‘Cobra Kai’ Breakout Dallas Dupree Young on Intense Training and Kenny’s Journey in Season 5

It was near impossible not to fall in love with Kenny Payne from the moment he appeared on Season 4 of “Cobra Kai,” the wildly popular Netflix series set in the universe of “The Karate Kid” movies. On his first day at a new school, he is caught dancing exuberantly as the school bus picks him up — and instantly becomes the target of Anthony LaRusso, the son of Ralph Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso. And it’s a testament to actor Dallas Dupree Young that as Kenny changed in Season 4 to the point where he turns the tables on his bully, that audiences are still rooting for him.

The 15-year-old Young never intended on becoming an actor — his father is Eric Young Sr., a former Major League Baseball player and current first base coach for the Atlanta Braves, and Young thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps. But he went to an open call on a whim and ended up being advanced to a showcase in Los Angeles, where he met his manager. He was soon booking roles in shows like “The Good Place” and “Mixed-ish,” and even working with Steven Spielberg in the film “Ready Player One.” Says Young, “It did fall into my lap, but I felt a love and a passion for the craft instantly.”

Season 5 of “Cobra Kai” hits Netflix on Thursday night and it’s not surprising to find Kenny is still harboring some ill will toward the youngest LaRusso. It doesn’t help that Kenny’s new mentor is Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), a sensei who has no interest in playing fair. So while some might view Kenny as having become a bad guy, it’s a credit to both the show and Young’s charismatic performance that audiences are still so invested in the character.

Were you a fan of “Cobra Kai” before you auditioned to join the show?
I actually wasn’t. But I was familiar with the “Karate Kid” movies because I used to do karate and Taekwondo and one of our lessons was to watch “The Karate Kid.” And I instantly fell in love with it. I was aware of “Cobra Kai” and when I got the callback, I watched all three seasons and I was instantly hooked.

How much did you know about Kenny when you joined the show because he has quite the arc in Season 4.
They gave me the outline of how he was going to evolve throughout the entire season — how he would go from a kid struggling with bullying who then becomes someone who defeats his bully. They said, “People are going to love you. And then people might not like you.” I didn’t know what that meant, but I was intrigued.

Is it wrong I didn’t mind Kenny getting back at Anthony?
Here’s the thing: I never promote violence. But it was an interesting storyline to get my bully back and see how fans and people on social media responded to that.

So going into Season 5, did you know he would sort of be on the villainous side? And I hesitate to use that word as I still have a lot of empathy for Kenny.
Well, in my opinion, the best thing about my character in Season 5 is that you still see that kid in him at times. And you really see that he’s a fierce competitor and a leader throughout the entire time. You see that hope in him and see the fight.

Kenny is pretty tough on Anthony, do you ever feel badly after shooting scenes with Griffin Santopietro?
I do feel bad because there are times where Kenny goes too far and he does a little too much. But Griffin and I are really good friends. So those ones are really fun to play off him. It’s tough because you know Kenny is a really good kid in there.

You mentioned you did Taekwondo for a bit. Did that help at all because other actors on the show have told me they have zero experience and it’s the stunt coordinators who make them look good.
The stunt coordinators are incredible. I only had karate training when I was like 5. Maybe there’s some muscle memory and I’m an athletic person, but entire credit goes to Don Lee, Ken Barefield and the whole stunt team who makes us look so good.

It still must be challenging. Have you ever pulled a muscle or anything like that?
I’m gonna be honest with you, I did, the first day of training for Season 5. I had a groin strain. I just remember walking in and being so excited by the fact we were back. I was rusty and tried to do a roundhouse kick and I felt it. It pretty much hurt for seven, eight episodes.

The show has an ardent fan base. Have you had any interesting fan encounters?
One of my favorite encounters was a fan at Dave & Buster’s who just wanted to play some games with him. So we played video games. I also like going up to people wearing “Cobra Kai” T-shirts and saying, “That’s a cool shirt.” They’ll go, “Thank you.” Then they look at me and realize I look like the guy on the show. Everyone has been so nice and respectful and most people really love Kenny. They just want him to go back to being that sweet kid who loves Dr. Scribblebottoms.

You also have a movie coming out this year, “1-800-Hot Nite.” Is this your first lead in a film?
It’s a beautiful project. It’s about a kid who lost his dad to a drug raid and tries to escape from foster care with his three best friends. You see them going to kids to adults in the span of 24 hours. It’s a really special project from Nick Richey and I can’t wait for people to see it. It comes out digitally in November.

And I’m guessing you can’t say anything about a Season 6 of “Cobra Kai”?
Obviously, I hope there’s a Season 6. I love the show and working with these amazing actors. And I would love to know about the future of Kenny and Anthony’s relationship.

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