Could Robert Downey Jr. Have Been the Karate Kid?

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The Karate Kid star Ralph Macchio, who now gets to continue playing the role of Daniel LaRusso in Netflix’s Karate Kid continuation Cobra Kai, recently revealed that a few famous folks auditioned for the role of Daniel back in the early ’80s – including a young Robert Downey Jr.

Now, at this point, Macchio wasn’t exactly in total danger of losing the LaRusso role as he’d already been cast, largely thanks to his performance in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of The Outsiders, but according to Macchio, as he recounted the tale to Jimmy Fallon, he wasn’t quite a household name so the studio wanted to audition other up-and-coming actors of the era just to play things safe.

“I was found early,” Macchio said. “I was cast very early, but it was like one of those test deals where you’re not in yet. I remember walking by and seeing Charlie Sheen hanging out outside [producer] Jerry Weintraub’s bungalow, thinking, ‘What’s Charlie doing here?’”

Also there? “Nic Cage, I think, and Robert Downey Jr.”

“Robert Downey Jr. also did the workshop of the part I did in The Outsiders.”

So, although the possibility was small, we could have gotten a very different Karate Kid, and very different career trajectories for Macchio and the lucky multiverse winner.

Back in the ’80s, Downey Jr. had a stable career playing movie bullies and sidekicks, and was even an SNL cast member during the ’85-’86  season, but he’d find breakout success by co-headlining 1987’s Less Than Zero and The Pick-up Artist.

Macchio would star as Daniel LaRusso in three Karate Kid films and then reprise the role, 30 years after The Karate Kid Part III, on Cobra Kai, which began as a YouTube Red series and is now a Netflix Original.

You can read IGN’s review of Cobra Kai: Season 3, which released at the beginning of this month, as well as dig deeper into the ending of Season 3 with this handy explainer piece.


Matt Fowler is a writer for IGN and a member of the Television Critics Association. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler and Facebook at Facebook.com/MattBFowler.

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