Peyton List and Brooke Shields on Cobra Kai and Kicking Imposter Syndrome to the Curb
They say everything old is new again, and that’s especially true in Hollywood. Since its initial release in 1984, Karate Kid, the beloved martial arts coming-of-age comedy, has spawned two sequels and two reboots. Its most recent spin-off, Cobra Kai—which dropped its third season on Netflix New Year’s Day—takes place 34 years after the films, and has delighted old fans of the franchise and new viewers alike. Told from the perspective of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), the series also brings back Ralph Macchio in the role of Daniel LaRusso as they rekindle their old rivalry. At the Cobra Kai karate dojo that Johnny re-opens, action and drama inevitably ensue.
Among the fighters at the dojo, and the new generation of pupils, is the fierce Tory Nichols, played by the 22-year-old Peyton List, who joined the series in season two. List is no stranger to the spotlight; since appearing on the cover of the American Girl magazine as a child—among her hundreds of modeling credits—and starring in the rom-com 27 Dresses as a young Jane Nichols (Katherine Heigl), she has grown a dedicated following—17.2 million on Instagram, to be precise. Many young fans came to know the actor through the Disney Channel, where she played Emma Ross on Jessie, who also appeared in Austin & Ally and I Didn’t Do It. In honor of the season 3 return of Cobra Kai, List hopped on a call with another Hollywood vet and former child model, her friend and Glamorous co-star Brooke Shields. The pair discussed stunts, auditioning woes, and kicking imposter syndrome to the curb. —JULIANA UKIOMOGBE
BROOKE SHIELDS: How are you, sweet, sweet girl?
PEYTON LIST: I’m good. How are you? I’ve missed you. How was your shoot?
SHIELDS: I miss you too. I miss seeing your lovely face every morning, and your smile that would just light up the whole building.
LIST: Oh my god. I feel the same way about you. I really do miss that whole team.
SHIELDS: It was just a special group of people and we were all just sort of in our own little bubble. They don’t often happen like that. Are you feeling that similar sense of camaraderie by joining this cast? Because you came in for season two.
LIST: Yeah, I am.
SHIELDS: Well, I’m a fan. And you are just badass. You’re badass! You get a little carried away sometimes.
LIST: Were you shocked? Like, “Is this the same girl with the pink hair and the rainbow unicorn clothes?”
SHIELDS: It doesn’t surprise me. Because first of all, you’re a wonderful actress. You’ve got range. People have gotten to know you in a certain type of role or maybe by Disney Channel, but I know that you’re a performer and you’re an actor, so I’m not surprised at that. I just love that they were willing to do that with you, so that you could show how kick-ass you are.
LIST: Oh, well, thank you. I felt the same exact way, because when I first was talking to the writers, I was like, “Why the hell did you choose me?” And they said, “Well, we thought it’d be fun. We’ll take this Disney princess girl and we’ll have fun surprising people with what you can do.” And so they were kind of in on the whole thing, which I didn’t realize until the wrap party for season two.
SHIELDS: You’ve been modeling since you were a little kid.
LIST: Which is a joke compared to your modeling career. I was just hearing your routine before you come on set. You would work out before you came in, and you would do this whole facial routine and everything else. I was just trying to take notes of everything you would do. I was a creep. Because I thought, she’s aged really well, damn. I would come in barely able to get up in the morning and you’d have already worked out and ran around the city of Toronto before coming in.
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SHIELDS: Well, the first thing I noticed about you is your work ethic. You don’t see that as much in this day and age. I was coming up in this world, it was all about hard work and work ethic and being on time and being prepared and not making anybody wait for you. You have that naturally. When you were a little kid, did you always know that you wanted to be a performer and an actress?
LIST: Yeah, I think I did know from a young age. I never thought of it as a career. It started off as an after-school thing I would do growing up in New York. I would take the train to the city, my mom would take my twin brother and me. My twin brother got discovered on the Staten Island ferry, and my mom said, “Oh, well, my daughter is the one who’s always wanted to do it.” And they were like, “No, we don’t need any girls, we’ll just take him.” And she kind of fought for me. So, my mom is really the one that saw that I could do it.
SHIELDS: I’m totally biased because I too was basically discovered in New York, and my mom was the one that was taking me all over the city. There was something about having to take the subway and fight the streets of New York that I think breeds an actor. I also feel protective of you, in a way, because I know how good inside you are. There’s a strength, obviously—that’s why you could do a role like this—but also there’s a sweetness. Every day on set, you were just happy to be there. And we were working long hours and it was not always comfortable, but there’s a lot of appreciation and understanding of how lucky we are to be able to play like we do and do it for a living.
LIST: I think imposter syndrome is a big thing for me, feeling like, “Holy shit, why me? Why am I here?” I feel like I’ll never lose it, because I’ll always be like, “I’ll prove myself. I’ll try the role even though it’s way out of my wheelhouse, but let’s do it.”
SHIELDS: Has the idea of auditioning changed over the years for you? I hate auditioning.
LIST: When I first got off of working for Disney, I didn’t really remember how to audition. It’s its own thing. It’s different from being on set, and it’s different from work. I practiced so hard for this audition, and my hands were shaking, I was sweating, I had hives on my neck. I went home and said, “You need to calm the hell down.” So I just kept going in and going in, but it took a little while for me to learn how to do that again.
SHIELDS: I can totally identify with that, because I’ve always just worked, and then when it came time to have to audition for things, it was as if I had never opened my mouth in front of a camera ever. Now, because Cobra Kai is such a physical part, did you have to prove to them that you could be physical? How did you even train for the part? Because you’ve got to be okay with getting bruised and hurt as well. I don’t think people realize how hard those scenes are.
LIST: Oh, yeah. Getting the bruises, and also giving the bruises, and not feeling horrible about yourself. When I auditioned, they didn’t really tell me I was going to be fighting. I didn’t really prepare for that. I just went in and read the scenes and then I got there, and my opening scene was a fight in the karate dojo, so I had to train. They gave me 45 minutes to learn that first fight sequence, and I had never fought before. I didn’t have any training, and so the first time I did it, I just remember feeling really silly. It was rough, but I did it. I committed. I remember feeling embarrassed, but then it all worked out.
SHIELDS: Well, it’s that imposter thing. You’re probably still like, “Oh, they see right through me.” Combatting those negative thoughts is the mental part of karate, and I’ve never done it. Listen, I was a huge fan of the original. I mean, the fact that this legacy has continued with a whole younger audience, I think says a lot about what the whole message is.
LIST: I’ve been so empowered by the role. I feel like I have learned more from this project than anything else, and now I love it. I train all the time and I’m getting a lot better. We have an amazing stunt team who works on Stranger Things and my stunt double Janelle worked on Jumanji and all these crazy movies. She’s badass.
SHIELDS: When I was younger, I always insisted on doing most of my own stunts, except for crazy, crazy things. The thing about stunts is that they have to be so well-choreographed, otherwise, you can really hurt yourself. I practically prided myself on being an honorary stunt girl. I wanted to be tough. It’s really hard to not feel bad if you’re hurting someone, if by mistake you flip someone or hit them too hard. What are you hoping for your character in season three?
LIST: I hope that with this third season, they did a good job of showing my character’s backstory, and where she’s coming from. I think Cobra Kai does a really good job with no one being the villain because they show everyone has a story and reason for what they do.
SHIELDS: COVID-wise, how are the protocols? Are they strict? Because it’s a lot of people in rooms and a lot of physicality.
LIST: It’s funny that you ask that because just last night, we were on a COVID Zoom with all the crew. Everyone had so many questions and they’re taking it so seriously. I felt like I was in a private military meeting with the way they were talking about it. I feel really fortunate that we’re still going. The protocols are really, really strict. I mean, everyone has to have their masks and shields on, always be six feet apart or more, no one can eat together anymore which is so sad because we would always have lunch together in the lunchroom. A couple of the actors who are roommates can’t even have lunch together when they’re on set, and everyone’s just going to have to be pretty far apart and get tested multiple times a day. We’re just going to test a lot and stay in our bubble. What about for you?
SHIELDS: Well, I just came back from being in Scotland for two months where I did a Netflix movie, and we were the only production there that didn’t get shut down. It was because our protocols were so strict. We were tested every other day. We had built our own little village where we all lived together, stayed together. We couldn’t leave it. We were supposed to all sing a song in a group, and we couldn’t even sing all together because it was too much exhaling in a small space. One person had to sing at a time—it was really weird. But, you know, this is what we do. I think entertainment is so needed, and especially with Cobra Kai there’s this feeling of nostalgia, which people really need. I think that that’s also why so many people love the show. Are your Disney fans so happy that you’re doing this as well? Have you noticed any feedback from them?
LIST: I’ve noticed that parents who are nostalgic for Karate Kid and fans of it have introduced it to their kids. I feel anyone can watch the show, and so it’s brought in a new audience. What were you filming in Scotland?
SHIELDS: It’s a rom-com for Netflix and there was a castle and horses and fields of sheep and beautiful gowns. I love romantic comedies. We filmed a lot in a castle and it was cold, but it’s just so beautiful there. It was really fun to be able to go live in the castle. They converted these old stables into apartments, and so, damn, I was drinking my tea and wearing my tartan and pretending I was an outlander. It was fun.
LIST: That’s so great. Was it haunted?
SHIELDS: They said that it was, but it was a good type of haunted. There was a ghost of a dog or something in one of the places I had to stay and all you have to do is say that to me, and then I start hearing things. I’m hearing little scratches at the door. You don’t have to tell me twice, and I’m convinced that I’m living with ghosts. But it was fun. We were the first show during COVID to actually get greenlit at Netflix, so they were really happy about it. Is there a type of role you’ve always wanted to play? I always wanted to do a period piece or a kick-ass person, like a superhero. Those are on my bucket list, still. I’ll be the oldest superhero around, but I think it would be funny.
LIST: I can see you as a Wonder Woman.
SHIELDS: I think it’d be really funny. But I could see you totally in a period film, too. Oh, that face of yours would just be perfect.
LIST: A period piece would be a dream. Ever since doing Cobra Kai, I never really thought about action, but even the movie I’m doing right now in L.A. is a lot of action, and some people have been like, “I could see you doing more of this.” I think just because I’m getting good at fighting, and I’m getting good at being able to do my own stunts. I think that’s a path I want to go down. Which is weird, because I also love comedy. That’s what I’ve been doing for so long.
SHIELDS: Well, I think you’re great at it, and it’s good that people are getting to see another side of your talent. I’m excited for your future.