'Cobra Kai': Inside Thomas Ian Griffith's Return to the 'Karate Kid' Franchise in Season 4 (Exclusive)
Season four of Cobra Kai got a lot more villainous thanks to Thomas Ian Griffith’s return as Terry Silver, a Vietnam War veteran and wealthy businessman who originally founded the titular dojo. Like many stars of the film franchise, the actor reprised his role, which he originated 32 years prior in 1989’s The Karate Kid Part III, for the Emmy-nominated Netflix series.
While speaking to ET’s Leanne Aguilera, Griffith said his return to the franchise was “surprisingly very fulfilling.” Especially since he got to flesh out what he described as a two-dimensional character from the film and learn more about “what that guy has been doing for the last 30 years and how those qualities have manifested themselves and what that looks like now,” the 59-year-old actor explains.
Griffith adds, “It was a challenge, but I felt like we had such a great map with the creators, what they had in terms of the backstory and what they were thinking about this guy.”
In the new episodes, which are now streaming on Netflix, Silver is recruited by former war comrade and partner in crime, John Kreese (Martin Kove), who needs his help taking on Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence’s (William Zabka) newly united dojos.
Initially, Silver rejects the idea, claiming he’s no longer that guy anymore. “Back in the ’80s, I thought I could conquer the world,” he says. “I was so hopped up on cocaine and revenge that I spent months terrorizing a teenager over a high-school karate tournament. It sounds insane just talking about it.”
What happens next won’t be spoiled here. But needless to say, Silver’s newfound zen doesn’t last long and he finds himself the throes of Kreese’s ongoing battle for dominance over LaRusso, which culminates with a final showdown during the All Valley Karate Tournament.
Along the way, fans learn more about Silver’s past and his connections with Kreese -- and what ultimately “brings those inner demons out,” the actor says, revealing that Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg had “mapped out the backstory with Kreese and what he’s been doing…. When they talked me through all of that, I was like, ‘Oh, this is gold.’”
“This is something that we’ve been looking forward to since we started conceiving of the show. We’re huge fans of all the Karate Kid films and we knew that over the course of the series we’d be bringing characters back little by little,” Hurwitz says, explaining that Silver is “that next level villain.”
“He’s a little larger than life. So, for us, when bringing him back, it was about bringing back the character that we love but doing so in a different kind of way that surprises while still giving you a taste of that insanity that there was,” he continues. “Working with Thomas was amazing… We used some of his skills in this season -- not only as an actor but as a martial artist. He blew us all away.”
One early indication that Silver hasn’t fully left his past behind is when he’s alone and kicks a wine bottle into the wall of his cellar. According to the actor, who got his black belt in martial arts when he was 17, that’s a skill that’s always been part of his life. “I started training very young… And, you know, it just stayed with me,” he says. “What I learned has crossed over into everything I’ve done in life, the discipline and focus.”
That said, getting back in shape for the series was not an issue for Griffith. “I was like, ‘That won’t be a problem.’ I mean, I have that part of it down,” he says.
In addition to getting to flesh out Silver’s story, Griffith was excited about reuniting with his former co-stars, particularly Macchio. “It was surreal,” the actor says, referring to “the first time walking on set and [seeing] Ralph Macchio, who I haven’t seen for 30 years.”
“We were just standing there looking at each other… and it was just such a positive wave of energy that just felt right,” Griffith recalls. “And we looked over and we saw the creators, John, Josh and Hayden, three grown men, intelligent men, fanboying out with their telephones out, like, ‘Oh, this is their first meeting.’ So, it really was a special moment. And Ralph was fantastic.”
He adds that things picked up right where they left off. “We fell right in, like, ‘We’re doing this.’ And I fell right in and felt so welcomed.”
Macchio echoes that sentiment, adding that everything about Griffith’s return as Silver was next level. “Often has been the case in Cobra Kai, anyone who comes back from the original film series brings their A game. It’s really been a spectacular journey that I never expected,” he says, adding “to happen at this level is [wonderful].”
The actor adds that Griffith’s “refined performance” as Silver brought so many “layers and levels to this character and the story branches out and informs Cobra Kai season 4 and beyond with the story from yesteryear.” If anything, the series helps correct the faults of the third Karate Kid film. “It’s a really spectacular and thrilling journey… It’s almost like you get to redeem any missteps from yesterday,” he explains.
That said, “Thomas is knocking it out of the park,” Macchio concludes.
Cobra Kai season 4 is now streaming on Netflix.
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