Mary Mouser on Cobra Kai, Y2K Trends, and Her Dr. Marten Obsession

Mary Mouser is starting 2022 off with a bang. Her show Cobra Kai, which premiered its fourth season on New Year’s Eve, is number one in the U.S. on Netflix—again! Not that critics and fans saw it going any other way. The decades-later sequel to the Karate Kid films has been a smash hit for the streamer since it purchased the rights to the series from YouTube Red in 2020 and released season three under its banner last year. Featuring original Karate Kid cast members Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, Cobra Kai is a true delight, delivering plenty of nostalgia coupled with clever and heartwarming story lines that bring it perfectly into the current day. At the risk of sounding cliché, it has something for everyone.

Two weeks before the show’s big premiere, I caught up with Mouser, who plays Macchio’s on-screen daughter Samantha LaRusso, to get her take on the buzzy new season. Though already well into production on season five, she was excited to reflect on the show’s fourth chapter. What is not only a high-stakes season for Sam, who must fight for the future of the Cobra Kai dojo in the All Valley Tournament (if you know, you know), is also one of immense personal growth for the actress off camera. It’s no wonder it’s Mouser’s favorite. 

 Ahead, we talk about the positive impact of growing up alongside her Cobra Kai character, embracing her inner Goth, and never leaving home without her Dr. Martens.


(Image credit: David Katzinger; Styling: Vivetta dress; Beladora jewelry and broach)

The Karate Kid movies were a huge hit in the ’80s. Why do you think this story has been able to span so many decades and still resonate with audiences today?

For me, the coolest aspect of this show is that it can be so crazy and larger than life, but it’s also tied to this very grounded and heartfelt and classic story of the underdog that everyone has related to in different points in their life. It’s also fun because it brings in so many different audiences to the show and to the films. We have gotten to hear of people who found the show with their parents and have gone back and watched the movies, and then we have people who are like, "Oh, I grew up with The Karate Kid films, and I’m getting to share this with my kids now.” We also have all the gaps in between … of audience members who are finding both at the same time. It’s really cool that we have this built-in audience that has such a respect and passion for the story lines and for the characters and where it all began. I, for one, am a huge fan of fan fiction, so I think this is the ultimate fan fiction for so many people who loved the films.

What are some of the core themes of Cobra Kai that really stand out to you?

My favorite overall theme that has spanned all of the seasons of the show and has been, for me, part of the main heart of it is the idea that you can relate to the show from whatever point of life you are at because there are so many different characters and story lines. I think it has such an open heart in that way and these big, wide-open arms to welcome everybody in. That’s something I love about it. I love, at the same time, that a lot of the people you are rooting for are considered the bad guy or the good guy and realizing that nobody is the bad guy or good guy. Everybody has a little bit of all of it in them. 

Season four of Cobra Kai recently dropped on Netflix. What can fans expect with this chapter?

Season four is my favorite season that we’ve gotten to do thus far. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s the perfect mix of what this show does best, which is nostalgia and putting a new twist on it. I feel like there is so much content that is heartfelt, that is gut-wrenching, and you are worried about these people, but at the same time, you are having a laugh and having a blast watching it all go down. This is the height of all that. The stakes are so high it’s at its peak. But also, so is the magic that is Cobra Kai and the ’80s bangers. Just the overall vibes of badassery are at its peak. 

Let’s talk about what’s coming up for your character Samantha this season. There is a lot riding on her winning the All Valley Tournament. 

I think Sam, just like everybody else, has the weight of the world on her shoulders at this moment. Right where we leave them off at the end of season three, there is that moment in the very last minute we see them where they are all full of hope and like, "Maybe we can team up and make this work.” But there’s a moment right before that that sets up this whole thing, and it’s that moment of standing there. They’re all bloody and messed up, and [Samantha is] staring at her ex-boyfriend in the absolute worst Gi he could be wearing in her mind, just heart-wrenching for her. And the situation of the three senseis and those three students and the stakes of that, I think, just sets up such a place of, like I said, the weight of the world on their shoulders. She feels she has a lot to prove for the sake of what’s at stake but also to herself. She’s gone through a lot of phases of doubt and confusion, her separation from karate and coming back to it, and I think it will be really cool to see how she takes that on and how capable she is at handling that.


(Image credit: David Katzinger; Styling: Vivetta dress; Thom Browne tights; Beladora jewelry and broach; Sophia Webster shoes)

I read in a previous interview that you get to know Samantha more with each season. What did you learn about her going into season four?

I think season four as Samantha—and, really, as myself—was all about pushing myself to the absolute limit and finding out where those boundaries really are. It taught me so much about myself, which sounds maybe a little cliché or something, but I walked away from last season being like, "Wow, that is more than I think I have ever taken on at one point in my life.” It was so cathartic but also draining. So I feel like, in the best way possible, it was about pushing myself, and I think Samantha is pretty damn capable by those accounts. She can hold her own at least. 

What do you love about coming back to a character like Sam season after season?

It’s been fun to grow with her. I thought I was looking at her from a very long lens in season one, where there were aspects of Samantha that I related to, but a lot of it was like, "Oh yeah, I remember that moment in my life, or I could picture how that might happen.” But then as time passed, we have gone through a lot of these phases of our life together, and I am now like, "Oh, this is right where I’m at.” There are seasons where I’m fighting back very genuine emotion—like, "Oh, I dealt with this literally last week. How do I handle this? I’m not even ready to process this.” But it’s been so great and cathartic in that way. 

The other thing is that our writers are incredible, and they have done such a wonderful job of constantly developing and creating and pushing her forward, just like all of the other characters and all the new relationships. The other fun aspect of this show is… I feel like every season you put all the characters in a blender, and everybody is interacting with someone they haven’t interacted with before. I’m constantly getting to build relationships with different people. 

How does the rivalry between Sam and Tory, played by Peyton List, evolve this season?

I think overall Samantha’s relationship with Tory is… Especially in season three, we saw the beginning of this, but it’s become less about an individual and more about what she represents for Samantha. By the end of season two and really throughout [Samantha’s] struggle in season three, Tory has kind of become the boogeyman for Samantha, and she’s representative of all these different parts that feel out of control in her life. There is so much to play with there that whatever interaction they end up in, it’s never exactly what I expect it to be, which is fun because as an audience member that’s the kind of stuff I love. But also, Peyton is so incredible to work with. We have an absolute blast chewing each other out and then turning around and high-fiving each other. I’m very curious to see what people say about Samantha and Tory after season four. 

Speaking of, what do you enjoy most about playing out this rivalry with Peyton on-screen?

She’s so talented, and we have both gotten to grow these characters at the same time. I got to work in season one as Samantha and getting to know the character, but it was a very different story line. I think both of our characters started into the world of the karate of Cobra Kai. Samantha had training as a kid, but that was strictly Miyagi-Do. There was no big, bad dojo in the valley. It was for learning morals and learning balance and connecting with her father and Mr. Miyagi, and that was karate. Sam and Tory are almost on parallel but weirdly diverging paths. So I have so much fun with Peyton getting to play around with that. We enjoy messing around with each other in between takes. But also, it’s nice to know that your scene partner has your back and that we can yell and scream, and as soon as they say cut, we are like, "Oh my God, you got me so emotional on that one!” She is such a great scene partner, and I really love it. I think we have so much pushing the boundaries of that rivalry.


(Image credit: David Katzinger; Wardrobe: Vivetta dress; Beladora jewelry and broach)

You have been working on this show for over four years now. What has been the most rewarding part of working on Cobra Kai?

It’s impacted my life in so many positive ways beyond what I could have ever expected. I love my job, but with this [show] in particular, I’ve gotten to change a lot as a person and learn what I’m capable of. I think that’s really what it comes down to. It was so fun seeing last season come to fruition because I really got to see what I personally am capable of tackling, and as much as this is technically my job, it’s also so many other parts of my life. It’s also my diary. It’s a scrapbook. It’s all these different pieces of watching my life unfold. And the people I get to work with are so incredible, and I genuinely mean that. Having this many amazing people in one cast just blows my mind. I’m learning life lessons, and I’m really pushing to change myself in positive ways. Career-wise, I’m learning from such talented actors. And then obviously, the heart of it, for me, is the martial arts aspect. This is something I never thought I would be remotely capable of, but now, I can consider myself an actual martial artist. The fact that I actually spend hours and months and years of my life training this is just crazy to me. I’m so grateful. 

You have been working with stylist Laura Sophie Cox, and looking at her portfolio, she is someone who clearly loves to play with color and prints. What do you enjoy about working with her, and how has she influenced your personal style choices?

What’s funny is I am always in head-to-toe black. That is my uniform. But that’s mostly because I’ve never known how to dress myself. I’ve loved working with Laura because she’s influenced my personal style in my off time. It’s really fun. I’ve started to learn what I love, and I’ve realized—specifically now—my style is masculine influenced with a tougher, edgier vibe. I always thought that meant I had to go dark to convey that, and she’s found this really fun way of playing with color and prints but having that edgier, wilder energy brought to the surface. It’s really fun. I feel like I am a novice, and she’s teaching me. 

Is there an item you are particularly obsessed with right now?

My thing right now is layering. Since playing with harder edges in terms of wearing suits and things like that, I am really enjoying a more masculine style of layering and that kind of thing. So I’m doing turtlenecks with T-shirts over them or doing a tank top over a T-shirt over a long sleeve. It’s a little bit early 2000s, but I’m feeling the more Goth side of me is influencing my pre-teen layering phase. I’m also super into jewelry. I really love rings, and I have seven ear piercings.

I should also say that you will never not catch me in my Doc Martens. That is my number one style piece that I build every outfit around. I listen to metal music and emo music, so that’s where I feel like a lot of my style influences come from. It’s fun to now get to play with elements of that and softening it up with the girlier prints and stuff like that. 

To wrap things up, what are you most looking forward to in 2022?

I’m not trying to go dark, but this has been my overall challenge for myself for 2021, and it will be for 2022 as well: I am trying to embrace, get used to, and love gray areas in life. I feel most comfortable in strictly black-and-white environments, and it’s always been a thing. I just want a straight answer. Just give me a yes or no on it. So I am trying to exist in the maybes and really embrace it. Other than that, I have always been a notoriously picky eater, so I am trying to challenge myself, and my big goal is to just try stuff that I would have never eaten before. 

Cobra Kai is now streaming on Netflix. 

Photographer: David Katzinger

Stylist: Laura Sophie Cox with A-Frame Agency 

Fashion Assistant: Brit Jardin 

Hairstylist: Kat Thompson

Makeup Artist: Courtney Hart

Executive Director, Entertainment

Jessica Baker is Who What Wear’s Executive Director, Entertainment, where she ideates, books, writes, and edits celebrity and entertainment features.