'Cobra Kai' Star Jacob Bertrand Has Mixed Feelings About Hawk's Bad Hair Day

The 21-year-old actor talks about Hawk's big Season 4 transformation and where he sees the guy at age 50.

(L to R) Peyton List as Tory and Jacob Bertrand as Eli "Hawk" Moskowitz
(L to R) Peyton List as Tory and Jacob Bertrand as Eli "Hawk" Moskowitz ('Cobra Kai', Season 3). | BOB MAHONEY/NETFLIX © 2020
(L to R) Peyton List as Tory and Jacob Bertrand as Eli "Hawk" Moskowitz ('Cobra Kai', Season 3). | BOB MAHONEY/NETFLIX © 2020

This post contains spoilers for Cobra Kai Season 4.

While it certainly doesn’t offer the most serious and ferocious display of martial arts out there, you have to admit Cobra Kai is damn good hokey fun. Loaded with memorable one-liners, ‘80s metal montages, outrageous bare-knuckle brawls, and a loveable cast of high school misfits all trying to find their way in the world with karate, the hit Netflix dramedy delivers a walloping dose of action, comedy and good old-fashioned heart in spades—and that’s why we keep coming back. Its two charismatic leads originate from 1984’s The Karate Kid, the OG crane kicker himself, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his archrival-turned-frenemy, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). The good news is, while there are some noticeable stumbles during its fourth outing (such as introducing new blood to an already robust ensemble, resulting in a few shortchanged characters), Season 4 still packs a mean punch.

Some standouts include the reintroduction of Terry Silver, who you might remember as the unhinged Steven Segal wannabe who mentally terrorized LaRusso in 1989’s The Karate Kid III. He’s back and more evil than ever, and the role is gleefully reprised by Thomas Ian Griffith. And then there’s Tory Nichols (Peyton List), the show’s fan-favorite bad girl, whose hard-shell exterior is peeled back this season, leading to some much-needed sympathy that might actually have you rooting for her by the time the big All Valley Tournament arrives. But the surprising MVP is the spiky red-haired ruffian known as Hawk (aka Eli Moskowitz), played by Jacob Bertrand, who spends a bulk of the season repairing the friendships and regaining the trust of those he once turned his back on. You see, Hawk got seduced by the dark side that is the Cobra Kai dojo and evolved from an introverted geek to a pain-inflicting punk. But as of Season 3’s finale, he’s flipped allegiances and joined Team Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang.

As Season 4 begins, Hawk is faced with a comradery dilemma. With the exception of his bestie Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo), his new dojo hasn’t exactly forgiven him for his very recent wrongdoings, which includes fracturing his best friend’s arm and taking part in the uber-destructive LaRusso residence battle royale. On top of that, his former Cobra Kai dojo mates have deemed him a traitor, and they get revenge bywell, let’s not spoil it just yet. But Hawk’s biggest moment comes during the All Valley Tournament, which doesn’t exactly play out as the big rematch you might expect.

Hawk’s big finale moment is certainly a surpriseone that even shocked Bertrand. Just days before the Season 4 premiere, the 21-year-old rising star hopped on the phone to talk to Thrillist about Hawk’s bad-boy facade and his major image alteration as well as his big story arc this season. And while he may play a cleft-lip character duking it out with Cobra Kai punks in a fictional karate show, he also opens up about his admirable real-life efforts in representing that community and combating the stigma faced by cleft-affected people.

Cobra Kai cast
(L to R) Khalil Everage as Chris, Gianni DeCenzo as Demetri, Jacob Bertrand as Eli 'Hawk' Moskowitz, Aedin Mincks as Mitch, Xolo Maridueña as Miguel Diaz, Mary Mouser as Samantha LaRusso, Nathaniel Oh as Nate, Owen Morgan as Bert. | Netflix

Thrillist: This show's become such a gigantic pop culture phenomenon ever since it made the jump from YouTube Red to Netflix. Did your social media following blow up? Are you getting recognized a lot more on the streets?
Jacob Bertrand: That definitely happens. Sometimes I’ll walk by, and people go, “What? Is that Hawk?!” But the show blew up over quarantine, so I feel like we didn't really get a ton of that because we weren't really going out that much. I will say my social media numbers definitely went up quite a bit. It's been really fun interacting with fans and getting to talk to them and answer a bunch of questions that they have about the show. A lot of times they're like, "Why did you do this? Why did you do that? Why did you break Demetri's arm? What the heck?" But when I go out, it's been good. It's not like I get swarmed or anything.

So, let’s talk about Hawk’s big moment in Season 4. He wins the All Valley Tournament. Do you feel like he’s become the new karate kid? When the first season came out, everyone considered Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) the new karate kid. But now that Hawk won the tournament, do you feel like you have the right to use that title?
Yeah, I guess when I check in at hotels now, I have to give “Mr. Karate Kid” as my name. [Laughs] No, that's Ralph Macchio’s title. I don't think anyone can carry that title but Ralph. But I think winning the All Valley Tournament was so freaking cool, and I'm really grateful that they picked my character to be the one that wins it. But I definitely don't think of myself as the Karate Kid or anything. That just feels...weird, because in my head it's Ralph. I think I'm a fun part of Cobra Kai, and I just love being there with Ralph and Xolo.

What was your actual reaction when you first read the script and got to the part where he wins? Unexpected?
Oh, I was so excited. Because going into Season 4, the cast took bets on whether Xolo or Tanner [Buchanan] was going to win. Everyone knew it was Miguel or Robby for the rematch. That's what all of us thought. And that's what the whole audience probably thought going into that. But as you know, that’s obviously not the case. And then, Hawk ended up winning, and I was very, very shocked.

(L to R) Jacob Bertrand as Eli 'Hawk' Moskowitz, Gianni DeCenzo as Demetri. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021
(L to R) Jacob Bertrand as Eli 'Hawk' Moskowitz, Gianni DeCenzo as Demetri. | Netflix

Another major thing that happens to Hawk is the loss of his signature haircutwhich was a form of payback from the Cobra Kai gang. In a weird way, do you feel like he was essentially neutered? You could think of him like that old mythical hero, Samson, the guy who was convinced that his hair was the source of his power.
Oh yeah!

When his mohawk is buzzed off, how do you think it affected the character internally? Did you look at it in the same way, like his hair represented his strength?
Yes, it was. It was his confidence. That was his sense of self for the past couple years. And I think losing that did totally have that effect on him, and what I really liked about his arc this season is that Hawk kind of comes into his own and realizes that he is worthy. He is enough without the mohawk and without the whole facade he puts up sometimes. And there’s a good little moment between him and Moon [Hannah Kepple]. Right before he fights Kyler [Joe Seo], she comes up to him and sort of gives him the little pep talk and the rallying that he needs from someone who he really cares about. So I think I really like her character. She's so sweet and is so good to Hawk. That's a good little scene.

When you found out his hair was going to be cut off, were you kind of relieved? I would imagine this eliminates your lengthy time with the hair department and having to sit for all those hours.
You know, what's funny is, at the beginning I was like, "Man, I got this crazy colored hair. This is insane. I don't know." And as time went on, I was like, "Oh, you know what? I actually kind of like it. This ain't that bad." So then when I had to get it cut, I was like, "Oh, what? No! I like it! I don't want to get it cut!" But it was fun. It was a cool thing to do as an actor, to buzz my head for a role and sort of go through that arc and experience those challenges that Hawk experiences. It was a good experience.

In Cobra Kai, there are three dojos that have drastically different philosophies. There's Miyagi-Do, Cobra Kai, and Eagle Fang. In real life, which one do you identify with the most?
I would probably say Eagle Fang. I think Eagle Fang is probably the dojo that I identify with the most. Johnny's my favorite character in the show, and I think that's where I would end up, honestly.

This season reintroduces us to The Karate Kid Part III villain, Terry Silver. Up until now, John Kreese [Martin Kove] was the major threat—but as we see in the Season 4 finale, even Kreese is outmatched. I’m not sure how much you can say, but do you think there's a chance Kreese can still somehow mend things with Johnny now that they have a common enemy?
I definitely think the common enemy is super scary, and they're going to have to come together and beat him up because he is a menace, and he needs to be dealt with.

Now that Hawk has won the title, what do you hope to see for him next? Do you think this win is going to get to his head? Could we perhaps see him become cocky again and slip back into his old persona?
I don't know if he'll get cocky again, but winning the tournament definitely gave him a lot of confidence. I think winning the tournament is kind of like winning the Super Bowl, and he's got a lot of eyes on him now, and he's got a lot of people who are counting on him and waiting for him to screw up—and he doesn't want to do that. He's going to be a good kid, so I think that's definitely going to play into how he acts from now on.

(L to R) Aedin Mincks as Mitch, Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, Owen Morgan as Bert, Jacob Bertrand as Eli 'Hawk' Moskowitz in episode 403 of Cobra Kai. Cr.
(L to R) Aedin Mincks as Mitch, Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, Owen Morgan as Bert, Jacob Bertrand as Eli 'Hawk' Moskowitz. | Curtis Bond Baker/Netflix © 2021

What are your thoughts on the final All Valley female match between Tory and Sam [Mary Mouser]? Tory takes home the trophy for the Cobra Kai dojo, but we learn that Terry Silver paid off one of the referees. Do you still think she actually won that match?
I feel like that's a toss-up, because if Sam actually scores that first point that she hits, that changes the mindset of both of the fighters. You never really know how it's going to shake down from there. I'm biased, because I used to be in Cobra Kai, and Peyton [List] and I are really close. I think she would take it, but I don't know. I feel like it could probably change, but I think Peyton would come out on top a little more often than Sam.

Tory’s character really stands out this season and we get to see glimpses of her softer side. In that final match, she actually seems to be concerned about physically injuring Sam—she even asks if she’s okay, something she would’ve never cared about last season. Are you hoping that she escapes the dark side like Hawk did?
Yeah, I think that's the goal for every character—to kind of go on that journey and have that arc. Season 5 is a great season for the Tory character. I think there's a lot that goes on for Tory. She has a really fun arc in Season 5, and it’s very pivotal to the story as well.

A major theme in the show is bullying and the impact it has on certain characters. Hawk, for example, starts out as this nerdy kid who's bullied because of his cleft lip. Have any fans of the show ever approached you saying they identify with your character and understand what he’s gone through and that the show has helped them in some sort of way?
Yeah, I've had some kids who are cleft affected come up to me and they're like, "Hey, I really love Hawk." It's really cool to see a cleft-affected character on TV because there isn't really any representation for kids like that and destigmatizing it is a really cool part of the show. Showing how he gets bullied for those things and overcoming it, I think, is really exciting for a lot of people, and I'm honestly very honored that I get to even play a character like that. And I partnered with an organization called Smile Train.

They're an organization you can find in 70-plus countries, and they're doing complete care for all these kids across the world, and they're teaching doctors and giving them the tools that they need to do these surgeries. And they take care of thempost-op, pre-opand they're just a great organization and I'm so grateful to be partnered with them.

You and your co-star, Xolo Maridueña, launched your Lone Lobos podcast, which is dedicated to raising the voices of Latinx creators and talent.  You two are clearly mindful of equal representation in Hollywood. Even though Cobra Kai has been praised for having a Latino actor as its lead, some say there isn't enough Asian representation, especially for a show that’s focused on a fighting style that’s deeply rooted in Eastern traditions. If you don’t mind me asking, where do you weigh in on that?
I did hear stories about that, and I guess this show really strives to do this, but that is a better question for the showrunners. But having said that, [our showrunners] have been pioneers in that way—they started the Harold and Kumar movies, so a big part of their background is inclusion. So I will say that this topic is very on top of their minds.

Cobra Kai is basically a sequel to the Karate Kid movies, which took place 30 years prior. Who's to say that it won't be rebooted in 30 years? Do you see yourself revisiting Hawk when he's in his 50s? Who knows, maybe he’ll have a similar fate as Johnny Lawrence. Would you come back?
I don't know if Hawk will be alive when he's 50. I think he might get into something crazy. Unfortunately, he probably would be on a Johnny-type journey. I think reboots are fine. This show is obviously a really fun reboot, and I had a blast being a part of it. I guess that's a hard one to say for sure.

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Gil Macias is an entertainment editor at Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @gilmaciashq.