Waves of actors have washed ashore on the banks of the Chattahoochee over the last decade, as everything Hollywood migrates to the South. One of the most recent transplants is "Karate Kid" and "Cobra Kai" dojo sensei John Kreese, a character made globally infamous by Hollywood actor, Martin Kove. A seasoned actor whose career has spanned 50 years, Kove is known for such classic television roles as Detective Victor Isbecki on "Cagney & Lacey", and Romeo Slade on "Edge of the Night". With more than 231 actor credits, no other character has had a greater impact on Kove’s personal life as John Kreese, the tempestuous and habitually cruel dojo sensei from the iconic 1980’s "Karate Kid" movies and the internationally lauded, television comedy-drama "Cobra Kai".
Kove began traveling back and forth to Atlanta to work on Cobra Kai and, like so many of his fellow actors, he began to fall in love with the Atlanta area and the subtle differences between life here in the South and life in Southern California. Everything is different, especially on set. “It seems that people aren’t just helping you because they have to or because it’s their job. They are helping you because they really care about your wellbeing,” says Kove. “People in the South have a greater compassion for their fellow man. The hospitality and the demeanor of the people is far more attractive than that of Los Angeles or New York.” He has found that Southerners bring more feeling and integrity to their work, without the nasty edge that competition nurtures.
For Martin Kove, reprising the role of John Kreese was an unexpected success. “I didn’t think that it would be as big a hit as it’s become,” says Kove. “It’s a phenomenon because parents wanted their kids to watch the original movies when the new series came out and eventually the kids made their parents watch the series because it was so popular.”
Playing a character like John Kreese for years has left a definitive impression on Martin Kove. It is obvious that for "Cobra Kai" the character of John Kreese was written with greater color and texture than before and that the writers have given him much more depth but, ultimately “everybody likes the hard-ass John Kreese,” says Kove. “The writing on Cobra Kai was very important to me and these characters are so well written and powerful, they just stick with you.” The shooting schedule for two seasons had him playing John Kreese for six solid months and Kove found the character hard to unplug from. “With this character, you have to be very careful that he doesn’t crawl into your personal life. Staying in John Kreese long after you finish shooting is dangerous. He’s still a very frustrated angry fellow. You know that you can’t function that way in real life.”
“I had to shed the role or it would have torn away at my life even more. As an actor you have to have a reckoning with the character you play. It is hard to experience happiness in your own life when, to John Kreese, others’ points of view are inadequate.” Kove further explained that at certain times in the last year he can remember Kreese creeping in and having an impact. “If you are at all in touch with your character, he’s there and he is too loud, too domineering, and too frightening. Staying in that role is not a healthy place to be.”
I finally caught up with Martin Kove at the Big Oak Tavern here in Roswell. We shared a delicious meal and discussed this character. “I lost my temper three times this past year. Each time I was totally engrossed in playing John Kreese,” says Kove. “I couldn’t turn him off and I did not even think about that until now. He has caused a lot of anxieties in my personal relationships.”
Striking that life work balance is a chore for everyone. For most of us it is impossible to imagine reconciling a character that you play on television and the person that you are in the real world.
Martin Kove is a compassionate family man whose real world is now here in the South.