On Christmas day 1989, Sean Kanan was bleeding to death in a Las Vegas hospital.
“It was intense, to say the least,” Kanan tells Inverse.
The actor, who’s still best-known to many as “Karate’s Bad Boy” Mike Barnes in The Karate Kid Part III, survived his on-set injury and went on to launch a successful career. He’s starred in The Bold and the Beautiful since 2001 and turned his experience on that soap opera into the Emmy-winning drama Studio City on Amazon Prime. He also wrote a cookbook called The Modern Gentleman and a self-help book called Way of the Cobra: Unleash Your Inner Badass with a sequel coming in October 2022.
“I think things got pretty dark for Mike Barnes for a while.”
Now, he’s returning to the world of Karate Kid with a role in Cobra Kai Season 5 on Netflix, where we get to catch up with Barnes three decades later — and he’s no longer the bad boy audiences met back in 1989.
“For me, it was really important that the character was not just a unidimensional thug like he was in the original film,” Kanan says. “He's a more well-rounded, multi-dimensional character with different colors, which reflected the fact that it was 30 years down the road.”
Ahead of the new season, Inverse caught up with Sean Kanan to talk all things Mike Barnes, from his memories of Karate Kid III to his experience on the set of Cobra Kai. Plus, we asked who he’d want to fight next if he returns for Cobra Kai Season 6. (Spoiler alert: It’s his old sensei Terry Silver.)
So how did you get involved with Cobra Kai? Are you a fan of the show?
Yes, I definitely was watching the show. I had spoken intermittently with [co-creator] Josh Heald on Twitter. I probably got a message from him maybe in July of last year. We had a Zoom meeting and I was in Atlanta filming in September.
How did you get back into the role of Mike Barnes?
The writers were really gracious. They sat down with me via Zoom call and asked if I had any thoughts. For me, it was really important that the character was not just a unidimensional thug like he was in the original film, and that he's a more well-rounded, multi-dimensional character with different colors, which reflected the fact that it was 30 years down the road. And also that we could infuse some humor into the character because humor is one of the most amazing parts of Cobra Kai.
“Okay, revenge, bad boy of Karate. Okay, now I got this.”
And they said, “We got this idea. We think Mike's gonna own a furniture store.” And I just didn't get it. So they said, “Oh, Terry Silver's going to burn the furniture store down" and then I started thinking, Okay, revenge, bad boy of Karate. Okay, now I got this. So it worked out really well. It gave me an opportunity to play a really well-rounded arc: everything from that redemptive moment with Daniel to meeting Chozen and Johnny and ultimately, confronting Terry Silver. We checked all the boxes.
We get a bit of backstory in the show, but what else can you tell me about what happened to Mike Barnes between Karate Kid III and Cobra Kai
I think things got pretty dark for Mike Barnes for a while. After he was banned from karate, which was all he knew, he eventually met a woman who presumably helped change his life and became his wife. Her father — his father-in-law — taught him to do something in his hands other than fighting; how to get involved in carpentry. Eventually, Mike became a business owner.
When we see Mike he’s got a beautiful home, he's driving a BMW, he's in a $2,000 suit, and he's doing pretty well for himself. His life gets turned upside down when Daniel comes back into it. And Terry Silver exacts his revenge on Barnes. That flips the switch and gives us the return of the bad boy.
Was it tough preparing for the physical fight scenes?
Cobra Kai has an amazing stunt fight coordinator in Don Lee. I had also been training in martial arts pretty much all along. So that really helped.
I was dealing with a pretty significant shoulder injury, which did make things a little more difficult. But we worked on the choreography. They saw what I could and couldn’t do and they came up with the best solution. I got the chance to mix it up a couple of times. So it was a lot of fun.
What do you remember from filming Karate Kid III?
That's a lot to unpack. It was a huge studio film. I was a very young actor. There was a tremendous amount I didn't know and I needed to learn very quickly. You know, I was critically injured while filming. I almost died. That's something that sticks with me pretty clearly.
It changed my life after it came out because it put me on an international stage. So there are a lot of different emotions and things that swirl around when I think about that film.
But truthfully the most salient thing is the injury that I had. Having to fight my way back into the world and into the film, that stays with me. And as horrible an experience as that was that I wouldn't wish on anybody, I wouldn't really trade it for anything. It had such a profound effect on me and molded me into the guy that I am today.
I wasn’t aware you were injured during filming. Was it in a fight scene?
It didn't have anything to do with the fight. I was standing stationary and I had to jump and land a couple of feet on the ground. And we did it again and again and again. I wound up perforating my greater omentum, which sits on top of your intestine — it doesn't matter. I had internal bleeding on Christmas day in 1989. I was bleeding to death in Humana Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas. So it was intense, to say the least.
Wow. Well, I’m glad you survived. So, if Cobra Kai gets a Season 6 would you want to return?
I think it'd be amazing.
And if that happens, is there any specific character you’d like to fight?
Well, it'd be interesting to see Mike Barnes fight Terry silver.
You know, I did write a cookbook. Would it be interesting if Mike Barnes and Jessica cook some macaroni and cheese together and this time he doesn't kick her?
But I think Terry Silver would probably be a lot of fun. Especially because the way it's set up now, it seems like Chozen and Johnny and Daniel and Mike are all sort of unlikely comrades at this point. But who knows, right?
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Cobra Kai Season 6 is streaming now on Netflix.