While already known from his standout role in NBC’s PARENTHOOD, Xolo Maridueña is set to breakout in the new YouTube Red series COBRA KAI. Xolo’s keen instincts has led him to pursue roles that not only challenge him, but that also give him a chance to learn and grow as a performer. It is a pleasure to accompany Xolo on that journey and to see him bring this new role in COBRA KAI to life. In an exclusive interview, Xolo previews his role in COBRA KAI and talks about lessons he has learned as a young actor in Hollywood.
What was the initial appeal for you about portraying Miguel Diaz and working on YouTube’s COBRA KAI?
XOLO: The absolute initial appeal was the chance to work with such an iconic show. I would say half of almost everyone living and walking on this earth has some sort of connection to the “Karate Kid.”
How would you describe who Miguel is in the series?
XOLO: Miguel is so relatable. He is a kid who comes from a hard-working and stable household. He’s a new kid in school, so that experience has put him in a situation where he is stepping cautiously and when that doesn’t work, he needs to make moves to make himself secure.
What do you most admire about him?
XOLO: He’s such a hard worker. He set a goal, outlined the steps that were needed to reach it, and is making it happen.
Had you seen the original film “The Karate Kid” and/or the sequel before being cast in the series?
XOLO: Well, believe it or not, I saw the Jaden Smith “Karate Kid” first. So, when I first auditioned that’s when I saw the original “Karate Kid,” it became an instant classic!
What is it like working alongside the talented ensemble on COBRA KAI?
XOLO: Imagine showing up to work every day in an office where everyone you work with treats you with maximum respect and instantly envelopes you into their crew? That’s what it was like. I spoke to Ralph Macchio within the first day of being cast, he called me from NYC and welcomed me to the show. Then I show up and see Billy Zabka again and he was just so gracious. He started right off spending time with me while I was training, giving me tips, and in general was just so cool. Mary [Mouser] and Jacob [Bertrand] were my regular running around crew. We hung out absolutely every day on and off set, ate together, got to know Atlanta together, movies, malls, the whole bit. My mom cooked dinner every Sunday for whoever wanted to show up and that also made for a cool bonding experience with cast and crew.
Who do you get to work with most in the series and what is that experience like?
XOLO: I spent most of my screen time with Billy [Zabka] and like I said, he was just so awesome. It was different than any experience I had had with other adults who I film with in that Billy treated me like a peer, always professional and always welcoming. He’s just a great guy.
Do you get to do any karate or martial arts in the series? If so, what has that been like for you?
XOLO: 100% and it was hard! I haven’t really done any martial arts since I took Shotokan Karate, when I was 6-9, and even then, I was more disciplined in Kata than in actual hand to hand combat. So here I come walking into set, 130 points wet, and get thrown into this crazy hectic schedule where I’m training 2-3 hours a day on days we are filming and then 6 hours on the weekend. Then, getting back to the home base and doing some gym work before going to bed. I literally was both the before and after guy from the “you too can be fit” ads.
Any favorite scenes that you can share from working on the series so far?
XOLO: I can’t give too much away, but my favorites scenes were where I got to do my own stunts and climbing. What a crazy rush working with these hardcore stunt gods and then having them hook me up to the same stunt rigs and letting me do my thing. I kind of wonder if that’s what the Rock feels like.
How would you describe the Miguel and Daniel dynamic through the series?
XOLO: Oooooh I can’t answer that one. Let’s just say that what’s up, may be down tomorrow.
How does Miguel view Daniel?
XOLO: Can’t really answer that one either, that magic must remain!
As an actor, what has been the one thing you haven taken away from the experience of working on COBRA KAI?
XOLO: That working with a team that supports each other has got to be the ideal for me as a professional actor. I have already taken steps to make sure that the choices I make will have me best prepared to encounter these kinds of ideal scenarios. Being selective, so I can curate a career. .
You also worked on PARENTHOOD. What did you enjoy about working on that show?
XOLO: Absolutely. PARENTHOOD was the first theatrical audition I had and 6-days later I walked into a 3-year job. I obviously didn’t realize it at the time, but having the opportunity to work with Jason Katims and his genius really allowed me to understand how to craft a character. Many of my cast members and crew were family on and off the set. I still have friendships with many of them, Tyree [Brown] and I spend regular time together just kicking it. I live down the street from Sam [Jaeger] and always try to stop by his house and catch up. Erika [Christensen] and Savannah [Paige Rae] stay in touch. Yes, it was like it seemed, an actual crew of people who loved each other.
What did you take away from that acting experience on PARENTHOOD?
XOLO: I learned that I want to be a screenwriter. I want to craft the narrative. I want to be the one who tells the stories.
What has surprised you most about your career so far?
XOLO: I haven’t really ever done work that my peers, my schoolmates or people my age would know me for, so I don’t know what to expect with COBRA KAI as it may be the first time that my classmates will actually realize what I do on the days I’m not in class.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the roles and projects you have worked on?
XOLO: I’ve learned that the need for inclusive casting is really important. What I love about Miguel is that he is a complete character. Not written from the narrative of the “downcast immigrant” but rather just a thread of the cloth that makes up this country. We need more of that, we (brown and black people) need to see more of our real selves on screen. We need to be a part of the story and I think that this is a great step towards that goal.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
XOLO: Hum… I don’t know if there are too many perks yet. At least not any that supersede me going home and having to pick up after my dogs or clean my room or take out the trash,….where are these perks and when do I get them?!?!
Has there been any great advice you have gotten about working as an actor?
XOLO: If you’re young, make sure you are really keeping an eye on your money. I am fortunate in that my parents explain to me where my money is and how it’s invested. I’m always surprised at how many of my fellow young actors don’t understand that process. So, my advice is to be smart about where your money goes and what you plan on doing with it, so you can make the most of your hard work.
What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
XOLO: “Listen more than you talk.”
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
XOLO: Have a really fun animation project coming soon, from a well-known graphic novel, so looking forward to being able to speak on that as soon as I get the go ahead. I love working voiceover so I hope to have more of those opportunities.
To see Xolo’s fantastic performance as Miguel and to see where Miguel’s story goes in Season 1 of COBRA KAI, be sure to tune in for the premiere when it is made available on YouTube Red on Wednesday, May 2nd. To learn more about the show, you can follow the show on Twitter @CobraKaiSeries. Then to follow Xolo as his career continues and see what adventures he has, you can follow him on Twitter @Xolo_Mariduena.
COBRA KAI trailer:
COBRA KAI – No Mercy For Miguel clip: