MF 313 : William Christopher Ford on moving forward as an actor, and “The Karate Kid Part III&
I was in my last year of junior high school and watching the series finale of “Family Ties.” This was a time long before social media, the internet, and spoilers. Imagine not knowing about an upcoming sequel to a franchise hit until you see the first teaser on television. That was the era I grew up in.
During the mid-episode commercial break, I saw the familiar Columbia Picture’s logo. It was a statue resembling Annette Benning holding a flashing torch. The image was accompanied by a familiar bombastic score, composed by Bill Conti.
It took a second to register but it soon hit me that this was another sequel to “The Karate Kid.”
The teaser was only about a minute, showing quick cuts of Daniel, Miyagi, Kreese, and several new characters, including Mike Barnes and Terry Silver.
I was ecstatic. “The Karate Kid Part II” had come out the summer of 1986 and by then was three years in the rearview mirror. I assumed that the end title card of “The End” meant exactly that.
Afterward, I spent the next month scouring magazines and entertainment news shows looking for any scrap of news I could find on this next installment.
Summer came and it was a big one for movies and sequels. Star Trek, Batman, Lethal Weapon, and Indiana Jones were just some of the major franchises that had new films coming out. I was excited for most, if not all of these but “The Karate Kid Part III” was particularly special for me. I had put a lot of miles on the VHS tapes of the first two films and watched them countless times on television.
It seemed like a slow crawl to Friday, June 27th, opening day. I begged my parents to take me after work and we all went, seeing it with a large crowd. We enjoyed the experience, especially with an enthusiastic crowd that cheered, jeered, oooh’d, and ahhh’d at all the right moments.
I saw it several more times during that summer and with more viewings, I started to see the cracks in the film. It didn’t hold up to the original and its plot pushed the bounds of believability but I didn’t care. I loved it anyway.
By now, I had memorized many of the names and faces, in front of and behind the camera. One of these stood out to me:
Christopher Paul Ford.
If you watch the original trilogy, you’ll discover that he’s one of the few actors in the “Karate Kid” franchise with a three-name credit.
His character, Dennis, is also notable for being the strong, silent type as one of Mike Barnes’s henchmen. This was an edgier, more lethal Cobra Kai than we saw in the first film.
Names and family legacies
Today, I continue my conversation with William Christopher Ford. In 1989, he went by Christopher Paul Ford and one of my first questions was how and why did your name change?
In many ways, “The Karate Kid” franchise and its successor series “Cobra Kai” are an allegory about fathers and sons. As William shares, the story behind his name change also relates to his family’s legacy and his relationship with his dad. While the two were not always close, William’s name change story is a great piece of family history and a special way to honor the memory of his father.
From watching the big screen to being on it
One of William’s favorite films is the original “Star Wars.” He had the fortune of seeing it on the big screen before it was rebranded as “episode IV.” He identified with Han Solo and his ship, the Millennium Falcon. William even carries a smaller version of the famed vessel that made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs as a reminder to look ahead and push forward.
As William shared on last week’s episode, his martial arts journey was fueled in part by Hollywood. He grew up watching “Kung Fu” on TV and later, saw “The Game of Death” on the big screen. These experiences stirred something inside him and he decided he wanted to become an action star.
After college, William decided to pursue this dream more seriously. He got a book detailing the business of becoming an actor; breaking down everything from headshots to finding an agent. William knew that becoming an actor and daydreaming of becoming one were two very different things. So, he took a practical approach, learning the nuts and bolts of breaking into the industry.
The efforts paid off and William eventually landed an agent. Then, much like his journey into the martial arts, it was a call from a friend that encouraged him to answer Columbia Pictures’ casting call for the new Karate Kid film.
William initially auditioned for the role of Mike Barnes, the main antagonist in the film. However, director John G. Avildsen, thought William was a little too old to convincingly play a high schooler. Despite this, something about William’s audition made an impression because several days later, he got a call from legendary casting director Caro Jones. As you’ll discover in this episode, this led to him being cast in a different role.
William shares some great memories of working on “Karate Kid III,” including how his character came to be called “Dennis” while at a Del Taco drive-through, what it was like to work with the legendary Pat Morita, and what Mr. Morita told his mom when he introduced them. If you’re a fan of The Karate Kid franchise, you’ll be treated to some great behind-scenes-stories, and hear what it was like for William to finally see his name on the big screen.
Three names, three dimensions
For years, I vaguely knew of Christopher Paul Ford as an actor who portrayed one of the extended members of Cobra Kai.
Today, William Christopher Ford is so much more than a Karate Kid alum. As I’ve learned from these conversations, he’s a gifted martial artist, passionate teacher, and a deeply reflective individual whose life’s journey is as grand and epic as any you’ll see on the big screen.
Catch the latest episode of “52 Masters” with fellow Karate Kid alum, Darryl Vidal
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