Cobra Kai fans saw a different Kenny Payne in Season 5.
Netflix released the fifth season of Cobra Kai last Friday, featuring the return of the familiar karate clashes in San Fernando Valley. 15-year-old actor Dallas Dupree Young reprised his role as Kenny after making his debut in Season 4. The new installment sees the evolution of Kenny from a scared kid into a confident teenager, a leader Terry Silver can rely on to carry on Cobra Kai’s legacy. The interview is full of spoilers, do not keep reading or watching if you aren’t up to date the full season yet.
“Following the shocking results of the All Valley Tournament, Season 5 finds Terry Silver expanding the Cobra Kai empire and trying to make his “No Mercy” style of karate the only game in town,” reads the synopsis. “With Kreese behind bars and Johnny Lawrence setting karate aside to focus on repairing the damage he’s caused, Daniel LaRusso must call on an old friend for help.”
Tudor Leonte: How was it to get back on the set for Cobra Kai Season 5?
Dallas Dupree Young: Yeah, that feeling of, uh, getting back on the set was ecstatic. It was so electrifying back being back, and everybody was so excited to have that environment with each other. At that point, we hadn’t seen each other in about six, seven months and we were always cracking jokes about, ‘Oh, he grew taller than him!’ All this. ‘He got bigger than him!’ Just have that camaraderie again for Season 5 and then, next thing you know, we tried to make a masterpiece for y’all.
I saw it, and, yeah, it is pretty good. I like it. Is there anyone in particular with whom you have bonded on the set?
I bonded with so many other characters on the show, but the one who I’ve bonded with the most would have to be Griffin Santopietro [Anthony LaRusso’s actor]. He’s like one of my best buddies on the show. I remember in Season 4, even though we bullied each other in the show, we had moments where we were discussing the scenes off camera, and we were playing video games and just having a good time going to the water park, just enjoying ourselves. Then, going to Season 5, we really established that friendship because we just had more opportunities to talk to each other because COVID was starting to die down.
Now that you mentioned that dynamic your character, Kenny, has with Anthony, that bully-victim relationship… We saw that in Season 4, you were the victim. In Season 5 things get a turnaround, and you are now portraying the role of the bully. Can you please tell us a little bit about this transformation?
Yeah, the transformation was definitely complex, and it was difficult and unique all in one. I think the best thing about Kenny was that his transformation was perfectly timed from the directors and the writers. I understood what they were looking for in his storyline from Season 4 to Season 5. That gradual change really helped me establish that dynamic and establish who Kenny was at that point in time. So if he was the victim in Season 4, I understood where he was, then the development just affected later on. It’s a special character, and the dynamic was very interesting.
We also see that Kenny is actually working harder than many others. In fact, he stays at Cobra Kai and perhaps he’s the hardest worker in the room. What motivates him so much?
Young: I think what motivates Kenny is basically his want and his will to be the best competitor out there. From the beginning, he wanted to be the top student in Cobra Kai. You see that gradual change from the beginning of Episode 1 in Season 5 to Episode 10. He wants to be the best fighter out there, and he wants to be a leader in Season 5.
Speaking of leaders, Terry Silver sees Kenny as a leader, but do you think that Kenny sees himself as a leader?
As you saw on the show at the beginning, he did not feel as though he was the leader. He felt Kyler was the king cobra for a long time. Episode 8 really was a huge turning point for my character, and you saw that transformation of him going from being a follower to a leader. Terry Silver really inspired him to have that leadership role and that leadership mentality.
How is it for you to work closely with Thomas Ian Griffith?
Working with Thomas Ian Griffith was an incredible experience. He is such an intuitive person, and he understands what it takes to be the best at karate and martial arts acting and school, and everything. He’s so incredible, and he’s such a mentor on and off the stage. I respect Thomas Ian Griffith so much, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.
Did you guys have the chance to talk and perhaps exchange some words on the set?
Yeah, I remember we had a scene that was about to take place, and it was about 30 minutes of rest and relaxation time. We just had decided to have a conversation, and he told me a lot about his family and I told him about my hopes and dreams and what I wanna be and why I act, and everything. We’ve had really impactful conversations that have affected my time on Cobra Kai.
Getting back to your character, Kenny, and even to yourself, how much did help you that scene involving former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and getting to actually hit him in the face?
Wow! I mean, that was crazy. It was an unbelievable moment because I have grown up watching Tyron Woodley in all of his UFC fights. That was insane! I mean, it was something that I wasn’t expecting was going to happen when I looked at the script, and then it really came out great on camera.
What was the vibe in the room? I interviewed Woodley in the past, I know he’s a cool guy, but how was it during the scene?
Of course, during the scene, we’re in character, so it’s very intense and dark. Off the camera, off stage, we were just laughing and having an incredible time. It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget, kicking Tyron Woodley in the face. Unbelievable moment.
I’m pretty sure you remember that. Is there any line in particular from Season 5 you’ll remember as well?
I just like the line whenever I say to Robbie. I witness him kind of dapping up LaRusso and I’m just like, ‘Really, you’re training my bully. Are you serious?’ I just like that line, I thought that line was really cool, and it made for an interesting dynamic in that situation.
It’s also interesting to see the relationship between Kenny and Robbie. Where do you see it going from here?
I mean, of course with the ending of Season 5, you see that there is an opportunity for them to rekindle their relationship, but I feel like with all the heartbreak that has happened in Season 5, especially towards the end… you don’t know which side Kenny will go to at this point, because he’s in that dead space. He doesn’t know who he can trust at this moment. I feel like there is a chance in later seasons possibly that they can rekindle their relationship and be the friends and the mentor/mentee that they were.
What’s next for Kenny? We see that finale, of course, Terry Silver was defeated, and Kenny is still very fond of Cobra Kai. What’s next for him?
I think at this point, Kenny’s gonna have to make that decision if he wants to stick with Cobra Kai. Well, I don’t even know if Cobra Kai is really a thing at the end of Season 5, but he wants to stick with that intense mentality, or he wants to go to a different side, or if he wants to quit karate at all. I feel like his mind is just juggling at this moment. He doesn’t know who to trust, everybody has betrayed him. It is going to be interesting to see where Kenny can go.
What about you? What’s next for you?
At the moment, I have a movie called 1-800-Hot-Nite that just came out, or it’s about to come out on November 4. It’ll be distributed to different platforms, and you’ll be able to see it online. It’s basically about a kid who has lost his dad to a drug raid. He ends up going on this kind of urban Odyssey with his two best friends and they kind of just run away from their ultimate reality. You see a first kiss happen, you see phone sex happen. You see a lot of the kids go from being kids to adults in the span of 24 hours. We just came from the Deauville Film Festival, and we came from Santa Barbara Film Festival, we’re kind of making our tour right now around film festivals. That’s my number one project at the moment, and I can’t wait for everybody to see that.
You are pretty young and you’re showcasing your talents across several genres. Cobra Kai mixes action and drama, but at the moment do you prefer action projects, or would you like to test yourself with even more drama?
I would love to test myself with both. I think the best thing about Cobra Kai and 1-800-Hot-Nite is that there are both completely different projects. You get the action and the drama with Cobra Kai, then you get the dramatic-in-comedy with 1-800-Hot-Nite. It’s really good to have that balance and be able to work with the different skills that I have and just explore different avenues of the business. If I had to choose, I would go with action just because action seems really exciting.