February 2017 - The 5: Martin Kove
The man has been in film for 40+ years, but will be remembered for the brass, bully sensai that told Johnny, “Sweep the leg,” in The Karate Kid. Martin Kove has been blessed with his time in the entertainment industry. During a stop in Albuquerque, he took a moment to talk with Teresa Ewers of New Mexico Entertainment about his favorite movie genre, his time as John Kresse, and upcoming projects.
Did you expect The Karate Kid to become the cult classic it has become?
No. No one knew that it would become the icon that it has. But the real star of that picture was Robert Kamen, the writer...30 years later you’re saying, “Wax on, wax off,” “No Mercy,” “Sweep the Leg,” and it was because it was so appropriately written for every age group—it’s hard to do with a script...the writing was so rich and so identifiable for so many people.
Action seems to be your middle name. Was it always in your wheelhouse?
I came out of New York—Lincoln Center and repertory companies—and moved to California. In the beginning you don’t get a lot of big parts, so you get the action stuff, and you overdo the action stuff...they’re so over the top and so overdone. But you felt the adrenaline and you felt as a young actor you’re gonna do this because you weren’t going to have a big enough part, so you made yourself useful as an action character...so you did a variety of movies like Rambo or Steele Justice....They were fun—they were a lot of fun….Today I would much rather do a play.
What do you find more challenging - theater or movies?
There isn’t anything easier, but more fruitful. I love theater. I did a play on Broadway called Beyond Therapy where I played this crazy psychiatrist...it’s a comedy with a crazy amount of dialogue. You’re right there, and there’s no retakes. It’s a wonderful piece written by a man named Christopher Durang...I’ve done Of Mice and Men and a variety of plays with Ed Harris and Holly Hunter....It’s kind of harder because you can’t push your agent for theatrical drama—they don’t make any money. Doing a play, I think, is the foundation of acting.
Are you particular about the roles that you play?
I’ve made the mistake in my career many times of reading a script, especially after The Karate Kid—the role was good, but the movie is not good, and you begin to think, “Well, with my performance I can enhance this picture,” and nine out of ten times, you’re not gonna do too well, it didn’t work, but you con yourself into that….You’re sorry that you did that you and the movie didn’t go anywhere. So I’m very careful now and do things that make some noise. I just did The Goldbergs, and it was very funny. They rewrote the role of the sensei, John Kresse...he's a loving guy, and he treats everyone as a brother, and he gives them a hug.What upcoming projects do you have coming down the line?I just finished a sci-fi, and The Goldbergs comes on in a couple of weeks, and I’m doing a film...called Gunpowder and Garlic. Then I’m doing a real exciting pilot presentation, very much like HBO’s True Detective, with my son, Jesse...and it’s called Bloodlines (working title).
What would you like your legacy to be?
I hope one can relate to enjoying my career as much as I did. My daughter just fell pregnant last week and there’s a lot of considerations of life and death right now—I’m about to have a grandson or [grand]daughter. I think about that stuff as a grandfather. You see a lot of good constituents, a lot of associates, passing away. Every time you see the Academy® Awards—the "in memorium" last year—a lot more actors that you work with are on that list and it gets kind of scary. But life goes on. There’s a theater upstairs.