By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Courtney Henggeler was like many teenage girls, covering her walls with posters of heartthrobs like Ralph Macchio and, later, New Kids on the Block.
Now she finds it surreal to play Amanda LaRusso, the wife of Macchio’s character, on the hit Netflix show “Cobra Kai.”
“‘The Karate Kid’ was very big in my neighborhood,” she recalled. “There were a lot of little boys in the neighborhood who were into karate. I said, ‘I’m into karate, too.’ I didn’t know anything about it, actually. But I had ‘Karate Kid’ memorabilia.”
“Cobra Kai” takes place more than 30 years after the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament and sees the continuation of the conflict between Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka).
Season three, which starts in January, is the aftermath of the violent high school brawl between the two dojos, which left Miguel Diaz seriously injured. While Daniel searches for answers in his past and Johnny seeks redemption, Kreese further manipulates his vulnerable students with his own vision of dominance.
Henggeler’s character, in the meantime, is the voice of reason.
“Amanda is the peacemaker, which never sounds sexy when I say it,” Henggeler said with a laugh.
“I think she’s kind of the voice of the audience at times. She thinks it’s hilarious that Johnny and Daniel had a beef over a girl in high school and they are still arch nemeses in their 50s. They should have moved on with their lives. Kreese is back. He’s this intense sensei. It’s all kind of hilarious, if you think about it.”
No spoilers here, but Henggeler says season three is her favorite. It was filmed a year ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Season four is still being considered.
“It gets better and better and better,” she said. “It wasn’t on Netflix yet when we were on season three. It was on YouTube Red. Netflix is awesome.”
“Cobra Kai” has become a cult favorite—especially among those who remember the original “Karate Kid.” The movie reflects the 1980s during season three’s pivotal scenes—especially with music like “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins and Journey’s “Open Arms.”
“It brings back all of the feelings we were feeling back then,” Henggeler said. “It’s a beautiful nostalgia. I really didn’t expect it to be so well received. But I enjoy seeing Billy and Xolo Maridueña (Miguel Diaz), their wonderful mentorship. YouTube Red was a venue that no one really had access to or really existed. I thought it was just fun. I didn’t think it would have the impact that it has.”
She believes the appeal is widespread because “Cobra Kai” has something for everyone. For kids too young to remember the original “Karate Kid,” there are characters like the angry Hawk (Jacob Bertrand); the all-American sweetheart Samantha LaRusso (Mary Mouser) and the bad girl Tory (Peyton List).
“Our cast is diverse in the sense of ages,” she said. “We have Mary, who just hit 1 million followers. She’s the quintessential American sweet girl. You can’t help but care for her. She’s just stinkin’ adorable.
“Some people are all about Kreese, who’s dark and evil. Then there are people who love Billy and Johnny Lawrence. There are some fans of Demetri. It’s funny to watch the interactions and who the fans are gravitating toward.
“I recommend shows to people. I just watched ‘The Queen’s Gambit.’ Phenomenal. I can’t recommend that to my mother, though, per se. She wouldn’t get that. I feel that I can wholeheartedly recommend ‘Cobra Kai’ to everybody. I think it has something for everyone there. You can’t help but walk away feeling good.”
That includes Henggeler, who still is in awe of performing with Macchio.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be with COVID-19, but I love sitting next to Ralph,” she said. “His family is very lovely as well. I get the privilege to know them. I look at myself shooting on the set with Ralph Macchio and I think, ‘What are you saying to him? Stop.’ Now he’s ‘Ralph’ to me. For the first two seasons, he was ‘Ralph Macchio.’
“He’s so kind and much quirkier than I thought he was. He was the guy in the poster for the longest time.”