If you're still coming down from the high that was Cobra Kai Season 3, then we have a treat for you!
We had a chance to chat with Vanessa Rubio, who plays Carmen on the Netflix series. Carmen was front and center, a driving force behind Johnny's change of heart regarding his former adversary, Daniel Larusso.
Find out how Vanessa thinks Carmen held it together during Miguel's recovery, how her relationship with Johnny might change Miguel's relationship with both, and how you can keep Vanessa in your view while we await Cobra Kai Season 4.
What is it like being part of a cult phenomenon, like the Karate Kid/Cobra Kai franchise?
It's amazing. It's really, really amazing. Sometimes it's like that situation where you have to be like, is this really happening? But it's been wonderful. The fans have been really lovely, and the feelings behind the show, the people who really care about it, really are authentic in those feelings, so it's been wonderful.
Were you a fan of the Karate Kid movies before you became involved?
I was, of course. I grew up in the 80s. I was the youngest of three, so I was pretty young when the movies came out. But because of my older siblings, particularly my older brother, who was right around the right age for the Karate Kid, right at that early-teen age, he was the one who was mostly watching it.
I just wanted to be cool and keep up with the times. I watched them as well, and they're definitely a part of how I grew up.
Does he think you're pretty cool now?
Yeah, I would hope so. [laughs]
Carmen has seen Johnny at arguably his worst more than his best, but she's still drawn to him and seems to really read him well. Where does that connection stem from?
Yes, right. I think it's just really written into the story. As an actor, I have to do justice to the writing and find the truth behind that. I think she's deeply empathetic as a human, so she feels that.
But she also feels like with her past experience with being betrayed and duped by Miguel's father and having to go on the run and survive and really call on her strength of survival and wits to go to a new country with her family and find footing.
I think she knows how to fight too. She knows the ups and downs of that, the lows that you go. I think she's able to emphasize with that in particular with him.
What do you think made her put her heart out there and trust Johnny with it?
I think a combination of, I think it surprises her as well. She's a character, I think, who goes back and forth between her strong feelings. She has very strong feelings, but then she doesn't want to show it.
She's like, oh no, she doesn't want to be vulnerable because she's also in this fighting to survive stage, you know? But I think there inevitably comes a time when you go from surviving to thriving. I think we see her growing into that.
Then also, her son is such a beautiful forward-moving force in our life who puts her on dating sites and stuff. She's getting her groove. I think the whole thing with Johnny is that he stepped in to really be a father figure for her son unexpectedly and tenaciously; he keeps on.
He's always there, even maybe when she doesn't want him to be. She has to give in to that, too, to be vulnerable enough to accept that help and allow those feelings to grow.
Now that she and Johnny have those feelings, how do you think it will affect Carmen's relationship with Miguel and then Miguel's relationship with Johnny?
Oh my gosh.
The relationships are pretty solid as they are, and this new dynamic really changed things.
Yeah, definitely. I could only hope that he doesn't take it too bad.
It seems like he's a pretty level-headed kid who wants to see his mom happy, but also with this sensei figure who he's given all of his trust to too. I can only hope that he doesn't feel betrayed and can come to see it as a good thing for both of them.
From your perspective, are you interested in seeing Carmen get more into the fray with the karate-related storylines, or do you like playing on the outskirts and balancing the fighting and the rivalries with motherhood and other things?
I really trust where the writers take this character, and yeah, if I sense something off or something, I would say so.
But in terms of the karate stuff, I don't know, man; I would welcome it if they presented it. I think seeing Carmen in a physically powerful role would be awesome, but then I also think that her supporting Johnny and her son has really been powerful.
Her words extend far beyond, I think, than even her character realizes. She's the only person Johnny really listens to, so she has a lot of power there too.
I'm wondering, how difficult was it going through Miguel's injury and paralysis storyline? How do you think that Carmen stayed so strong throughout?
Well, I think that's outside of this story that I really took pretty to heart. I didn't want to gloss over it because I think that's part of the human experience.
We love deeply, and we grieve deeply, and we go through difficulties in a deep way because we love so much. I didn't want to shy away from that. I just wanted to be true to that and show that there are consequences to these things, right?
There are consequences to violence and senselessness that really, I think, could unite us maybe to be better towards one another. I think for her character, she just had to take it one step at a time and handle the business at hand, especially in the beginning of season three.
Then at the end of season three, she has more ability to explore her feelings, and she has a bit more grounding, I think.
You mentioned how Carmen had to uproot everything to get out of the way of Miguel's father. Now that she's not hiding from anything anymore, is there a chance that his father could show up in season four? What are your thoughts on that?
Oh, goodness. I have no idea. I really don't. But if he did, we just have to see, take it from there, and see what happens.
What's your all-time favorite scene that you filmed on the show so forth?
Oh, man. What is my favorite scene? I think probably the scene on the couch in season three, talking to Johnny's character when Carmen tells him to fight.
That scene just came together really in a nice way. I think it's just well-written and just the result was really nice in how it played with the greater story.
People were like, "Oh, is little Mr. Miyagi in there?" I'm like, "Yeah, there is." Wow. I'm also blown away by that.
Right. With the season finale, everybody's getting closer to each other, and on the same page, those who we once thought were never going to be on the same page.
Do you think that Carmen and Amanda can officially form a support group for Daniel and Johnny's childish behavior?
I could only hope so. Yeah. Jeez, it's like somebody needs to be level-headed here. Yeah, just the chemistry between Daniel's character and Johnny's character, it's almost like reaching this sibling level.
It's hilarious. I love watching it, but yeah, I hope that Carmen and Amanda get closer and work together more easily in the future for sure.
I think some of my favorite scenes this season were whenever the four of them wound up in the same location. Like at that restaurant where they were sitting together without really sitting together. The whole dynamic between the four characters is so fun.
So fun because it's very adult-like too, where you expect like, "Oh, now we're adults." But no, they're not over that rivalry, and then you have to deal with that awkwardness. Yeah. That scene was a lot of fun, to both film and watch.
Of course, the move to Netflix really helped. People who hadn't seen it before, for whatever reason, really jumped on the bandwagon, and it's taken on a life of its own.
It was one thing with the first two seasons, but now that the third season has hit, it's on an entirely different level. What are your thoughts on the future, and what really excites you about this franchise's potential?
Yeah, it's been really lovely seeing its transformation and growth. Really it has because it takes on a new level each season, and it's really a testament, I think, to the whole cast and crew.
We love it just as much as the audience does, and the creators, they're the biggest fans. Josh, Jon, and Hayden; they are like mega fans.
They know all of the little theories online. They know all of the backstories, all of the movies. I think they are really a big reason why it's been so successful because they deliver it as fans who care about it so much would.
They don't destroy it. They have fun with it, and I think they've given it a really new life in a really nice way.
If you had to choose between Miyagi-Do or Cobra Kai, which one would you choose?
You know what? Miyagi-Do for sure. Me Vanessa, Miyagi-Do all the way. Cobra Kai, unfortunately, has the better logos and the better look. They look so much cooler, but you got to look below the surface.
They are so slick.
They're really slick. But I'm the type of person that looks below the surface. I know Miyagi-Do is where I'm at. [chuckles]
Has being a part of the series piqued your interest in martial arts at all? Have you tried it?
Oh, totally. I took it with my siblings as a young kid, so long ago that I can't really consider myself like, "Oh, I'm a martial artist." I really can't say that I do.
I think it builds good coordination and balance in me, and I really used to love the formation dances I used to do. Yeah, it's piqued another interest in me for sure.
Maybe we could expect to see you out there in the yard, maybe when everybody's getting their groove on.
Yeah. Totally, totally. That's the way to Johnny's heart, too, so win-win.
Win-win, indeed. You've always been relatively busy. You have a lot of projects under your belt.
Being on this and having this renewed interest, has it opened any doors, and what else do you have going on right now?
For sure. I did a series with Dolly Parton on Netflix for her anthology series. I'm in the episode where it's a Western. It's called JJ Sneed, based on her song called JJ Sneed, and that was amazing.
Just Dolly Parton herself is like, I never, never dreamed I would ever get to meet Dolly Parton, let alone work on one of her productions. That was a dream come true.
Bonding, which is also on Netflix. Season two is coming out, and I've got a few episodes in that. It comes out on January 27th.
That was also really nice and sweet and a great tighter, smaller production to work on. That definitely had a lot of heart and witty script involved. Also, we filmed it in New York right before lockdown, like January 2020.
I know, I know. I was like, "Oh my God." We didn't realize how lucky we had it, you know?
The before and after.
Yeah. I'm really looking forward to seeing how that turned out.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.