Mr. Miyagi was almost denied Pat Morita’s role in The Karate Kid.
The Karate Kid is best known for the connection between karate master Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) and his student, Daniel LaRusso, in the legendary 1980s franchise (Ralph Macchio). The original film was released in 1984 and went on to become the fourth most grossing film of the year. According to Mental Floss, Morita was not director John Avildsen’s first pick for the part.
Morita’s comedic past almost cost him the role.
Despite being Avildsen’s initial option, producer Jerry Weintrau was worried about Morita playing Mr. Miyagi, feeling he was too identifiable as Mitsumo “Arnold” Takahashi from Happy Days, according to the 2013 book The Films of John G. Avildsen.
During his 26-episode run on Happy Days, Morita’s only facial hair was a distinguishing moustache, and he was born and bred in California, therefore he lacked Mr. Miyagi’s distinct Japanese accent.
Morita, on the other hand, was adamant about landing the part, and returned with a beard and a Japanese accent based by his uncle’s, convincing Weintrau to grant him the part, according to People. “When Jerry [Weintrau] watched it, he said, ‘That’s what I want—a goddamn actor,’ without realizing it was Pat,” Morita’s wife Evelyn later said.
Morita, who was 51 at the time, wasn’t the only actor in the running for the part. According to Screen Rant, another option for Mr. Miyagi was Toshiro Mifune, who played in many of Akira Kurosawa’s films, but he was thought too serious for the character. Furthermore, the actor “didn’t speak a word of English,” according to production coordinator Susan Etkins.
According to Screen Rant, Mako Iwamatsu, a Japanese actor, was also considered, despite the fact that he had already committed to acting in another film, Conan the Barbarian. Director John Avildsen was able to secure his first choice in the end.
Morita’s casting as Mr. Miyagi was questioned by the rest of the cast and crew.
Even after Morita was cast, some on set, including co-star Ralph Macchio, were anxious about him playing the part. In a February 2021 interview with the Life is Short podcast, the actor, who earlier starred in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 classic The Outsiders, discussed how tough it was to find work following The Karate Kid… Nokia News – Quick Recap