• Interviews

How Mary Mouser Binged The Karate Kid to Get Ready for Cobra Kai

Mary Mouser, 24, reprises her role as Samantha LaRusso in Season Three of the acclaimed hit series, Cobra Kai, the spinoff from the popular Karate Kid movies. Mouser has been working since she was eight years old when she made her debut appearance in an episode of Without a Trace in 2004, and she hasn’t stopped working since.  She has made numerous appearances in such shows as Scrubs, Monk, and The King of Queens, and she landed her first substantial role in NCIS (2005 to 2012).  She has also appeared in other shows, including Scandal (2014) and Freakish (2016).

Why do you think Cobra Kai struck such a chord with audiences around the world? 

Well, the thing that excites me is the fact that there’s no good guy or bad guy, it’s kind of a validation of knowing that everybody is both a villain and a hero in their own story. And I think why it may have resonated so strongly with people at this point in time is because it’s comfort food for the soul, like The Karate Kid was.

Had you watched The Karate Kid movies before you landed Cobra Kai?

I had not. So, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into initially. But my boyfriend (actor Brett Pierce) is a huge fan of The Karate Kid movies, so he kept me informed. He set up a date for us to binge-watch the films as soon as I booked it.

That’s a good boyfriend.

Exactly.(laughs) I’m very lucky.

Have you worked with Brett?

We haven’t worked on set yet together. We were both in Scorpion, although we were on different episodes, but that was our closest call so far. 

Now that you’ve had to train in martial arts – could you defend yourself in real life?

I would like to think so. I got myself into the Muay Thai world to start training myself before I ever went into stunt training. Basically, I learned how to not not break my fingers in a punch. I became so completely obsessed with it I was going five days a week for fun because I was enjoying it so much. And then with the stunt work, the goal is to not touch your co-worker but to look like you’re punching them. So, I would like to say that I could definitely defend myself in a situation where I would need to, but I don’t know if I am quite at that level in this particular skill set.

Can you talk a bit about your character, Samantha LaRusso? How do you connect with her and her struggles?

I think when we first meet Samantha, she is a typical teenage girl trying to find her place in the world, and where she fits in. She struggles to fit herself into the cutout of what she thinks she’s supposed to be, what she thinks is cool. I connected with Samantha in different ways in all the different phases of her evolution, but I definitely had to be creative in certain moments, because I was not a kid who grew up in a nice big fancy house in Encino (as LaRusso did) with the perfect ideal home life. I was definitely not the kind of kid who had an Apple Watch in 9th Grade, so I had to work to find a place where I could be with her earlier on. But now I think where she is in Season Three is definitely the closest I have ever been to Samantha.

Samantha has karate to help her through difficult times. Would you say that acting works for you in the same way?

Definitely. When I was in my teens, it was a way for me to have an outlet to get all those emotions out that were going on in my real life but I didn’t have anywhere to put them or even a name to put to them, so I would get them out on set and go home. And I find that now as an adult I get to do that as well. I am doing my best to try to portray Samantha in a way that creates a character that the 16-year-old me would have watched and identified with – and hopefully it can create a similar connection for other people as well. 

You’ve talked about your struggles with Diabetes Type 1 – are you involved in any formal capacity as a spokesperson?

Yes. I work with JDRF, which is the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I’ve gotten to do some really cool work with them, I got to go to Congress and speak to Congress about diabetes funding, and I got to be on panels and in meetings. At one point I met with 100 kids from ages ranging from 4 to 17 who were also Type 1. I am also involved with the Walk every year – obviously, this year has been a little different. 

You’re a positive role model. Do you feel much pressure about that?

Well, there’s always the responsibility factor, because I want to be a positive role model in as many ways as possible. But also, I think it’s something I take on very willingly. Hopefully, I can have a positive impact on somebody’s life, so it’s definitely not something that is intimidating in that way. It’s a goal for me.

Cobra Kai shines a light on bullying as well. Have you had any experience with bullying, either as a victim of bullying or seeing it happen around you when you were in school?

Yeah, I really wanted to attend full time school as much as I could, as much as my schedule would allow for it. It was always a struggle for me in school, and – like Samantha – as a kid nobody wants to get singled out.  And being in and out of school every other day and having stacks of homework to turn in that the other kids had already finished, definitely singles you out. That’s always hard, especially in middle school and high school. So I definitely experienced my fair share of it, but at the end of the day, I grew from it. That’s something that I really love about Cobra Kai, it shows both sides of the story. It shows what it is to be the person who’s bullied, and what that can do to somebody. And also how a bully is made and what the story is behind that. I remember when I would come home from school, and I would ask my Mom, “Why do they do this? I try to be nice to everybody, why are they acting like this?’” And she would say, “You never know what somebody’s story is, or what is going on in their life.”  And of course, now as an adult, I am a firm believer in the idea that you can explain somebody’s behavior without excusing someone’s behavior. Honestly, I think it would have been very beneficial for me to see that in high school, and I hope people are taking away that message from it as well as the idea that the choices we make decide whether we are going to be the good guy or the bad guy.