With Cobra Kai season three now in the rearview mirror, we sit down with Mary Mouser, who plays Samantha LaRusso on the Netflix show, to discuss the importance of perspective within her portrayal of Sam and as an actress.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been only two months since the release of Cobra Kai season three, but there is already an insatiable thirst for more from the franchise, and fans won’t be disappointed. As season four commences production, we chat with Ralph Macchio’s onscreen daughter Mary Mouser to look back on her character’s development and the fan theories that keep the fictional karate realm still kicking even when cameras are off.
How have you been?
We’ve actually just started production of season four. So I’m finally busy, busy. I’ve kind of got into my own little rhythm of just being at home, so it’s kind of been weirder going back to work than I would have expected. I’ve been very lucky to do this job for many, many years, so after all of those many years, acting seems normal to me and being on set is normal to me. Doing my job, you know, it’s my job. But definitely this time it’s different, it’s a little mental adjustment I have to do where I got settled in last year. I’m high risk and I also don’t want to be a spreader so I’m at home every single day.
You’ve mentioned previously that you like to read, what types of books do you read most?
I’m big into fantasy and high-fantasy. I love the world-building and especially during this last year, the escapism of just diving into a fantastical world. They’re in some sort of post-apocalyptic adventure that always seems to work itself out by the end of the 500 pages.
A bit like real life at the moment.
Fair. I feel like I’m still waiting for that resolution around here.
Stepping into the fictional karate world, when did season three of Cobra Kai wrap?
We finished it in late November 2019. We normally film every fall; the first season I think it was September to December and the second season I think we were August to December, then last season we were about August to November.
How has it been for you since the release of season three?
I knew that the show was obviously something really cool and I treasured a lot, and I hoped people would enjoy it the same way. On YouTube, we had a really great response from a great group of people and I didn’t fully expect the jump once we got onto Netflix. Then once season three came out, I don’t think I prepared myself quite enough — it was a really big surge, which is so cool and exciting. Every day has just been like, “pinch me, I cannot believe this.”
How has Samantha’s storyline of having PTSD and anxiety taken its toll on you emotionally as an actress?
Those are things that I know in people I know and in myself. They were kind of already there and already journeys that I had to take and am still on. It wasn’t necessarily like I was coming at it from a perspective of like, “Oh I have to suddenly become dark and suddenly get into some world of understanding what this is.” It was things that were natural to me but it was definitely an adjustment bringing that to Samantha.
Seasons one and two Samantha were a little vacation. It was like three months of me going and dealing with somebody else’s problems and not having to worry about my own problems for a few months. Then I had to bring a little bit of that into Samantha, but that was honestly really, really cool, and I’m so grateful that I got to do it. It challenged me and I think it helped people to see a different side, hopefully, of PTSD and anxiety. Maybe for people who don’t struggle with it, to be able to see a version that is not crippling. It doesn’t have to stop you from living your life, but that the moments come up and that it does stop you in moments and that, that is OK.
That kind of journey for the people who do, I know I could have really used seeing that, especially in my younger years when I was in high school, I could’ve really used seeing somebody do that and have it not be their entire identity, and have them still continue living life and have that also be a part of them. I was hoping that it would be that for people and I’ve gotten some really cool messages where people have resonated in that way, which has meant a lot to me.
Do you also think the next season will bring more physically and emotionally demanding moments for Sam?
Definitely — I think that the more we’ve gotten into each of these characters the more we’ve gotten to know them. We’ve built them up, like in season one, the pieces I had were that she’s Daniel’s daughter, she used to do karate but doesn’t like it anymore, and she has a crush on this boy Miguel. It was like, that was it. That’s simple, those are three puzzle pieces to click together no problem. But the more puzzle pieces you add, the more confusing it gets and the more time you have to spend going, “Do these fit here? No, it fits here,” and by now season four, the fleshed-out versions of the characters we have to go into the year, it’s definitely going to be more taxing in new and different ways. I love it; it’s a challenge that I’m excited about taking on.
It’s like I get to know Samantha, and the producers get to know my version of Samantha and we have conversations, and it creates this Samantha that people get to see. It’s a really cool experience and I’m very excited about it, but definitely, as we go on and as the story progresses too, the stakes are so high at this point, there’s no way not to get your heart broken in some way.
When you speak to your onscreen dad Ralph during a scene in the latest season, you ask, “Are we the good guys in all this?” Something Sam had to confirm — was that a pivotal moment for you as that character?
We all become members of our own little dojos within this realm, like while we’re on set. We’ll clump together at lunch, and sometimes it just works out that way because when I’m working the Cobra Kais aren’t working, or when they’re working I’m not working, so we kind of end up that way. But it’s been funny to see, we become really protective and loyal to dojos and to our Senseis and we’d get into arguments; we’d be like “look haha this is funny and everything but the kick wasn’t illegal, he was egged on.” Then we end up evolving into legitimate arguments over this stuff, so I feel like I’ve been so loyal to Miyagi-Do and I still am.
That’s still where my heart’s at. Mr. Miyagi was a part of Samantha’s young life and I think that’s incredibly important to her culture and her existence and who she is as a person. But no I think it was a really cool moment because I think a lot of people at home, after seeing people’s reactions especially, seeing people say, “Miyagi-Do are the bad guys, that’s the team that is causing all the problems,” and I was like, “Whoa, hold on a minute, that’s not the way I read the script. I read a very different script from the one you’re reading.” But it’s funny looking at it from a different perspective, it really is a thing you can do with this show, which is really cool but was a little funny like, “Hey there, hold on a minute.”
Fans are viewing Samantha as the villain of her own story. Are there lessons still to be learned for her?
Obviously my job is to be Samantha, so therefore I can’t see Samantha as a villain, but I definitely see what people are saying in terms of, I do that to myself and become my own worst enemy. I know, I do that to myself all the time whilst being Mary, where I’ll be hard on myself to a point that I’ll stop myself from being able to do something, and then later when I’m kicking myself, there’s no one I can be mad at but me. I think that there’s a little bit of that for Samantha where she’s got all this confusion, anger, and hurt, and a lot of it is self-inflicted.
But when you’re caught up in the moment and as a teenager, especially, as somebody who’s walking into this roaring karate world where it’s been established before she was even born, there’s a little bit of just being thrown to the wolves. [She] had to figure it out when not really knowing all the answers yet. I think she’s got a lot left to learn; I think she’s got a lot of questions that need to be answered by herself and by other people. She needs guidance and I would like to see Samantha see the perspectives that I’ve gotten to see as Mary. To look at it from the other sides and say, “OK, maybe there’s something of merit here: maybe there’s some truth to this, maybe there’s something I can connect to here.” I think she’s got a long way to go, but I think she’s just like the rest of us, figuring it out. I am by no means perfect and I mess up all the time. Someone could look at my life and be like, “Oh she’s definitely the villain,” but that’s OK because I’m just trying my best.
Season four is building up to the All Valley Karate Tournament, but what’s the buzz like there at the moment?
We all drive the producers crazy because they’re smart enough not to tell us anything. We have our own theories and we’d be like, “Oh what if this happened? That would explain it, that would explain it. Remember when he looked at you sideways whenever you said that sentence and you were talking about eating chicken? I bet that’s what it is, I bet that’s what they mean.” It’s really hilarious. We all have our little theories and some of them match up; some of them line up and make sense and some of them are really far-fetched. Like, “Jacob, you’re not actually going to grow wings.”
Some of these things are a little ridiculous. I wonder but I don’t think I have any hardcore speculations that the fans haven’t already thought of, other than, like I said, I’m hoping that Samantha gets some perspective. It’s like that scene in Ratatouille where he’s like, “Bring me a plate of perspective,” and he’s like, “Sorry, you want what?” That’s all I want, just some perspective. I also want more badass karate as that’s my favorite thing is getting to do that on the show.
Speaking about the new generation such as yourself versus the older generation: you’re experiencing firsts as Samantha, but they’re experiencing 35 years of nostalgia. How do you feel about that contrast?
There are definitely some interesting moments where we’ll be in a scene and Ralph will be delivering this line in a way, like when I was reading it, I was like, “Oh, it’s a straight-forward line,” but then I realize, “Oh no, that has so much more behind it for him.” It completely changes the way I’m interacting with him in the scene; it would really hit me differently and change the meaning.
It’s definitely cool to watch; it really feels like sometimes I’m Samantha and that’s my real dad, and I’m listening to him recount those stories and experiences to me. Then there’s the awesomeness of my favorite thing of sitting around on one of our breaks while they’re setting up the shots and just getting to hear the stories of what it was like on the sets. Luckily they welcomed us in with open arms and we kind of have our own little bubble of memories that we’ll talk about someday. I have the utmost respect for the source material and that we get to work with the people who created it, and I think it’s very special.
You haven’t had many scenes with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) in the series yet. How do you think they’ll get along?
Oh yeah, I hadn’t really thought about it that way. We were talking about that on set just recently. We were talking about like, “Oh, we’ve had like two interactions so far: the car and one other and I guess that moment at the end.” There’re a lot of those relationships where I think it will be fun to see them play out and, if they do, in what ways. But Samantha and Johnny will be hilarious; I can only imagine what those conversations might look like. There are all kinds of them that I’m excited to see, like the binary brothers back together — I’m very curious to see how that plays out. I’m a fan at this point, so I just sit here like, “Oh that would be fun,” we just happen to see it a few months before everybody else.
Have you sat in the famous yellow car?
Yes, oh my god. I got to sit in the front seat of it. I remember getting into the car, first of all the doors are a little swingy — the handles, they’re a little wobbly. It’s not like getting into a brand new car, and I’ve never got into a legitimate vintage car. So I got in and closed the door and it didn’t close all the way and Ralph was like, “Oh you got to like pull it when you close it,” so I went to go and do it again and it went bang [takes an inward breath] and I had this moment where I’m like, “I’m about to get fired, I’m about to get sent home. I just slammed the yellow door, I don’t know what to do with myself.”
I saw Ralph’s face just go, [face drops] “Don’t mess with me, kid.”
Do you feel sorry for the photo of Mr. Miyagi?
I do, the poor picture. It’s kind of cool that it is in and of its own, kind of like Mr. Miyagi even after he’s gone just keeps coming back and is always there and is strong and resilient. Even when shattered has that wisdom to give, you know. I was really, really excited about that moment for Samantha in season three of looking down at the picture and getting to change my trajectory and everything. I was like, “This is what it feels like to be a part of this incredibly unique and cool franchise.”
If you were to create your own dojo, what would you call it?
[Laughs] My favorite animals are sloths, but my second favorite animals are dogs. So I feel like that’s a little bit more intimidating. If we went down the wolf route, I think it would have to be “Wolves Den” or something like that.
You can catch Mary Mouser in Cobra Kai on Netflix.