Xolo Maridueña Talks Hardwork, Social Justice And The New Youtube Red Series, “Cobra Kai”

Words + Interview By: Tyrone Davis (Editor)

For a lot of us, some of our best memories come from our childhoods. We had no bills/debt and some of the hardest decisions we had to make were what we were going to wear to school, who we were going to ask to the school dance or what kind of cereal we were going to eat while watching Saturday morning cartoons. For others, childhood may not have been so great and this could be due to growing up without, family issues at home or even being bullied  at school. I think people hold on to those memories (both good and bad) and we love nostalgia because it reminds us of where we come from and where we are going. 

My thing is entertainment, specifically film and music and I will turn on an 80’s film that I’ve seen 1000 times in a minute, even if I’m not actually watching it. It’s my “go-to” move when I’m designing, cleaning up the house, etc. I am a big fan of the first 2 “The Karate Kid” films and I believe a lot of us saw ourselves in Daniel (Ralph Macchio) in some form or fashion. That’s what made those films great. They represented the underdog. 

With that being said, meet Xolo Maridueña who stars as Miguel in the upcoming Youtube Red Series, “Cobra Kai”. I feel like I can speak for a lot of people my age when I say we are exited about the project. Xolo is a bright young man who aims to change the world in more ways than one. I wish him the best.   

What was childhood like for you? 
I have a family that supports each other across the board.  You know, the kind of family that doesn’t tell you an idea is crazy (even if it is) and comes up with way to help you make those crazy ideas happen. That’s pretty much the way we treat each other and even if only 1 out of every 10 schemes go right, it’s still the learning process that counts. It’s like my childhood was that bumper sticker that says, ”It’s the journey that counts…”

When did you decide you wanted to become an actor?
My dad and I bond over movies and I guess all that watching made me think, “Hey, I can do that!” and they figured out a way to put me in the position to help me achieve that goal.

Tell us about Youtube Red’s series, “Cobra Kai”. Is this a spin off or sequel type of series?
Ahhhh, I want to say so much but can’t say much at all.  Here’s what I think I can tell you. It’s both a spin off and a sequel and follows the trajectory of both Johnny and Daniel’s lives and where they are now.  You also get to peek back at their iconic relationship and realize that things weren’t exactly what you thought they were. It’s going to be so good!

Based on the original film, Kreese (Played by Martin Kove) ran the Cobra Kai dojo on “No Mercy” and he and his students were considered the “bad guys”.  Being that your character is a Cobra Kai student, can we expect the same from you?
No spoilers, but it does have that throwback feel. I can say that the producers (Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald) have a great balance of both dramatic and comedic timing and they give my character Miguel his hero’s journey.

Did you watch all of the original “Karate Kid” films? If so, what did you think about them and in what order would you rank them?
I watched the reboot of The Karate Kid (starring Jaden Smith) in theaters so the reboot was where my point of view on that franchise started. I loved that movie when I was a kid and at the time I was hardcore into Shotokan (shout out to Las Vegas Shotokan dojo) so you can imagine the kind of impact that movie had on me. I watched the original The Karate Kid 1 & 2 before I auditioned for Cobra Kai and I think they resonated the same way watching Ghostbusters did for me. In my head, I know they are the originals but I still love the newer versions.  Maybe that’s just the consequence of what you know first? I can see why my generation drives people crazy.

Will any of the original cast members be in the new series? If so, is there anything in particular that you learned from them that stuck with you? 
Not just “any” cast members but the big guys, Billy Zabka (Johnny) and Ralph Macchio (Daniel).  I got to see them every day of filming this series. Billy was the complete opposite of his on-screen persona. He was warm and welcoming and he treats me like a fellow actor and not some kid on set.  He worked through lines with me and he would drill and spar with me. Ralph, of course is just the man!  Think of an actor who has been working since he was a teen and has kept working.  That’s the dream right there, being able to do what you love, forever.

“The Karate Kid” franchise is special to my generation, with the first 2 films being 2 of my favorite films of all time. I think that “Cobra Kai” will be something that my age group will be interested in and can enjoy along with younger people. Based on your experience, what have the reactions been like in anticipation for this series so far?
Ok, so you have two different camps here. There is the audience like you, like my dad and tio who grew up watching this and they are firmly in the “don’t mess this up” camp. Then, there are the younger viewers who are going to like the action (and there’s a boatload of action) and the cast members who they can relate to.  Those viewers are going to judge the show on the now and vintage viewers are going to tune in for the Johnny and Danny dynamic and hopefully agree that we did this important franchise justice. We have 10 episodes to get this right.

What was training for the series like? 
Oh man, it was soooooo difficult. My main trainer was Hiro Koda. This man is a legend in the field of stunt and fight coordination so right away, no pressure. I mean, as in he was an original Power Ranger so here I am, skinny kid with a few years of karate at age 6 under my belt and all of a sudden I’m training 3-6 hours a day.  Not just punching and kicking training but yoga, stretching and core workouts.  I cried in my pillow that whole first month but it paid off. By the 3rd or 4th episode I was doing the majority of my own stunts. I also want to mention that the skills I learned from Noah Garret (my stunt double) were the kind of secret squirrel things that these guys just share amongst each other.  I really feel fortunate to have worked with both of them because they are at the top of their field.

What has been your favorite acting experience to date?
I guess Cobra Kai has been the fullest acting experience to date. Parenthood is my favorite in the sense that I got the experience of being welcomed into show business by the warmest and most loving production ever. Twin Peaks was a mind trip in working with Mr. David Lynch. I can’t even describe what an almost out of body experience it is watching him work and having him direct me. It was amazing.  I know that’s the “non-answer” answer like when you ask a mom who here favorite kid is but every acting experience I have had (even the commercials) have allowed me to take a step closer to my end goal.

What are your “Top 5” favorite films?
Up, The Usual Suspects, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Shawshank Redemption and Oceans 11. Not necessarily in that order, but I could watch those movies till the end of time. 

Pick one and explain why.

Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper or J. Cole?
Chance the Rapper. He’s been one of my favorites since I started listening to him in 2012. I love how philanthropic he is and his earlier music has a really great feel to it. It was a hard choice Kendrick and Cole are such great storytellers but it’ll always be Chance at the top for me.  

Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat?
Instagram purely because I use it the most often. I feel like it’s the easiest way to connect with the biggest range of people but Snapchat will always be up there for me just because I love sending ugly pictures of myself to my friends.

Lil Pump, Lil Uzi Vert or Lil Yachty?
Lil Pump is my favorite for one of two reasons. The first is that I’m just not a big fan of the other two choices and secondly, I can’t knock the hustle of someone who’s touring the world at 17. Not to mention he has some great hype songs.

Who/What inspires you?
I am inspired by hustlers; People that go out and grind their way in this world from the frutero guy on the corner selling delicious bags of fruit with lime, the hair and nail ladies who create tiny works of art, Elon Musk to my mom. People who don’t let challenges tell them they can’t make a buck.

Aside from acting, what other activities are you into?
I play the drums. I like to spin music and produce beats. I enjoy jumping on a train with my best friend Anthony and just exploring LA. I play Dungeons and Dragons every other week with a crew and I’m getting into writing screenplays.

What social issues are you most passionate about?
I come from a family of social justice warriors. My dad works for MALDEF (Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund) and mom runs a non-profit (Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory). So, let’s just say that my DNA is made up of lots of passions, even before I knew they were issues. I’ve been marching since I was wrapped up in my mom’s rebozo and continue to put in that boots on the ground work.

But, if I had to narrow it down for a soundbite, I care about economic equity. I care that people be given the opportunity to make a reasonable living and not live under the fear of becoming homeless because they get sick or miss a paycheck.  I care that our foster youth are left on their own once they turn 18. I care that kids who are “American” in every single way are now being told to get out for a piece of paper. I think that we all need to be advocates for those who can’t or won’t be heard by those in power and I think we need to stop telling actors and creative people to shut up and just entertain. I don’t imagine that being in front of a camera makes me any less passionate about what I care about and I don’t plan on changing that focus.

I’m going to throw a few names out there. Say whatever comes to mind.

A)#UNselfie
#givingTuesday

B) Rihanna
My future wife.

C) Malcolm X
G.O.A.T.

I thought your tweet, “Is MC Eiht name spelled incorrectly because he is the G?” was interesting to see. Lol, I have to ask. What do you know about MC Eiht? 
Full disclosure: I come from Hip Hop royalty, lol. My mom was the first VP of any Hip-Hop record label, the first Chicana on Hip Hop radio in LA and the producer and on-air personality for The Wake-Up Show. I had a nursery in their studio so….”GEAH”!

Lol, tell us a weird fact about yourself.
Is it weird that I don’t like my foods to touch?

What do you hate most about being a teen?
Waiting to drive is what I hate the most. Dude, I just want to get my license and be on the road like Jack.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I should have a Masters in a creative or science field. Also, I would like to have hit up at least 4 continents by 25. I really want to write the kind of stories people want to film and I hope in 10 years to be able to have the freedom to keep taking chances and making mistakes that I can come back from without much damage.

Any last words? 
Eat more bananas. They’re high in potassium.

Follow Xolo on Twitter and Instagram @Xolo_Mariduena.

Photo By: Tim Schaeffer | Grooming: Joseph Adivari

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