Gianni DeCenzo Talks Cobra Kai S3, Playing Demetri, And His Rise To Fame – Exclusive InterviewJanuary 11, 2021
Who will win the All Valley Karate Tournament? Will the unlikely alliance between Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang prove to be a success? Can Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) finally see eye to eye while training their students without bumping heads? Who did John Kreese call for reinforcements? Could it be Karate Kid III baddie Terry Silver? Is the once strained friendship between former rivals Demetri and Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) really fully mended? Those are just some of the many burning questions that Cobra Kai Season 3 left us with after yet another sensational finale.
While we anxiously await the inevitable fourth season (which was teased by the show’s writers on Twitter), Nicki Swift sat down with rising star Gianni DeCenzo — who Cobra Kai fans know as the mouthy “alpha nerd” Demetri — for a one-on-one virtual chat. During our exclusive interview, he shared his thoughts on the turbulent rivalry between Demetri and his bestie-turned-archnemesis Hawk. He also teased the brewing romance between Demetri and his Season 3 flame Yasmine (Annalisa Cochrane) and opened up what else he hopes to see go down during Cobra Kai Season 4. Side note: Did you know DeCenzo has obsession with Diet Coke and a strong disdain for metal utensils?
Aside from talking about his role on the hit Netflix show, the young actor also shared some amusing details regarding his personal life. He also took some time to tell us a little bit about his future career goals and just exactly how much he has in common with his nerdy Cobra Kai alter ego.
Gianni DeCenzo thinks Demetri is 'kind of like an alpha nerd'
When Cobra Kai moved from YouTube Premium to Netflix, did you notice a surge in popularity? Are you getting noticed more out in public? Did your number of Instagram followers skyrocket?
It’s honestly like night and day. When we were on YouTube, we were getting some recognition, but by the time we got on Netflix, it was just skyrocketing. I think when it first started on YouTube, my followers on Instagram was at like 10,000, and I was just happy to have that. I was like, “Geez, I can’t believe 10,000 people want to pay attention to me,” but then when it went on Netflix, it just skyrocketed. Now, Netflix is having us do all sorts of crazy promotional stuff, constantly just trying to make sure that the show gets out there so people can watch it. Really, it’s amazing.
The first Karate Kid movie came out 17 years before you were born. How familiar were you with the franchise before landing the role?
I had seen it a couple of times. It was 17 years before I even existed, so it obviously wasn’t my sort of thing. My dad grew up with those movies. He was around when everyone was seeing the surge of karate dojos starting to rise after The Karate Kid came out, but I had seen the movies a couple of times in the past, but it obviously wasn’t my generation’s thing.
So then how did your parents react when they found out you were going to be part of this television show that’s a sequel to a movie from their era?
Yeah, they were like, “This is for Karate Kid!” and I’m like, “Oh, okay. That’s cool. Yeah. I like that movie.” They’re like, “No, no, no. This is a reboot of Karate Kid with William Zabka!” Like, “Oh, okay, cool.”
Some people describe Demetri as an “alpha nerd.” Do you agree with that label? And if not, how would you personally describe him?
Honestly, I’ve never heard that before, but I think that’s perfect. He is the leader nerd of all nerds. Yeah, he’s just your sarcastic dry-wit cynical guy, very nerdy. Demetri is definitely kind of like an alpha nerd, very dry sense of humor, but the cool thing about the character is that, as seasons go on, we see he’s starting to kind of get out of that. There’s a very pivotal point at the party when he’s like, “Okay, I’m going to start standing up for myself a bit more.”
He’s definitely more confident and a little cockier too. There are so many complex characters and complicated friendships in this show. Do you think it’s possible for Demetri to get seduced by the dark side? In a way, John Kreese’s version of Cobra Kai is like the dark side. You don’t think he could ever be lured to that side, do you?
It’s interesting. He’s gone back and forth in his head about whether or not he should join Cobra Kai. We saw in Season 1, he tried to join it, but he was a little too mouthy, so he kind of got his *ss kicked by Johnny, but by the end of it, he was like, “I’m reconsidering joining again.” He was thinking about doing it. Then, of course, we see he looks at it more in Season 2, but then he gets punched in the face by Kreese. He has a lot of bad luck when it comes to Cobra Kai. It usually ends in violence. He switched more towards Miyagi-Do. I don’t know if there’s going to be a lot of switching back and forth anymore after that.
Does Demetri have a shot at winning the All Valley Tournament?
Of those two martial art styles, Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do, which one do you think is more useful in real life?
It’s hard to explain. It depends on what you consider to be more useful. I think that Cobra Kai is obviously way more aggressive, so you might want to turn towards that for self-defense and obviously fights and stuff like that, but Miyagi-Do is more about self-control, which honestly, you can use in everyday life. It’s not just about the karate aspect. Yeah, we have that so that way we can keep ourselves protected, but it also talks about self-control. I don’t know. I might lean more towards Miyagi-Do just because I have bad self-control. I’m addicted to Diet Coke even though I know it’s bad for me. I drink like four a day.
What was your reaction when you first got the script for the Season 3 finale and read about that big brawl in the LaRusso house and Demetri making up with Hawk during the midst of it all?
Honestly, I think that’s the craziest turn we’ve seen in Season 3 because you have to keep in mind, things are getting really crazy. It went from a couple of school fights in Season 2, and now we have breaking and entering, and people are having—yeah, it escalated extremely. I never really would’ve thought that right there in that moment Hawk would change his mind, but obviously, we see throughout Season 3, he’s starting to reconsider some stuff. The wheels are turning in his head. Then he just flipped sides, so I’m really eager to see what we have going on for Season 4 as far as Hawk and Demetri go.
Do you think they’re really going to repair their friendship that easily? Do you think they might bump heads again down the road?
Even though they made up and they’re friends again, I guess you would say there’s still a lot of healing they have to do. A lot of stuff happened between them. Hawk broke Demetri’s arm. That’s difficult to get past, but I think it’s going to go up from there. There’s obviously going to be some bumping of heads, but they’ll get back together.
What would you like to see happen for Demetri in Season 4 that hasn’t happened so far in Seasons 1 through 3?
Honestly, I’m hoping for like a more bad*ss Demetri. He’s kind of starting to learn how to do things. Obviously, from Season 2, he did that kick on Hawk that sent him flying into the trophy case. I want to see more of that stuff. Overall, I want to see him becoming more confident and step outside of his shell, no longer being that kid that’s like, “I’m just going to stay low. I’m going to have my moment one day when I’m like 45.” I want to just see him really stand up for himself more.
Speaking of him becoming a bad*ss, do you think he actually has a shot at winning the All Valley Tournament in Season 4?
Yeah. Honestly, I feel like it could go either way. I think Demetri’s chances are pretty good though. He’s able to guess what people are going to do as far as fighting and stuff like that. He’s able to predict their movements that we saw in the freezer scene. I think he honestly has a pretty good shot, but obviously, I don’t know which direction we’re going to want it to go in Season 4, but I’m just as excited to find out.
Demetri and Yasmine could be the 'ultimate power couple'
How about his love interest? Because we saw something brewing with Yasmine and then it just ended where she’s kind of in denial about what’s happening between the two of them. What are you hoping for there?
I think Yasmine’s into the D-man. Gosh. She can deny it all she wants, but no, they’re meant to be. They’re the ultimate power couple. With her popularity and his intelligence, they can rule the world.
Season 2 ended with such a big cliffhanger and everyone’s been waiting on the edge of their seats to find out what happens to Miguel. Were you surprised by his journey in this season?
I mean, personally, I kind of figured, “Well, they can’t get rid of the new karate kid. He’s still got to do karate, whether it be a little bit different or something like that,” but I think that the way they wrote his return was really cool. He’s still using his own form of Daniel-sanding-the-floor techniques to teach himself how to walk again. We see that a lot happen in Season 3, and it’s just really amazing. But I had hope that he would be able to come kick some *ss once again.
There are a lot of characters in this show who have been around since Season 1 who haven’t had a chance to meet Demetri yet. Is there anyone you would like to see Demetri interact with more?
Personally, I think I want to see a lot more interaction between Johnny and Demetri. They really only interacted that one time when he flipped him, so I want to see what the training montage there would be. Demetri would just keep pissing off Johnny, and then Johnny would just keep flipping him and be violent back and forth until eventually, bam, you got bad*ss Demetri.
One of the most dynamic relationships in the whole show is, of course, Johnny and Daniel. Season 3 ends with them teaming up. Do you think these guys can truly be friends one day, or do you think they’re destined to bump heads forever?
I think no matter what, they’re going to bump heads on a few things, but we’ve seen it in the past, they’re buddies. They get along on a lot of things, whether it’s just bobbing their heads to music, stuff like that. They’re friends at heart. Yeah, they disagree, but what friendship doesn’t?
On Instagram, it appears you have a girlfriend now. How is she handling your fame with the show now, and what does she think of Demetri’s journey?
When we first started dating, she didn’t even know that Cobra Kai existed. She was like, “Oh, who’s that Demetri? Oh, he’s kind of cute,” which how could you think anything else? But yeah, she’s just very supportive of the show. She’s very proud of what I’ve been able to do. I’ve been working on this since I was eight years old, trying to get somewhere [with acting], and now after, what, 10, 11 years, we’re only just starting to get some good stuff.
Gianni DeCenzo and Demetri are 'very similar in ways'
There’s a recent photo of you guys playing a round of Magic: The Gathering. A lot of people would label that as a nerdy thing. Are there parallels between you and Demetri? How much would you say you have in common with the guy?
I would say it’s very 50/50. Demetri and I are both very nerdy — obviously, with Magic: The Gathering. There’s a scene where they have the mall fight in Season 2. We actually had to go there and rehearse it the day before, and during that time, I actually went to the comic-book store that the scene starts out in, and I bought a few comics there. We’re very similar in ways. Obviously, I’m not as dry-wit and sarcastic as he is; otherwise, I’d get punched in the face a lot more, but yeah, it’s like 50/50.
After three seasons of doing training for this show, on a scale of 1 through 10, how would you rank your martial arts skills?
Well, so I’ve been taking Krav Maga for about five years now. It’s an Israeli fighting technique, so I knew a little bit going into things, but obviously, I was able to learn a whole lot more, especially when it came to bigger kicks and more showy flashy kind of stuff like that because my hips don’t flex at all. I have very, very bad flexibility, so that’s obviously been the biggest thing I’ve been learning to do, and so now I can kind of do some jumping and spinning kicks. I’ve been working on a kip-up. That’s where you’re on the ground and you jump in the air. I kind of got that down. I’m hoping to use that somewhere in Season 4, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
I read that you want to be a director one day. If they threw you the opportunity to direct an episode of Cobra Kai, would you totally jump at that opportunity?
I’ve honestly been thinking about that. I might want to do that one day just because it would be such an awesome experience. People go to college and pay to learn how to do stuff like that, and so to be able to on such a professional set like that, it’s like getting a college education, but they pay you to be there. But I would love to direct an episode. Obviously, they’d have to run through some stuff. They’d have to hold my hand along some of the way, but that would be a lot of fun.
If you did have some creative freedom, and you were able to direct an episode in Season 4, what personal creative touches would you add to the show?
I would give Demetri a motorcycle, some awesome stuff like that. He’d obviously be a bad*ss with a bo staff. But no, seriously, I don’t know if I would necessarily change or add anything. I really like the way that the story has been going. I like the direction that Demetri and Hawk have been traveling in. If I could choose to write something, I would probably have this weird tension between them like, “Yeah, we’re kind of cool, but at the same time, there’s some stuff we got to work out here, obviously,” and so there would still be a level of mistrust there.
Gianni DeCenzo talks catching Hollywood's attention
Do you have any role models in Hollywood who feel that you model yourself after or look up to?
The first thing that comes to mind is Jim Carrey. I’ve been his biggest fan for the longest time. I’ve watched him in Ace Ventura, The Mask. I just really admired his sense of comedy. If I can be anywhere close to his level of talent, I think I’d be happy, because he’s just one of my favorite actors.
Elon Musk recently praised Cobra Kai on Twitter. Have any celebrities ever reached out to you saying that they’re a fan of the show?
Yeah, the closest time I can remember was when we did Reunited Apart with Josh Gad. Just being able to talk to him and knowing that he knows that the show exists and that I exist, it’s like, “Okay, that’s pretty cool,” and then even more so when Amy Schumer then hopped on and asked us trivia questions about Karate Kid, that was pretty cool, so yeah.
There’s a very relevant topic that this show tackles, and I think it resonates with a lot of viewers. That would be bullying. Has a fan of the show ever reached out to you saying that they see themselves in your character or that maybe Cobra Kai has helped them in some sort of way?
Yeah, definitely, especially when it first started out, I had people reaching out because my character is the nerdy kid, he gets bullied a lot, and so I’d get people that are like, “I really identify with your character, and just his strong will kind of pushes me to not give up.” Honestly, it’s just amazing that I even get to do that. I feel like I didn’t do anything, but in a way, I guess I’m helping people, and so people reach out to me saying stuff like that, I’m just like, “Hey, yeah, no, never give up. If Demetri can do it, you can.”
In a recent Instagram Story, you revealed that you hate metal utensils. What’s the backstory there?
All right, I’m going to sound weird. I just don’t like the feel of metal utensils in my mouth, especially when they kind of taste metallic-y and scrape against your teeth. I don’t know. It bothers me. I know that plastic’s bad. I got to stop using plastic. We haven’t had plastic utensils in forever, and trust me, I’m not killing the environment, but I don’t know, it bothers me. Yeah. I can’t explain it. I guess I’m just weird.
If this acting thing didn’t work out, was there ever an alternate career path that could have panned out for you? Say if the acting thing didn’t turn out the way it did, what might you be doing right now?
If I hadn’t kept up with acting, I think I would have probably turned more towards art, drawing, and sculpting and stuff like that. Also, maybe something more technical, building things with computers. Just coding and stuff like that because I also just really love to build things, but I think, first and foremost, my passion is acting. It’s something that’s been in my family for the longest time. My parents actually met in an acting class, and my dad even proposed to my mom during one, so yeah.
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