Cobra Kai star Martin Kove spoke to EW about fleshing out Kreese’s origin story, working with his actor son Jesse Kove, and whether or not there’s a potential for love in Kreese’s future.

Martin Kove’s The Karate Kid character John Kreese was akin to a scary monster back in the ’80s, but on Cobra Kai fans are learning more about this multi-layered character and why he is the way he is. Which is exactly why the veteran actor agreed to bring back the villain in the new series, currently in its third season on Netflix.
Kove spoke to EW exclusively about fleshing out Kreese’s origin story, working with his actor son Jesse Kove this season, and whether or not there’s a potential for love in Kreese’s future.
“In discussing Kreese’s backstory, I have to say the creators [Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg] were very perceptive,” Kove tells EW about how the idea for visiting Kreese’s past came up. “I spoke to mercenaries, a variety of soldiers, Army Rangers, and others to bring my ideas of exploring the elements of the character explaining why he is the way he is. Maybe we could show some vulnerability? To my surprise, they had done similar homework and they knew their stuff. This is what persuaded me to sign-on because I didn’t want to play another bad guy. Their plan to take him up and down emotionally really interested me, like that scene where Billy [Zabka] and I are in the men’s shelter. I like going into the depths of humanity and playing out those emotional moments.”
Jesse comes into season 3 as part of the flashbacks as one of the bullies that tormented a young Kreese. At the time, Kreese was a high school student working at a diner as a server/busboy.
“It was such an honor to play in this world that I was brought up around my whole life,” Jesse explains. “It felt like I was joining this legacy of The Karate Kid universe but it also felt like this dream experience. How could I ever be in this universe? And these flashbacks were a perfect vehicle for that. I hope I made my dad proud.”
The elder Kove adds, “I walked on set when he was doing a scene at the diner playing with the younger Kreese [played by] Barrett [Carnahan], who was terrific and he looked just like me. As soon as I walked in, the writers are in media village and they’re all watching this scene that Jesse is in because he had an earlier call time than me. They stopped me and said, ‘Your son is just killing it!’ I hadn’t even had a chance to say good morning yet…I felt like a million bucks.”
The close-knit duo have appeared in various projects together in the past, but Jessie feels nothing will compare to working on Cobra Kai. He finally came face-to-face with a character that occasionally appears in real life.
“I try to keep [Kresse] low-key but there are times he comes out,” Kove shares through a mischievous smile. “It’s a theatrical mystery. If you do a role long enough… I know Heath Ledger and Daniel Day-Lewis have experienced this where you maintain the psychology of certain characters, they stay with you to a degree. I’m not saying we go rob liquor stores or beat up people in alleys, but more like the integrity that Kreese has about how he lives and how there’s no room for anyone else’s opinion. That comes up sometimes in my life where I think someone’s opinion is invalid and I have to maintain this comfort zone with myself. And sometimes, both Jesse and my girlfriend remind me that John Kreese has nothing to do with that particular issue. [Laughs]”
Looking ahead, Kove hopes there could be love ahead for Kreese, although he admits a love like the one he shared with Betsy would nearly impossible to duplicate.
“That one love in his life, Betsy, was strong,” Kove says. “We have talked about the possibility of a love interest in the future but I don’t know if it will happen. I’ve definitely asked myself, ‘What kind of woman would put up with this kind of character?’ It would have to be a very strong woman. And because occasionally Kreese pops into my life as Martin Kove, you stop in those moments and you say what you’re feeling. So I ask myself the same question. I have always felt that a woman can do anything a man can do because I grew up with a strong mother. I really hope they do explore that side, specifically when they go on dates. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be a huge romance where maybe we bump into each other again in a future season. It would be a great thing to play as this character.”
He may not have a special woman in his life this season, but Kreese did cross paths with a strong woman who wasn’t afraid to show him she isn’t one to be messed with. Kreese was on the receiving end of a slap provided by Daniel LaRusso’s (Ralph Macchio) wife, Amanda (Courtney Henggeler).
“The first couple of times she missed my face so I told her to really just go for it,” he says with enthusiasm. “I was playing it out this scene two different ways. In one scenario, it ends with me smiling because this woman has the strength to hit me and I like that! I wanted to show how much she impressed me with that hit, especially as the wife of my nemesis. But they went with the second option where it ends with me being stunned at this woman who is a total warrior. She really nailed me and it really fed into the moment and made everything very real.”
And regarding that hard-to-ignore phone call Kreese makes to Terry Silver in the end that will certainly leave fans pining for a reunion, the actor is staying mum.
“I have received only two scripts for next season that I haven’t really had a chance to read yet,” he says. “So I couldn’t really say what’s coming in the future at this point. John Kreese may need some assistance and he’s not shy about calling in reinforcements when he needs it. Is it the right time? I really don’t know. Fans will have to keep watching.”
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