Martin Kove Interview: Veteran Actor Talks New Western, Says "Cobra Kai" Season 4 "Will Be Very Exciting"
Image attributed to Martin Kove
Martin Kove is known for portraying John Kreese in The Karate Kid film franchise (The Karate Kid – 1984, The Karate Kid Part II – 1986, The Karate Kid Part III – 1989) and the television sequel series Cobra Kai and, also, Detective Victor Isbecki in the police drama Cagney & Lacey (1982-1988).
Kove’s numerous film credits also include Death Race 2000, White Line Fever, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Steele Justice, Wyatt Earp, Glass Trap, Middle Men, The Extendables and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as well as TV movies Cry for the Strangers, Cagney & Lacey: The Return and Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone. The New York native has made many guest appearances in television shows over the course of his 50-year career.
"John Kreese is pretty much a one dimensional villain in the Karate Kid movies, and yet in Cobra Kai, he’s much more multi-dimensional."
Scheduled for release in May 2021 is the western drama 3 Tickets to Paradise, which also features Michelle Manhart, Jeffrey Bentley, Miguel Corona and is directed by Dominic Lopez and Isaac Piche. Kove can currently be seen as John Kreese in the martial arts comedy-drama Cobra Kai with Ralph Macchio, William Zabka and Courtney Henggeler. The third season premiered on Netflix January 1, 2021, and the series has been renewed for a fourth season. Kove's 30-year-old son, Jesse, is also an actor with several films and an appearance in Cobra Kai under his belt.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Martin, are you filming season four of Cobra Kai today?
Martin Kove: Well, we’re out here in Atlanta. We’re not supposed to talk about season four very much, but it will be very exciting once it’s edited and all that. It’s very exciting. But when it comes out remains to be seen.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Rumor has it that more actors from the franchise will be joining the show in season four like Sean Kanan. Are you sure you’re sworn to secrecy? (laughs)
Martin Kove: Yeah, they keep reiterating that. We can’t talk about anything. I think it’s a pain in the ass, personally, because I’d like to share some things. But you can’t. You just can’t. It has been terrific working with Netflix, far better than with YouTube. It’s just totally different. They really are supportive and get behind us. They know how to do it.
YouTube is a totally different operation. They were not original programming. They do other things well, but Netflix is terrific. I mean, just terrific. They come up with all kinds of new gags and publicity. They’re a good operation, and they have so many viewers.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes, they do. Let’s first talk about 3 Tickets to Paradise that’s scheduled for release in May. How did you become involved in the project?
Martin Kove: A friend of mine, Jim Clark, was producing a movie that to me, was very much like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but it was modern day. It was really exciting using a western town and six-guns, so I signed on to do it. I’m playing this mercenary, and it was a lot of fun. Jim Clark was originally a mercantile owner in Tombstone and then he moved, I believe, to Virginia City, and he produced this movie. He picked out all the actors, and a couple of friends and I will sign on to anything that’s close to a western.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What is the premise of the film?
Martin Kove: The premise is about hidden gold just like The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Are you familiar with that one with Humphrey Bogart?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes, but it has been quite a while since I’ve seen it.
Martin Kove: Yeah. It’s a great picture, and so many things are taken from that movie. But it’s a search for gold. I’m a mercenary, and then there’s a girl who’s the lead. She and another fellow are lovers, and they search for this gold. It’s in a small town. It’s really interesting. I find if you try and reboot things, you better have your act together to reboot stories that have been done brilliantly. It was a very interesting attempt to really get that story out there with a girl and not Humphrey Bogart leading the treasure search. But it was so much fun to make. There were a lot of horses, and everybody’s carrying six-guns, and yet it was a contemporary story.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have any romantic scenes?
Martin Kove: In the movie, no. I don’t have any romances in the movie. The romance for me was just to be able to be out there in Arizona shooting a western per se, even though it’s a contemporary western. I play the character as if it was 1875, you know. The only difference is his guns. I have a lot of interest in rejuvenating the western and anything that could come to that, especially since the producer, Jim Clark, and I met in Tombstone during the film festival there a decade ago. We all love Tombstone because there’s such an American heritage there.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You also did the TV movie Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone in 1994.
Martin Kove: Yeah. That was my friend, Rob Word, that did that. I was shooting Gambler V: Playing for Keeps, which was terrific with Bruce Boxleitner and Hugh O’Brian. Wyatt Earp was a great story 30 years after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It took place in 1920, and it was a lot of fun. I think that’s the only time a movie’s been shot in Tombstone, literally in Tombstone proper.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You played a villain in that movie also. Do you prefer playing bad guys?
Martin Kove: I’d rather play a good guy. My son, Jesse, is handsome, gorgeous, tall and muscular. He likes to play bad guys, but he gets cast as a good guy. There are many people where it goes both ways. Most leading men like to play bad guys, and most bad guys never get a chance to be leading men. It just has to do with how interesting the role is.
John Kreese is pretty much a one dimensional villain in the Karate Kid movies, and yet in Cobra Kai, he’s much more multi-dimensional. It’s more interesting as an actor to play a multi-faceted person, a person with a lot of dimensions and textures to his character. What I did with him in the original movie was pretty much one color – dark.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How has John Kreese evolved or changed from the movies to the TV series?
Martin Kove: Have you watched the show?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’m not caught up with season three but will be setting some time aside to binge watch soon.
Martin Kove: Season three is really good. You can binge it in two days. But John Kreese has a love for Johnny Lawrence. The only love he has that’s greater than that is for the love and integrity of Cobra Kai. So as of now, what you’ve seen is him taking over the Dojo, and there’s a lot of surprises in season three. There are a lot of flashbacks taking you back to Vietnam discussing why he is the way he is, and it gives you a multi-faceted character through these flashbacks.
In fact, my son plays in episode two. You think my son is me, and he isn’t. He plays a bully, and he bullies my character. He bullies John Kreese in a diner, and he’s defeated in a fight. You think he’s me, which is very interesting. But you learn a lot about my character. I don’t look at him as a bully. I just look at him as being misunderstood.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you have martial arts training before doing the original Karate Kid film?
Martin Kove: Yeah. I was going to do a film called The Lion of Ireland in England, and it was basically the story of Brian Boru, the first King of Ireland who unified the tribes of Ireland against the Vikings. I was a Viking adversary, and we were working primarily with the Shihan Tak Kubota. I had an axe to master, and so we would use these plywood axes and a lot of Kendo moves like in Conan where you would use the katana (sword) except we would use axes. I was using an axe because he was a great axeman.
You had to go through a basic fundamental education of Karate before you learned Kendo, which is a swordfight. So, yes, I did have training prior to The Karate Kid. The Lion in Ireland got cancelled, and a few months later, The Karate Kid showed up in my life.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Of the Cobra Kai cast, do you have the most training and experience in the martial arts?
Martin Kove: No, I don’t. Pretty much, I think we all started working out together in season one. We practiced the fights throughout the season. You condition yourself, and then fight in whatever episode it is. I don’t think anybody was a great martial artist prior to starting Cobra Kai, but everybody now is pretty formidable.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It’s a physical role. How do you stay in shape?
Martin Kove: I have a trainer. While I’m doing a movie or something, it’s hard to keep up with the trainer, but when I’m back in Los Angeles, I work out three days a week. I go to a private gym. I try to do it three times a week. Then the other days, I take the treadmill or the elliptical for half an hour or an hour.
I think all three of us have stayed in decent shape over the years. At the end of the show in season three is a massive fight scene. We were practicing all season long for that. So you stay in shape, and you work out in the gym when you’re on location. There’s a little gym in the places they put us up so we can condition ourselves.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Cagney & Lacey is one of my favorite shows of all time. Did the success of Cagney & Lacey (36 Emmy nominations and 14 wins) in the 1980s help to open up the doors for you to the bigger roles in films such as The Karate Kid?
Martin Kove: Well, I would say that it always helps. That show is so embedded into the lives of the girls, but everybody in the cast was always doing something. The film casting always liked the fact we’d be doing a series. That was sort of a feather in their cap back in those days. Of course, there was no social media in those days. We were cancelled twice, and we were put back on the air. It was a wild ride. The scripts were terrific, and the character was interesting.
And yeah, I think you would get work when you might not have gotten it if you weren’t in a series. So there was a huge advantage to that. I think any actor that’s currently on television and goes to movies or other shows as a guest star has a hook because he already has an audience.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Detective Victor Isbecki loved westerns as you do. Was that something you brought into the role?
Martin Kove: Everything you see in Victor Isbecki is because I went to several police departments and rode with the undercover cops. Everything you saw. One of my technical advisors had a picture of John Wayne under the glass of his desk, and he was just a great image for me to watch. Victor Isbecki would have been a marshal in the 1870s if he lad lived then, but the closest thing he could be to a marshal in 1870 was to join the 14th Precinct as a police officer. His whole character was a chauvinist. As Martin Kove, I always believed that a woman could do anything a man could do, but Victor Isbecki didn’t think there was a place in the department for a woman detective. Now, of course, we know that’s not the case.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Cagney & Lacey was groundbreaking television because the two leading roles were portrayed by women. I imagine that was nice to be a part of back in the 1980s.
Martin Kove: Oh, yeah. I loved it, you know. No question about it. I see Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless once a year, and I always see Tyne in plays. We’re still in touch. Al Waxman passed away, but I talk to his wife. The producer is married to Sharon Gless. I talk to them once a year. It’s a part of my life, and everyone remembers that show. It was ahead of its time. Totally ahead of its time.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I agree. How have you changed as an actor since the 70s and 80s?
Martin Kove: Some people have the wrong idea that an actor’s life is sunglasses and autographs, and it isn’t. It’s going to class, working hard and doing your homework. The homework has gotten more prominent in my life for every role now than it was in the 80s. I don’t think I did my homework in the 80s. I just wasn’t that disciplined as I am today. I think it comes with seasoning and just getting older.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: From an early age, have always known what you’ve wanted to do with your life?
Martin Kove: Oh, yeah. Since the fourth grade, I’ve wanted to be an actor. It was always in the cards. I always knew I wanted to be an actor one day. I did a play in Brooklyn, New York, where I was raised. It just hooked me in. I think it was called Golden Goose. It was the fourth grade, and it was very exciting. I knew what I always wanted to be.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What did your parents say about that?
Martin Kove: They didn’t give me a hard time. I was adopted. They were very loving, very caring. I was the only child, and they just supported me the whole time. They just wanted me to do whatever I could do to be happy, and they were always very giving that way. They never got in the way, and they never said, “Do something you can fall back on.” You know, that’s the line we hear all the time. They never did that. They just supported me all the way through.
I was working at Lincoln Center in different experimental theaters and off Broadway and then just picked myself up and went out to California one day. My parents were always very supportive, which was really good.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you have an acting mentor in the early days?
Martin Kove: Not really. You know, you had certain actors. But I remember seeing Sean Connery. I got the job as a stand-in for Sean Connery when I started acting in a movie called The Anderson Tapes in 1971. I remember working in the Classic Stage Company, a repertory theater in New York. I remember being accepted by them in New York and also being at the School of the Arts at NYU. It meant going to school for another year or two and graduate school in theater. I said to myself, “Do I really want to do this or do I want to go out there, gamble and be an actor and let that be my profession?”
I walked up to Sean Connery and asked him what he thought. He said, “Young man, if you can do Antigone, you can do anything,” meaning if you can do the Greek classics, you can do anything. So he said to basically forget about school and go to work with the repertory company. That was his answer, which turned out great.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Martin, are there any other projects you’d like to discuss?
Martin Kove: Not really. The exciting part of my life was working with Tarantino a couple of years ago in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It was just sensational. He loves westerns and was so much fun to work with. He’s so smart in the cinematic world. My son Jesse is just wonderful. He was in episode two of season three of Cobra Kai. You can’t miss him. He opens up the episode.
There’s a lot of things I’m developing now and to do a film with Jesse, a western about old gunfighters and young gunfighters. I need to try and find the proper twist as to why a gunman, trying to set an example of non-violence throughout the movie, has to pick up his guns again in the end. But I don’t want to make it stereotypical, which is the trick, because that concept has been done before – old gunfighter, new gunfighter, whether it’s a brother or whether it’s a father, it’s been done. So I’m working on that primarily working with a couple of writers.
I think that before I pass away, I’d like too get on the cover of Time magazine: “The Actor that Rejuvenated the Western.” Then I could pass on to another world and know that I set something up for the younger kids for them to be exposed to the genre that we were lucky enough to get back in the 60s when there were 35 westerns on primetime television. That was a period of time that was just brilliant, and I think kids today don’t understand the western, which is the heritage of America cinema. It goes back to 1903 to The Great Train Robbery, the first western made. So I think that’s what I’d like to do.
Cobra Kai is great. These guys write so well, and that’s why Cobra Kai is so successful. We’re the most watched show in the world, and the reason why we’re so successful is due to these three writers and creators: John Heald, Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz. They just take your character to such interesting places that they thought about a year or two ago. So it’s fascinating. It’s all very fascinating. You just watch the show. Watch season three. Go on and do this in the next couple of days. It’s really written well. You’ll get hooked in.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’m definitely setting aside some time to do that. I believe you have a milestone birthday coming up soon, number 75?
Martin Kove: They always have it wrong at IMDb. I’ll turn 74 come March 6. It’s the day the Alamo fell. That why I have this affinity to westerns because I was born on the day the Alamo fell in 1836. Anyway, take care of yourself. It was lovely talking to you. I’m so glad you’re a Cagney & Lacey fan. That show was way ahead of its time.
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