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Playing Carmen Diaz on the hit Netflix series Cobra Kai means a great deal to Vanessa Rubio for a number of reasons. Beyond her character being a smart, strong single mother, attempting to protect her son (played by Xolo Maridueña) while also encouraging his involvement in martial arts, Rubio understands the importance of her Latina representation onscreen. And she’s working hard to maximize the situation.
Bumped up to a series regular for the upcoming fourth season dropping on the streaming service New Year’s Eve, the actress offered a sneak peek at what fans can expect and discussed the deeper levels of the show’s importance.
“It is nice to be part of a family unit that feels like it could exist on its own, separate from Cobra Kai; a Latino family, not particularly entrenched stereotypical Latino story types,” Rubio tells THR. “It is just a joy to bring that character to life.”
A self-described kid of the ’80s who watched The Karate Kid on a regular rotation with her siblings, the actress immediately connected with Cobra Kai and in quick order landed the role of Carmen, the mother of Maridueña’s Miguel. She later becomes the love interest of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Season four, she says, will further examine that (at times) tumultuous relationship.
“We will see where it goes,” she teases. “But I think their relationship shows that Carmen’s presence in the show is distinct. She is the candle flame we are all hoping Johnny will follow and better himself when he gets there. A second chance love story is relatable to a lot of people.”
Rubio and her screen son share a special bond and understanding, the actress explains, while noting she appreciates her unique situation of watching the young actor grow as a character in the series, while also witnessing him grow as a young man in reality.
“He is amazing,” she beams. “And he and I understand our Latino representation and have fun building the Diaz dynamic through all these seasons. Representation is a big deal. When I read the statistics about how little Latinos are represented, like 3.5 percent on film and TV. And of that 3.5 figure, 5 percent are speaking roles. It can drive you nuts.”
Noting that “heaviness on our shoulders,” Rubio says that at the same time, playing Carmen has given the actress the gift of empowerment, which she has flexed as the character has become more integral to the story. “I feel a responsibility for this character because I know she means so much more in the great scheme of people seeing themselves on screen,” she says. “And I appreciate the character so much because she represents a very dignified, stable, unified force in this story. The producers and creators are very responsive to the ideas I have to offer because, as a Latina, I do have to say these things even more. So I feel more empowered to do that; I don’t mind repeating myself.”
Basing Carmen somewhat on her mother (“I think about seeing her at my events”), Rubio finds her greatest satisfaction in that while Carmen has evolved over three seasons, the character began on solid footing, working in the medical field as an X-ray technologist who already escaped one parlous relationship with Miguel’s father.
“She started out as a strong-willed single mother, but now she is blooming into her essence, allowing Miguel to fly and make his own mistakes,” Rubio says. “I think they went through the worst of it in season three. And so we will see the recovery in season four and season five.”
The fourth season of Cobra Kai premieres New Year’s Eve on Netflix.
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