How Han Soto Embraced His Evil Side for Cobra Kai
The new episodes are more poignant than ever, with more laughs, and even deeper lore that expands the Karate Kids universe to be so much bigger than we ever thought possible. This season also includes the addition of a new character named Minh Thao Pham, played by Han Soto, who inadvertently plays a huge role in the life path of John Kreese. And we got the chance to speak to Han himself to find out all about the character, what it took to play him, and so much more.
Sweety High: How did acting become your passion, and what were all the things that had to happen to make that work for you?
Han Soto: You hit hard on the first question! I think I've always had an itch for storytelling in every capacity. I had a roofing company, and I was basically chasing money, if I'm being honest. I decided one day to sell the company, and I'd give myself five years to make it, so to speak, as an actor. I ended up paying off any debts and gave myself a very minimal amount of income to live by, and I just went for it.
The first thing that really hit was when I was an extra on a PlayStation commercial, then I got bumped to a principle and the checks started rolling in and I realized, okay—we can do this. It can happen. It was a national commercial, so it really cushioned me to make other moves. It wasn't until I got the role of Lieutenant Soto in Ender's Game with Harrison Ford that things started to really take off. Building relationships, and just making sure you show up 100% all the time with casting directors and building that trust—that's how I got started. And I got all my work done in the southeastern U.S. region. I don't think I've ever stepped foot in L.A. to work on a set before.
SH: A lot of people think it's essential to move to Hollywood to make it in acting. Why was that not true for you?
HS: I was literally driving down the highway, with all my stuff packed in the car, L.A.-bound when I got the call that I'd booked a handful of movies I'd auditioned for over the past five months, so it was a matter of exiting, turning back and emptying the car. I'm not the only story. We roll with a very tight-knit group of people in Louisiana, and everyone's got that. One of my buddies has a story that he was at rock bottom, and he got bumped to a series regular on SEAL Team Six Things happen overnight. But it's a lot of hard work.
SH: What was your relationship with the Karate Kid series in the past?
HS: The only connection I had to the Karate Kid series was me putting Jon Hurwitz on my vision board and wanting to work with him. I cut his bio out, his headshot out and I pasted it on my vision board. Granted, that was about four years ago. And when Cobra Kai started catching fire, I thought to myself, "This is the chance, let's so what happens." So I really just manifested it into my life.
And the crazy part was, when I was on set, Jon kind of leaned over to me and said, "How does it feel to be the baddest dude in Karate Kid history?" It was just one of those check off the list moments for me. Just to watch them on set was amazing. To watch Jon and Josh [Heald] and the creators—they're just a band of brothers, and I love that stuff.
SH: What can you tell me about your character in the series?
HS: Minh Thao Pham is the character. He's a very evil guy. Imagine, if you were evil and you had the landscape to do whatever you want to anybody, without repercussions, what would you do? There were so many things. I wanted to gouge eyes out and do that stuff with my character, but there was a level of censorship we had to stay within.
But this guy's evil. He's the guy who smiles at you across from dinner but would kill you on the street. He's a curious Vietnamese soldier who wanted to speak English and was so fascinated by America, by the land of freedom. I don't want to spoil anything, but he's basically had some people captive and he can do whatever he wants to them. Torturing P.O.W.s was kind of my thing as a character.
SH: How do you get into character for such an evil character?
HS: It's not easy jumping into something like that. Especially when I like to think I'm kindhearted in real life. Which is why I like playing evil characters. There's a different chemical makeup in my body that it kind of ignites. I go, ooh, I like it. Let's roll with it. It was cool. The guy is the reason Cobra Kai exists, if you really think about it.
SH: What does it mean to you to play this character who's so critical to the Cobra Kai lore?
HS: It's really crazy, because I live my life by this mantra—everything you do, every action that you take is a tree branch. You're this one long trunk, and every decision you make alters your course, no matter how little or how big. Being able to be the base of the trunk, like the root of it, was so awesome. I didn't realize it until I started digging into the script and it hit me. Like, if I would have had snapping turtles in the pit, it would have been called Turtle Kai. It was pretty awesome to be the reason. It means a lot to me, and I never would have been able to script this for my journey. That they trusted me enough to bring this guy to life was an honor for me.
SH: We really loved you on Preacher. What was it like to get to play a vampire for a day on that set?
HS: It was so great. I was such a wannabe. It was so awesome. Everything was improvised. The whole performance, the scootching off the bench and the laughing. That was a fun set. Adam [Croasdell] was wonderful. Fun fact, they were shooting in New Orleans next to the Second Lines Stage and I was on set and I had a movie I was producing that was screening next door, so I walked in in my vampire getup, and they introduced me as one of the producers, and everyone was pretty confused. I was a vampire walking into a screening as the producer of that film. It was awesome.
(Preacher via AMC)
SH: How does an improvised scene like that play out?
HS: As far as the feel, when there's a lot of stuff happening, I ask the director for a broad strokes of what you want the audience to feel. If it was serious, I wouldn't have done what I did, but if it's something more like, this guy cowers to the figure he admires. I played with it. They wanted comedy and they wanted funny, and I just went with it. I did about three takes because that laugh really hurt my throat. It was a very high-pitched thing. It's very nice when they allow you to just be, and you're not so bound by the words on the script. It was so fun.
Obsessed with Cobra Kai? Click HERE to find out all of our favorite fun facts and trivia about Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueña.