Sean Kanan Recalls ‘Scary’ Health Emergency on ‘The Karate Kid III’ Set: ‘I Almost Lost My Life’
It’s not every actor who is lucky enough to return to a favorite role 30 years later. On the Netflix comedy-drama series Cobra Kai, Sean Kanan plays Mike Barnes, the character who fought Ralph Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso in 1989’s hit sequel The Karate Kid Part III.
“Coming back to the character is so much fun,” Sean, 56, exclusively tells Closer. “I wanted him to reflect the three decades that had passed since we’d seen him. I also wanted the character to demonstrate some humor. Humor is the essence of what Cobra Kai is about, so I had to make sure that I had some fun moments, too.”
Sean, who is also familiar to daytime television viewers for his longtime role on The Bold and the Beautiful, is also an author and life coach. His latest self-help book is called Way of the Cobra: Welcome to the Kumite.
Did you have to audition for Karate Kid III?
“Yes, I remember auditioning vividly. It was an open call, and there were about 1,500 people in line. The whole thing was a publicity stunt. It was the third film, and they wanted attention for it. But I ended up screen-testing, reading with Ralph Macchio and getting the role.”
Did you become friends with Ralph?
“The producers made an effort to keep Ralph and I separate. They did not want us fostering a friendship. I think in retrospect it was a good decision, but it’s been great to reconnect with him as an adult. It’s been wonderful getting to know him through Cobra Kai.
Do you have any memories of filming Karate Kid III that you can share?
“The biggest memory I have of filming Karate Kid III is how I almost lost my life! I’d been having a lot of discomfort in my upper thigh, so I’d been taking a lot of aspirin. On Christmas Day 1988, I found myself in the emergency room. I was bleeding to death. It was internal bleeding from a stunt that had nothing to do with martial arts. The pain in my thigh was blood dripping internally from my artery. Of course, the aspirin exacerbated the bleeding. To this day, it is still one of the scariest things that ever happened to me.”
It must have been a shock.
“When you’re 22 years old and you think that you’re invincible and you find out that you’re not — it’s a very sobering experience. It also taught me that it’s called show business and not show friends for a reason. I was not treated very well by the studio. But I did what I needed to do to complete the film.”
What other projects on your resume are you most proud of?
“I’m very proud of the work I’ve done on The Bold and the Beautiful. Also, my show Studio City, which I created and won an Emmy for, was an amazing experience. We are in negotiations right now to take Studio City worldwide. It’s very exciting. Years ago, I also wrote a film that Lionsgate distributed, called Chasing Holden. It was about a young kid who runs away from boarding school to find Holden Caulfield and J.D. Salinger.”
Do you still do a lot of karate?
“I do keep up with my martial arts. I can do most of what I did at 25, which for 56 is kind of amazing. The best part of my martial arts training hasn’t been the physical component, however. It’s been the emotional, self-discipline and mental component of it.”
Would you call yourself a spiritual person?
“Yes. I’m a huge proponent of living my life in gratitude. The first thing I do when I get up is get on my knees and thank the Lord for my life and all that I’ve been given. I contemplate how I can help others and ask how I can serve the universe. It’s about not living in fear, living in abundance and being of service.”
What do you like best about being 56?
“I think it’s being comfortable in my own skin. If I could sit my 25-year-old self down and say, ‘Relax. You’re enough. Take it easy,’ that would have been a great lesson. But I think we learn lessons when we need to. I’m happy where I am right now. I like who I am. I’m not perfect, I have plenty of flaws. I’m not levitating off the ground — but who knows? Maybe when I’m 75.”
It seems like you have a nice balance of a thriving career and a good home life. What’s your secret to a happy marriage?
“My wife and I joke that we hate the same things. We are extremely honest with each other. We don’t have secrets. We laugh together. I’m so crazy about her, even after 12 years together. Hopefully, she feels the same way about me.”
You have a blended family. Was that hard in the beginning?
“Early on, it was difficult. Michele had gotten divorced, and I was the new guy. For a while, her children saw me as the reason their parents weren’t together anymore. They were young. Now we all have a wonderful relationship and I love Michele’s children as my own. I think sometimes when you have to earn something, you learn to appreciate it more.”
Tell us about your new book, Way of the Cobra: Welcome to the Kumite.
“This is my fourth book and a sequel to my last one, Way of the Cobra. It’s a motivational self-help book. It’s structured as if I’m the sensei and you’re a student in my dojo. The book is a compilation of the strategy and philosophies that I live by. It has been a springboard for my personal coaching business. I started doing the coaching in earnest about a year ago.”
You recently brought attention to a hurricane disaster fund you learned about during a chat on FanRoom Live. Why is that important to you?
“My motto is to try to never say no. I do everything I can to try to help a lot of worthy causes.”
What’s on your bucket list?
“I’d love to do a western. I’m learning Mandarin, and I’d like to go to China. I want to continue to help as many people as I can by writing and coaching. I’m still passionate about acting, and I think that the best is yet to come.”