Pat Morita played Mr. Miyagi in 1984’s The Karate Kid. But not a whole lot of people behind-the-scenes thought he was the right fit.
The studio and producers originally did not want Pat Morita to play Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. Ralph Macchio revealed the news in a recent interview, even admitting he was a bit skeptical at first. Morita sadly passed away in 2005 at the age of 73. But he was known on and off the screen as Mr. Miyagi for the rest of his life, no matter how many roles he had before or after, and Morita had a ton of TV and Movie roles over the years.
In 1984, Pat Morita was probably best-known for playing Arnold from Happy Days. When it came time to cast The Karate Kid, Morita’s name wasn’t anywhere near lists of actors that the studio was compiling at the time. However, director John G. Avildsen had other ideas. Ralph Macchio explains.
“Who was going to play Mr. Miyagi? They were talking about Toshiro Mifune, the great Japanese actor who didn’t speak any English, so that would have been a challenge. But all the sudden Arnold from Happy Days shows up on video tape from Pat Morita and the studio did not want him. The producer did not want him. I was like, ‘Arnold, from Happy Days?’ But John Avildsen was like, ‘I’ve read him and I’ve read you and I’m putting you guys in a room together.”
The Karate Kid director John Avildsen knew that Pat Morita was the right actor to take on the role of Mr. Miyagi. Ralph Macchio says, “Pat Morita and I got in a room together, just grabbed the pages, started reading. It was effortless. That magic that happened on the screen happened the first day we picked up the pages.” Macchio continued by noting that “[Morita] had Miyagi in his skin, in his mind, in his consciousness. I for whatever the reason, had the yin to the yang, literally the balance. That was the beginning of the cinema magic that resonates to this day.”
The Karate Kid franchise is back in popular culture, though it never really went away. In 2018, it was announced that a spin-off series, Cobra Kai was in the works. Instead of putting the focus on Daniel LaRusso again, the show takes a look at what happened to William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence and balances out how the two men interact currently. Ralph Macchio recently revealed that he likes the way the show can cause viewers to change their allegiance, often times within the span of one episode. Sometimes Lawrence is the good guy, while Daniel LaRusso can come off as the villain.
Even though the Daniel LaRusso character can be seen in a gray area now. He is still trying to keep Mr. Miyagi’s legacy alive. Pat Morita may be gone, but his influence is all over Cobra Kai, thanks to the work he put in back in 1984. The first two seasons of the viral sensation originally aired on YouTube Red, but they are now streaming on Netflix, where they have been given an even wider audience. You can watch the interview with Ralph Macchio above, thanks to the Vanity Fair YouTube channel.