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It’s good to be Martin Kove. Cobra Kai, his return to the Karate Kid franchise, is one of the best shows you can stream, and he also landed a part in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. We recently caught up with Kove to talk about his career, his insane schedule, and what’s next.
If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
There were no options. In the fourth grade, I realized that I like making people laugh, and I remember feeling really good inside. When I was 23, I took it seriously and moved to Manhattan. I used to go audition for plays at universities that I wasn’t even enrolled into. I’d get the part, and no one would even know that I didn’t go there.
What was it like to work in Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood [in theaters July 26]?
I had been bugging him for years to be a part of something. I love westerns so much, I wanted to be in Django Unchained or The Hateful Eight. But Quint knows what he wants. Then he offered me this small piece with [Leonardo] DiCaprio. Quentin is so much fun to work for. To give you a little sense: He finishes the day and says, “I think I’ve got it, but I want one more.” Then he turns around to his hundred-person crew and asks, “Why?” In unison, everybody screams, “Because we love to make movies!” You get a tingle up your spine—you’d do anything for this guy.
Do you watch your own work?
Yeah, and nine out of 10 times I don’t like it. I get picky. I remember Billy [Zabka, his Cobra Kai co-star] saying, “After this season is over, you’ll see that all the moments you weren’t comfortable with will look terrific.” And unquestionably, that’s happened to me.
Were you all-in to reprise your role as sensei Kreese in Cobra Kai?
I was on the fence. They asked me to come into Episode 10 and set up Season 2. I said that I’d do it, but I didn’t want to play the stoic tough guy—I wanted the character to have different colors, different textures. You have to trust the writers, because everything they conceived has really worked.
How did you get in shape to play Kreese?
I had to start working with a trainer, and we don’t go back to work [on Season 3] until Aug. 20. Once you’re there shooting, it’s labor. You’re working 12, 14 hours a day. You work hard.