Xolo Maridueña, who stars as Miguel Diaz on “Cobra Kai,” had a big New Year’s Eve. No, he wasn’t out drinking (he’s 20) or partying (there’s a pandemic), but Season 4 of his Netflix series, a follow-up to the ’80s classic “Karate Kid,” was released that day, quickly becoming the top show on the streamer.
Season 4 began with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), once teenage rivals from the original “Karate Kid,” temporarily putting aside their differences. Johnny and Daniel combined their Eagle Fang and Miyagi-Do schools in order to take down Johnny’s old karate dojo Cobra Kai, after it was taken over by brutal sensei John Kreese (Martin Krove). But Johnny and Daniel’s truce is short-lived, and Johnny goes back to training Miguel and his students for the 51st annual All Valley Karate Tournament. Along the way, Johnny and Miguel’s father-son-like relationship grows, and Johnny begins dating Miguel’s mom (Vanessa Rubio).
At the highly anticipated karate tournament, Miguel advances to the semi-finals and must face his teammate and friend Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz (Jacob Bertrand) for a chance to be the champ for the second year in a row. However, Miguel suffers a minor back injury and decides to pull out of the tournament, despite being healthy enough to return. From there, he decides to run away to Mexico to find his long-lost father and get in touch with his roots.
As Miguel prepares to embark on a different journey in the upcoming “Cobra Kai” Season 5, Maridueña is getting ready for a new chapter in his life: He’s starring in the DC Comics film “Blue Beetle” as the first Latino superhero to headline his own movie. The movie, directed by Angel Manuel Soto, is set to hit theaters on Aug. 18, 2023, after originally being planned as an HBO Max release.
Here, Maridueña speaks to Variety about “Cobra Kai” Season 4’s ending, what’s next for Miguel and how his time on the show has prepared him for “Blue Beetle.”
How did you spend your New Year’s Eve with the Season 4 premiere?
I’m not 21 and COVID is going kind of crazy, so it was unfortunately a little more tame than maybe I was hoping for, but I was pretty nervous about this season coming out. This was my favorite season, and when you get these crazy accolades, like 100% on Rotten Tomatoes or whatever, it sometimes feels like, “How are we going to top this? How are we going to make this bigger and grander?” I think somehow we found a way to do it and people are enjoying it, and I’m excited to show people more of it.
Can you take me inside Miguel’s reasoning for dropping out of the All Valley Tournament Karate Tournament?
In the episode right before that, Johnny drunkenly admits to Miguel that he wishes he were more of a father figure to [his estranged son] Robby (Tanner Buchanan) than Miguel. In that moment, Miguel thinks he’s talking to him, but really he’s not. That’s one part of it, and that conversation right before in the medic room where Johnny is telling him, “Don’t you want to do this? We need Eagle Fang and Miyagi-Do to be on top. We gotta get Cobra Kai out of here.” Seeing the person he wants validation from the most, the person whom he admires the most, whom he wants to make proud, is almost using him as a pawn at this point to prove a point. He was kind of like, “The two things I wanted the most are no longer in my sight, so I need to try something new. Maybe this wasn’t what it was all about.” I think we all kind of go through that at one point or another, where we’re like, “Is this what I want to do?” Honestly, Miguel is crazy for not telling anyone and going out there. What a dumb high-school decision, but I hope it pans out for him.
What new side of Miguel are we going to see as he heads to Mexico in Season 5?
This is the new Latin lover Miguel! Heading over to Mexico, it’s a clean slate. I’m going out on this mission and honestly it’s a bit naive. Mexico is a big place. It’s a big, ambitious goal that he wants, but I think if we’ve seen anything it’s that he’s the underdog. He’s one of the new generation’s Daniel LaRussos. If anyone can do it, it’s him.
Seasons 1 and 4 both ended with an All Valley Karate Tournament. What’s been the biggest change in how you’ve portrayed Miguel from then to now?
The only person he was winning the first All Valley Tournament for was Johnny and himself. In this tournament, there’s so much more on the line. Not to mention that in that first one, it was just me, Robby, Hawk and Aisha. In this new one, it’s everyone. Every character that you’ve come to love and appreciate and see grow over these four years, it’s all culminating into this tournament and there’s so much more on the line, even just personally as friends. That’s one of the coolest parts about getting to do that fight with Jacob. I’ve gotten to know this kid for almost five years. It felt like “Warrior” with Tom Hardy — two brothers getting to fight each other. Who cares who wins because we’re both winning here, we both made it.
Was there a friendly rivalry between you and Jacob? What would’ve happened if Miguel and Hawk had finished their fight?
I would’ve whupped his ass! When we live out in Atlanta, we live together; he’s my brother. We have a podcast together, literally we’re attached at the hip. We read the scripts together at home, sitting in our living room and reading them aloud, “Who’s gonna win?!” I’m at least glad to say I bowed out to the guy who won it all. Now we both have a ring. Either someone else will get their first ring or one of us is going to be a second-time offender.
How many more seasons of “Cobra Kai” would you want to stick around for?
I would love to stick around for however long would make sense. Something you see so commonly in an age of TV shows that are dropping every single week, some shows just don’t know when to stop because the money is too good or people love it so much. There’s nothing more dissatisfying than following a show as a loyal fan for years and then having it end not well. So I hope the show ends when it’s supposed to and we can look back on it years later and say, “We have the opportunity to do a spinoff 35 years from now because it ended with people wanting more.”
Which dojo from “Cobra Kai” would Jaime Reyes, a.k.a. the Blue Beetle, train at?
I feel like he might be a little bit Eagle Fang. He’s not as naive. I feel like a Peter Parker would be Miyagi-Do. Of the teenage superheroes, Jaime would be in the Eagle Fang boat — a little chaotic, spontaneous, sly, a little cornball.
With your “Cobra Kai” background, how are you approaching the fight scenes in “Blue Beetle”?
This is really gonna be a stepping stone in my life. I’ve gotten the chance to build chemistry with these people over the years on “Cobra Kai.” To try to recreate that chemistry in a much shorter amount of time is gonna be difficult, but all of these guys are professionals. I know that I’m in the hands of people who are the best at what they do. The opportunity at “Cobra Kai” has really blessed me; I can do stunts, we can do crazy stuff. Adding this new level of green screen and suits and CGI and all of this will add a whole new crazy level to it that I’m so excited for.
In 2021, we had so many movies in which Spanish was spoken on screen, like “In the Heights,” “West Side Story” and “Encanto.” How much Spanish is going to be in “Blue Beetle,” and how are you approaching that kind of representation for the language?
I don’t know how much I can speak on, but what I can speak on is the fact that the thing that is really going to shine in this movie is that the Latino experience is not a monolith. It’s not a one-size-fits-all story. Whether you speak zero Spanish or are fluent, you’re not more Latino than someone else. The reality is that you can come from whatever background and at the end of the day you’re all gonna come together for this mission or whatever it is. The familial togetherness is what makes us Latino and the fact that we’re gonna ride for each other, that’s what makes us Latino, not this language. Don’t get me wrong, there’s gonna be Spanish in the movie. We’re gonna speak Spanish; it’s gonna be how it feels at home, but Spanish isn’t the only reason for that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.