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Exclusive interview: Cobra Kai’s Jesse Kove on becoming part of the Karate Kid universe

Jesse Kove sits at a table in Season 3 of Cobra Kai
Jesse Kove joins his father, Martin Kove, in the cast of Cobra Kai. Pic credit: Netflix

Cobra Kai fans got a treat in the second episode of Season 3: A cameo in a flashback from Jesse Kove, the son of Martin Kove, who plays John Kreese. He did not, however, portray a young version of his father. Instead, Kove’s character bullied the future sensei.

The reality of the nasty football player in the diner, however, is a buoyant Instagram virtuoso who enjoys cooking and the occasional Christmas movie. In an exclusive interview with Monsters & Critics, Kove talks coronavirus pandemic workouts, knightly virtues, and driving one of the most famous cars in American film.

Monsters & Critics: You were interested in acting and film from an early age, and were creating in that medium of your own initiative as a child. What did you learn from those early experiences in making art, and how does that inform your work today?

Jesse Kove: Funny enough, my family never pushed me to be in the industry. We were always creative and encouraged in our artistic endeavors. For example, I loved performing magic for my family as if I were on stage. I enjoyed the performance of it and also enjoyed entertaining my family.

I believe having seen the make-believe on set early on in life allowed my creativity to flow naturally in my life and into my career. And this is continuing to find its way in my work now as I allow the creativity to unveil itself naturally.

M&C: Your flashback character in Cobra Kai, David, was involved in bullying with an old-school, highly physical fight, which clearly demanded a lot of work on your part. Were there any incidents, either fictional or real, that you turned to while preparing for this aspect of the role?

JK: I didn’t really pull from anything personal, nor did I need to. My fight in Cobra Kai was thrilling, but also incredibly taxing physically. It was 90 degrees that day and humid as hell. But I never walk away from a challenge, so I enjoyed every second of it.

It actually fueled me for the day! I had rehearsed with the extremely talented and award-winning-stunt team Hiro Koda a few days before shooting. We worked out any kinks and perfected the whole piece. The creators wanted an edgy, dirty, good-ole street brawl, and I think we gave it to them.

M&C: The yellow ’47 Ford from Karate Kid, which is now owned by Ralph Macchio, popped up in this episode, and David refers to it as “a piece of junk” that he plans to “scrap for muscle.”

Your work provided the origin story of one of the most famous cars in cinema! What do you think the importance of meta moments like this are, when both new and original fans are enjoying Cobra Kai together and can quickly discover the meaning of moments like this?

JK: Being a cinematic nerd myself, this was just as exciting for me. It’s a perfect combination of the old and the new clashing together, and I believe it’s just as exciting for the OG [cast] seeing new pieces trickle in and fill in the gaps. It’s fun for everyone, and also brings an upbeat closure to any questions fans may have.

Also, having known Ralph for so many years, I took a lot of pride in driving that car that day. Again, this is one of those moments I owe to the writers (Jon, Josh and Hayden); they truly, truly think of everything. It was a fun easter egg for them that may have even more back story, or it may not. But I will say, they tend to leave no stone unturned.

M&C: You’re active on social media, which can be a rough and negative place. How do you balance interacting with fans and the public while maintaining a healthy perspective?

JK: Yes, it’s a balance for sure. And much like anything, too much can be somewhat negative. I try to make my social media a place where people can come and experience these interesting parts of my life — parts that I actually want to share with people, where they can experience a wide variety of, hopefully, interesting things.

I also, as much as possible, try to keep things honest and upbeat. I think honesty is important in the social media age. There’s a lot of deception out there and I believe people favor honesty above all. And I’m no saint, but I do try to motivate people as much as possible, which motivates me as well.

M&C: What’s a favorite memory you’ll carry from working on the set of Cobra Kai?

JK: Sharing it with my father, who relished it as much as I did. It was a special day. It was the day I finally immortalized myself into The Karate Kid universe, something truly rare and a tremendous part of my father’s legacy. I couldn’t have been happier.

M&C: How are you keeping healthy (and sane!) during coronovirus shutdowns and procedures, both in your work and home life?

JK: COVID has inspired us all to look at home workouts differently. Luckily, I have a makeshift home gym of buckets filled with cement and sandbags — just kidding! I do have a makeshift gym at home, though, which I try to use as much as possible.

I’ve really gotten into cycling too. I bought my girlfriend one over the holidays and we use it daily. I also use a company called Sunfare foods, who delivers quality, personally catered meals to your home. And I have my vitamins to keep me sharp and to boost my immune system from a company called Legion Athletics.

In terms of staying sane, I spend quality time with my girlfriend and family. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work during Covid.

M&C: What kind of roles would you like more of in the future?

JK: I always enjoy playing villains. I find it to be the most freeing. You really get to own the space as a villain or bad guy. But I’m drawn to anything that is challenging and different. I love playing characters.

M&C: What attracted you to playing the role of Nolan in the Lifetime movie Christmas on the Menu?

JK: I have always enjoyed Christmas movies. They’re sweet and there’s a fun energy in the air (and I can usually sneak in some extra Christmas cookies). But this was a special one to me.

I had worked with the director before (Jake Helgren) on a previous Lifetime movie and was lucky to have him bring me back. I liked the love that was shared between friends in this film, and especially my relationship with actress Kim Shaw.

We played old flames who were now friends with possibly another chance. But in the end, we care for each other so much that we opt to see the other be happy, even if that means falling in love with someone else. Happiness and love for everyone won the day.

M&C: Your Instagram bio reads: “Hope|Faith|Kindness|Justice|Nobility|Courage.” What do you think is important about that message? Particularly regarding “Faith’– what do you have faith in?

JK: I’m not sure how many know this, but those are the virtues of a knight. I try to embody those qualities and be as “knightly” as I can be. I feel that to be a knight — no matter how big or small — you’ve got to have a big heart. I’ve studied and been involved with many religions. I do believe in the soul of man or woman and that after death is just another chapter.

M&C: Are there other forms of creation you enjoy outside of acting—writing, music, visual?

JK: I love creating with friends, laughing, and also writing and making movies. I also love to cook with my girlfriend. It’s something fun and something we can do together.

M&C: What are you excited about right now? Any new projects you’re working on at the moment you’d like to tell us about?

JK: I am excited about the future. And there are quite a few projects. My film Bring Me a Dream, a supernatural thriller, was released today on RedBox and Amazon. I just finished another Lifetime film called Recipe for Abduction. And I start a romantic comedy soon, as well as some other very cool projects that I can’t really get into detail about right now.

Cobra Kai is currently streaming on Netflix. Find Jesse Kove here on Instagram. 

Proud aunt Mary Beth Ellis, MFA, is a freelance writer, college instructor, reader, and reality consumer in Cincinnati, OH. She is the author of "Drink to the Lasses," a memoir, and a contributor to...read more

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