies the dark side of
all of us in a way. He wasn't really a bad guy. He wasn't Darth
Vader. He was just kind of a misled character. It gave him a little
license to be a bad-ass. But why it stuck so much? I don't know, I
mean cool marches on. Johnny seems to be cooler today and more liked
today than he was when the film came out.
The thing is about Johnny's character
is that he wasn't really wrong in his point of view. He had a
legitimate reason for going after his character (Danny). He took his
girlfriend and he used the tools that he knew. So he wasn't all bad.
That makes him kind of special. He's human.
You mentioned being at Pat Morita's
funeral last year. How great was it to work with him during that
Oh man, he was just the sweetest,
funniest, most generous person you'd ever want to meet. A really
beautiful guy. That was my first film, so he really held my hand
through that. I remember when I first got the role I said, 'This is
my first movie, if you see anything that I do wrong, anything that I
can do better, please just jump in and tell me.' And I remember when
we were doing the fence fight scene when he just jumps down and beats
us all up, we were rehearsing that, and I was just kind of doing it
half motion, not really intense in rehearsal. He pulled me aside and
said, "Billy, Billy, Billy, when you go in there and do the
rehearsals, you've got to give 150% cause then when the cameras are
rolling, you're like bread and butter, you're right there!" So he
really helped me. A lot of the intensity was in the actual footage
came from all the hours of rehearsing and we were really amped up. So
he was great to work with. Just professional, a beautiful guy.
Pat and I kept in touch the most over
the years. In fact a couple years ago before he passed away last
year, we talked on the phone and he was talking about wanting to do
another Karate Kid, he actually wanted to a sequel where Miyagi dies
and they have a proper Okinawan burial for him where they send him
out to the ocean with all of these flowers on a raft.
Yeah, so he wasn't done with Miyagi.
He really wanted to do another sequel. When I cast Mr. Belding Dennis
Haskins in this video, Dennis worked with Pat and knew him really
well, and the one thing that made me really want to use Dennis was
that he really wanted to do a fun tribute to Pat in this because he
was a really good friend. So it was kind of neat to have someone in
there representing Pat, in this video. But anyway, he was just a
loveable guy. He was the real deal.
Now another great comedian you got
to work with was Rodney Dangerfield. Did you have special experiences
working with him in Back to School?
Oh yeah, Rodney was hysterical. The
day I met Rodney it was in Madison, Wisconsin and we were on the
campus ready to film all the school stuff. I remember getting on an
elevator, getting ready to go to my hotel, and as I'm going up he's
going down and he's wearing this robe and I said, "Hey Rodney, I'm
Billy Zabka and I'm working with you on the film!" and he said, "Yeah
yeah...I know who you are, how're ya doin?" And I said, "What are you
doing in the robe?" and he said, "Hey, I'm going to the sauna, I
gotta get the pot out of my lungs!" (laughs) That was the first thing
And at the end when he does that
triple lindy on the diving board, of course they had a diving double
come in, so they had this prosthetic on the double that looked
exactly like Rodney Dangerfield...this 4 inch thick padding, and
Rodney was just freaking out, "Hey...I don't look like that! I'm ugly
but I'm not that ugly!" Just a great guy. Really sweet guy and
a lot of fun. I'm gonna miss him a lot.
We used to go to all of his stand up
stuff, too. We used to go and watch him at The Comedy Store and Laugh
Factory and all that. Just a good guy.
short film Most was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004,
can you tell me a little about the movie?
We filmed it in Europe. It was shot in
Prague and in Poland. It's 30 minutes long. We left right after 9/11
to make this film. It was kind of a shock of what happened...and we
wanted to make a movie that showed the value of life. So we went and
this story in mind, my partner Bobby Garabedian and I who directed
it, we got on an airplane and went to Europe with just an idea of
this movie we wanted to make. But we didn't have a script or any
money. We had no locations, we just knew it was out there somewhere.
So we went on a 2 month tour through Europe and traveled through 8
countries until we landed in Prague, and then we wrote it, and cast
it, and the money came last. It was really a miracle making the
movie. The next thing we know we're premiering it at Sundance and
this big festival tour, we won all of these festivals. Next thing we
know we're walking the red carpet at The Oscars. It was pretty
What's it like hearing your film
read off as a nominee right before the winner is announced? That's
just got to be like nothing else.
It's very surreal. It's amazing. We
were up until 5 in the morning watching The Academy online announcing
the nominees. Just seeing your name there makes it all worth it. It
was 2 years to make that film, and we invested in it ourselves. It
was a lot of pride and a lot of fun....pretty cool.
Your father was working in
Hollywood when you were growing up. I saw that he did the original
Johnny Carson's Tonight Show theme?
Yeah. You know my Mom and Dad actually
met on the Johnny Carson show back in New York. My Mom was Johnny
Carson's brother's assistant and my Dad was the Associate Director of
The Tonight Show...so I was raised pretty much in
entertainment. My Dad worked at NBC studios, he's an Emmy Award
winning director of soap operas. As a kid we moved out to California
and he started working with Clint Eastwood in Any Which Way But
Loose...those kind of movies. He did Midnight Run with
DeNiro as an Assistant Director and Unit Production Manager. So I was
pretty much raised in show business.
At what point did you decide that
the acting business was for you?
I started doing commercials when I was
10. All my Dad's friends had kids and they were all in commercials,
so it was like the thing to do. My Dad said, "Whatever you do, don't
take it seriously. If it gets to be too serious, just go play
football or something, don't let it run your life." So I always had
that "hold it loosely" perspective, and I always had fun with it.
It's something I loved to do.
In fact, I remember when my parents
first asked me if I wanted to be in commercials, I asked them if we
had enough money to be on TV, because I thought you had to
pay...that's how much I loved doing it. When I found ought you got
paid, I was like, "You're kidding me! This is like the greatest job
in the world."
Were you ever approached to be in
any of the other Karate Kid sequels? Or was that never going
to be a part of the storylines in any kind of way?
Well, the opening of The Karate Kid 2
is the original ending of the first one.
And when Kreese breaks my trophy in
the parking lot, that's actually in the script of the first one. But
we never filmed that because John Avildsen, the director, felt like
he had his movie and he didn't want to shoot the scene. So the only
thing I did was that opening scene of Part 2, which was the ending
scene of Part 1. After that, they switched out everybody except Ralph
Now that's kind of an urban legend
you just dispelled there because that opening of Karate Kid 2 was not
leftover footage from the first movie, that was actually all new shot
for Part 2?
Yeah, that was all re-shot for the
What's the secret to playing a
great bully. Does it just come naturally? Or is there something
special you do to get in character?
A lot of people, when they approach a
bully role, they think, "I'm the bad guy", but I think the key to
being a good bad guy is to look at yourself as the hero. So where if
the movie was told from your point of view, you'd actually be the
That actually makes a lot of sense,
like the character of Johnny, especially, he was Ali's boyfriend
before Danny comes around so he obviously wasn't a complete
jerk. He has that bit of redemption at the end of the movie, as well.
Exactly. You kind of justify your
character's actions in his own world. This is how Johnny would be.
Make the character three dimensional. Give him a back story. Give him
something in your subconscious that's below the radar that's human
and broken. And I think somehow, somewhere that comes out in a look,
in a moment, and that character goes from being a two dimensional
asshole into a three dimensional person that you can love to hate.
There's a fine line between hating somebody and really enjoying
to hate somebody (laughs).
Well that's a lot of depth to add
to a character for what was your first movie role. How did you even
get that kind of preparation when you're 18 years old?
Well it's so funny, because I'm known
for my bad guys, but I'm the complete polar opposite of anything I've
ever played before. For Johnny, I really was surprised that I got the
part, because I didn't know Karate. I never rode a motor cycle. The
last thing I did before The Karate Kid was a milk commercial. I was
just this nice young American kid.
When I was training for The Karate
Kid I had an amazing Karate instructor taught me the right way to
learn Karate and the wrong way to learn Karate. Really my martial
arts training built in this attitude that I got to bring to the role.
So I kind of already had the good guy in me, and he kind of just got
layers heaped on top of him. At the core of Johnny, he's really just
a rightful guy. What he did was kind of screwed up, but I think you'd
like to hang out with him.
What can you tell me about your
upcoming films Cake and The Man In The Silo?
Man In The Silo is a short film
I did for a buddy of mine that directed that, Phil Donlon, with Ernie
Hudson. It's kind of a psychological thriller short film. Cake
was another friend's (film), Will Wallace directed it. That's about a
wedding that goes wrong. I'm the ex-boyfriend of the bride that runs
away from the wedding.
I did a cameo in a movie that's out
right now that I didn't take a credit on called Smiley Face
with Anna Faris. That just premiered at Sundance, and it'll be
out...I don't know when. So those are the two most recent ones I've
shot and I've got a few films in development right now that I'm
looking to write and direct.
You're certainly keeping busy
there, that's for sure.
Yeah, you know. Gotta keep the wheels
Was it frustrating to have your
character lose to Ralph Macchio's character, knowing you could mop up
the floor with him in real life?
(laughs) Yeah...it was real
frustrating. I actually won that tournament it's actually just the
way they edited it that made me look like I lost. (laughs) No, you
know...no...you don't feel like that. It's acting and that was the
pivotal moment of the whole movie. If that final kick didn't work,
the whole movie didn't work. The crane kick. We rehearsed that fight
scene for three months. Four hours a day, five days a week, it was
just like clockwork so we could make that last moment, that crane
kick, pay off. So him winning, was me winning, you know? If that kick
worked, then the movie worked, then we're all gravy.
It's a great moment, that's for
Well thanks again for taking the
time to talk to us. Just to remind people that they can check out
your film Most if they go to
MOSTTHEMOVIE.com. And you even have a MySpace page, I understand?
HEAD'S UP!: We'll shortly have
an interview up with No More Kings lead singer Pete Mitchell about
the "Sweep The Leg" song and his other music. Plus on our next
podcast, you can hear the audio of both interviews in their entirety!
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