Vanessa Rubio Talks All Things Carmen Diaz & ‘Cobra Kai’

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Vanessa Rubio - Photo Credit: Irvin Rivera

Spoiler alert! There are quite a few spoilers for season three of Netflix’s Cobra Kai.

Being a girl who grew up in the late eighties and early nineties, there were many films my parents exposed me to ultimately. However, one of the movies my dad insisted we watch repeatedly was The Karate Kid. The entire franchise. Getting to know the LaRussos and Mr. Miyagi was a big deal in my household and only intensified my desire to learn karate. So the moment Cobra Kai was on Netflix, I immediately told my father and uncle we had to watch the show.

That was the moment when we immediately became obsessed all over again. Throughout the series and mixed in with these fantastic new characters, the past woven brought back a feeling of nostalgia mixed with the freshness and joy that only Cobra Kai can provide. 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the one and only Vanessa Rubio, who plays Carmen on the hit series, to learn more about her character, her past, and hopefully where Carmen is headed in the future. 

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Vanessa Rubio – Photo Credit: Irvin Rivera

Michelle Patterson: What have you enjoyed the most about your character arc from Cobra Kai’s beginning until now? 

Vanessa Rubio: Oh my gosh. I love my character, I love how she’s had to come through a lot of challenges, but she’s really dedicated to her heart. To bringing some balance into the world the best she can. I like that she has had to learn where she has a limitation, learn how to receive help, primarily from Johnny– her neighbor training her son. And just letting the guard a bit and seeing if she can do this love thing.

MP: Is there a favorite scene you’ve performed in season three or the prior two seasons?

VR: Oh, I don’t know. What was your favorite scene?

MP: This past season, I thought the hospital scene was intriguing. Here is Johnny wanting to remain anonymous about his donation, and there were Carmen and Rosa right there behind him. So I knew there was that difficultly there now that they officially knew. There was no way to hide it for him. 

VR: Typical Johnny too. That is the first cracking of the defense that she had with this guy. The first like, ‘Okay, so you’re not going to go away. And I do maybe have to come to terms with you.’ It’s all she can do in that moment. Her son is about to have surgery; a lot is going on. She is a single mother, and really the best thing you can do for a single mother is to help and be there, and I think that’s where it is in that scene.

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Carmen Diaz – Vanessa Rubio – Cobra Kai – Netflix

MP: I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. And that is what makes the scene so complicated because, at the end of season two, Carmen wanted nothing to do with Johnny, and rightfully so. 

VR: Right. I know. I was like, ‘Can’t she shove him or something?’

MP: I was expecting him to get blessed out in the least, and she would have had every right to do it.

VR: It’s well done in that way because there’s a lot of restraint. 

MP: Which speaks highly of Carmen’s character. Do you think she did the right thing by forgiving him ultimately? 

VR: Yeah, I think she did. Even myself embodying the character, it’s a lot to hold onto, and with them being neighbors, it’s keeping up that barrier. It takes a lot of energy. So you see her in other previous moments where she’s basically just breaking down as any caretaker inevitably does, and Johnny is there. They keep on being there for each other without really wanting to be. I think it’s kind of like that feeling of, “Ugh, why won’t this stop? I’m still attracted to you; why won’t this go away?” And she has to confront it all and be like, “Yeah. Okay.” 

MP: Her confronting it was one of the funniest scenes of the third season. I was sitting and watching it with my dad and uncle. And everyone was like, “Oh, okay! Just gonna go there and go for it!” But it’s been a long time coming for these two characters. Nothing out of the blue. A lot of unresolved tension.

Carmen Diaz & Johnny Lawrence – Vanessa Rubio & William Zabka – Cobra Kai – Netflix

VR: Totally! In a Cobra Kai style way. The TV flies off the wall.

MP: My father was hurt at that moment because he thought the TV coming off the wall was insane. And I had to tell him he was thinking of it from a purely male perspective of the TV is ruined. 

VR: That is so funny.

MP: It says so much about them as a couple. This fire. This desire. And that tension that we’ve seen throughout the series, along with the strong them of forgiveness. This season doubled down on forgiveness and reflection. In particular, Carmen is always taking care of herself, Miguel, and even Johnny. What message could either of them say to lift the weight off her shoulders?

VR: Miguel could fill her in on what’s going on with everything and why he keeps getting into fights. I think it would be awesome if she finally met the members of Miyagi-Do and the LaRussos instead of having a blurry, misrepresented version of them in her mind. If she did, I think she would be the first to say, “Miguel, you are going to Miyagi-Do.” And I think the relationship with Johnny is resolving in a good way. It’s kind of like they are waiting for each other. Maybe more her than him. She’s waiting to see if he’s evolving a reliable partner. He’s certainly reliable for her son, but knowing that he could be reliable for her too would lift some weight off her shoulders. 

Carmen Diaz & Johnny Lawrence – Vanessa Rubio & William Zabka – Cobra Kai – Netflix

MP: And seeing what Carmen has gone through, it’s such a common theme in the media. Everything is always put on the mom, the womanly role almost of you have to take care of everybody.

VR: Right, right. 

MP: And I have to ask, who is taking care of Carmen? Is she taking care of herself? Because a lot of women don’t, and they forego themselves. So there needs to be more of that for her.

VR: Absolutely! Absolutely. I hope in the fourth season, I haven’t seen any scripts or anything, but I hope we get to explore her having fun more.

MP: They need to give her a spa day; Carmen has earned one!

VR: Absolutely!

MP: Going back to Miyagi-Do for a moment, one of the scenes this season was compelling was watching Amanda telling off John Kreese. Do you think Carmen would ever want to have that confrontation with Daniel because Robbie was a part of Miyagi-Do at the time and the reason Miguel was in the hospital? 

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Carmen Diaz – Vanessa Rubio – Cobra Kai – Netflix

VR: I think Carmen is a pretty astute observer of relationships and character. She has a good eye for observing the dynamics of the situation. And she’s not quick to judge, which I find very respectable. Even in the Mexican restaurant scene, she’s like, “Okay, Daniel is being a little bit of a jerk.” She wasn’t immediately defensive. She was like, ‘Okay, how do we make the best of this?’ So I don’t think she would jump to the conclusion that Robbie is immediately bad or that Miyagi-Do is immediately bad. I think she would probably observe it first and then make a call on how to act, especially knowing that Robbie is Johnny’s son. I think that would change things a lot too.

MP: Exactly. Because Robbie is his son and because of that, there is that scene that has to happen between them.

VR: Of her meeting, Robbie or her realizing he has a son?

MP: Both. She has to find out he has Robbie so she can meet him to come to terms with the fact that he was the one who put Miguel in the hospital. It’s a lot to chew on for her.  

VR: It is. It’s certainly a lot to chew on, and it’s like, “Oh, I have to forgive again.”

MP: Everyone asks her to keep forgiving everybody, and it’s hard to come by sometimes. 

VR: Oh yeah. It’s very hard to come by.

Carmen Diaz & Johnny Lawrence – Vanessa Rubio & William Zabka – Cobra Kai – Netflix

MP: What do you think makes her keep forgiving people other than her not being as quick to judge others as many other characters on the show?

VR: I think she has a good grounding, at least with her younger experience with her ex-husband, the father of Miguel, turned out not to be so great. She had to rely on her survival skills and wits to go to an entirely different country, and learn a new language, provide for her family. So I think from those experiences, everything else pails in comparison. She’s like, ‘I’ve been through it so.’ 

And she keeps moving forward. Her drive is not to stay in the past, but established in the first season, which I really like. She noticed that something was up with Johnny and that he had issues. She was like, “I do too, but you can’t dwell on that,” which is a good life perspective, and she has to learn too because it was hard for her to forgive Johnny. That didn’t come easy. She really didn’t want to, but I think she knows what feels good and what doesn’t. What is sustainable and what isn’t. So she’s like, “I have to move in this direction even if it’s begrudgingly.” 

MP: Hopefully, next season, it won’t be as begrudgingly.

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Carmen Diaz & Johnny Lawrence – Vanessa Rubio & William Zabka – Cobra Kai – Netflix

VR: Yeah, I want more salsa dancing for Carmen. I want her to be dancing around in the kitchen more, just having a good time, maybe learning some martial arts.

MP: That would make her even more awesome.

VR: That is so awesome. I think she’s a secret badass for sure. I mean, she’s already a badass but paired with martial arts, she’d be unstoppable. 

MP: Agreed. I would be remiss not to ask about nostalgia as it has played such a large part in this series. I remember reading that you used to watch the original films with your brother, has there been a particular moment of nostalgia on set that struck a chord within you that brought you back there?

VR: The karate tournaments. It reminded me that my mother would take me and my sister to see my brother at a swim met or a karate tournament or something. And I was a little girl watching it and watching my mom watch it and kind of observing those things. So that came back as a certain point of nostalgia, especially during the season one tournament because I saw my mom be unreservedly proud of her son in this way that is so special. 

MP: In that regard, too, you are getting to live out your mom’s thoughts about the tournament through your character.

Carmen Diaz & Rosa Diaz – Vanessa Rubio & Rose Bianco – Cobra Kai – Netflix

VR: Absolutely! Secretly for me, and I haven’t really said this to anybody, but I feel like this character is an homage to my mother, who was an immigrant as well. She was remarkable in the way she led us to be driven and a great version of ourselves.

MP: And that is what every great mother should do.

VR: Yeah, totally! And you see it and observe it through how your mother acts and how she is at work. How her condition is, and I really had good lessons in that from my mom, thank God.

MP: And speaking of the series’s nostalgia, do you think there will ever be a point where Ali and Carmen meet? If so, how do you think they would react to one another?

VR: Wow, that would be super interesting. I don’t know. You know what would be the best in that scenario? Johnny’s reaction. Oh my God, just to see the look on his face.

Carmen Diaz – Vanessa Rubio – Cobra Kai – Netflix

MP: When watching the episode where Johnny goes out with Ali, I remember thinking, ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you screwing things up already?’

VR: Absolutely. It’s such a tease on the emotions. Me even reading it, and of course– I’m in Team Carmen, but reading the script, I was like aw, man.

MP: You finally get this forgiveness and a general okayness, and then here is this vast monkey wrench is thrown in from the past. I was relieved in the end when Ali mentions that this was in the past, and he left. Because there was that moment where I wondered if he would eave that evening because regardless of whether I think he should or not doesn’t mean he would. But it immediately went into finding out that someone has hurt Miguel again because of the ongoing rivalry between Corba Kai and the entire tri-city area at this point.

VR: I know, and I love it, and it’s such a fantastical universe where the police are not involved at all. Everything is fought with karate.

MP: I have a friend who started watching the current season, and I knew as soon as she started watching, she was going to come at it from a logical perspective. And you have to suspend that belief for a bit. If there were that big of a fight happening at a house next door, a neighbor would call the cops in real life.

VR: Oh gosh, absolutely. Even having a spur in the karate dojos– they have no gear on, they have no protection. I’m like, Oh god, I’m hoping that kids aren’t getting the idea that they can just punch and kick each other in the face. You don’t bounce right back up after a kick to the face. I wonder if the karate dojos are already like, “Hey, these kids aren’t sparring correctly.”

MP: I think you have that with all shows, regardless of the genre.

VR: True.

MP: There’s always something.

VR: Oh yeah. The beauty of fantasy and TV.

MP: Exactly. There truly is something special about being able to be in that world with all these wonderful characters.

Carmen Diaz & Johnny Lawrence – Vanessa Rubio & William Zabka – Cobra Kai – Netflix

VR: Definitely. 

MP: And since that is the case, if there was one thing in the future that you could give to Carmen, what would that be?

VR: Oh man, that’s good. I think a sense of safety for her to just be like, “Okay, I don’t have to do everything. I can just go dancing.” Like you said before her just being. Less surviving, more thriving.

MP: Just let this woman be able to read a book peace. Something guys! She needs her spa day.

VR: Yes, absolutely. She needs to meet Amanda, hang out by the pool, and have some margaritas, mani-pedis. 

MP: Yes, I think she and Amanda need to go to Miyagi-Do together too, especially now that Daniel and Johnny are joining forces, which I love. Do you think that is the right direction for them to go by the way?

VR: Absolutely. I love more of the dynamic that we got to see this season that has settled into a kind of like sibling discomfort between Johnny and Daniel. It’s hilarious. I think they are really funny together, and they get under each other’s skin, and I’m sitting here laughing the whole time, and I cannot wait to see more of it.

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Vanessa Rubio – Photo Credit: Irvin Rivera

MP: I think that is what is so interesting about that dynamic in particular.  And last, but certainly not least, is there anything you would like to say to the fans of Cobra Kai?

VR: Thank you. Thank you for loving the show. You can’t fake that amount of outpouring of excitement and love for a show—just gratitude. 

MP: Thank you again for your time today, and I know the site and fans will appreciate it as well! 

VR: Thank you!

MP: And I look forward to season four and seeing where you’re going. Hopefully, by then, I will have a whole new round of questions for you.

VR: I expect so. It was a pleasure talking to you, Michelle. Thank you very much.

Don’t forget to tune into season three of Cobra Kai on Netflix to see just what Carmen was up to all season! You can also catch her in the Netflix series  The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina as Nagaina. To make sure you are up-to-date on all things Vanessa Rubio, make sure to follow her on her social media accounts, Twitter, and Instagram as well.