Blue Beetle’s Xolo Maridueña on the New DC Universe, Cobra Kai Season 6

This interview was conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.

XOLO MARIDUEÑA KNOWS the stakes. Leading a superhero movie comes with high expectations from fans and critics alike, and now that he’s getting ready to lead Blue Beetle—the latest big screen expansion of the DC Comics universe from Warner Bros.—he’s staring them straight in the eyes. He knows that everyone watching the movie wants the same thing: a smart adaptation of the stories told and worlds depicted in the comic book medium, capturing the colorful pages where these characters originated and, at their best, even transcending that and creating something greater. While decades have passed since the first superhero movies premiered, studios still struggle to reach the bar that their on-page counterparts and high-watermark films like The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2 have set through the years. Add in the extra pressure that comes along with being the first major Latino superhero depicted on-screen—somehow it’s taken until 2023 for this to happen!— and it’s clear that Blue Beetle has a lot riding on its success.

“It’s not a lie that if this doesn’t do well, this type of movie isn’t going to happen again for a while,” Maridueña says. “It’s important to open those doors. It’s not just for Blue Beetle— it’s for the tons of other superheroes, and cultures, and stories that we need to tell.”

Blue Beetle will be one of the first DC films to be released since James Gunn and Peter Safran came together as new co-CEOs under the Warner Bros. umbrella in 2022 to helm DC Studios, a move made with the hopes of potentially rivaling the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s interconnected movie and television franchise. While the film was announced before the change in DC Studios’ leadership, Gunn stated back in January that it “will directly lead” into the newly-curated slate of upcoming DC films. Blue Beetle, in turn, stands as a potential early building block to help DC Studios’ reinvention. The film’s success could mark a new cinematic tone for DC, standing to possibly deviate from the visually dark, serious tone established in the last regime’s DCEU, moving toward a style more focused on grounded storytelling and a generally light and truly comic book-y tone.

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First introduced in 2006, Jaime Reyes—who Maridueña plays in the film—is the third iteration of the Blue Beetle, and the first non-white character to take on the mantle (a previous version of Blue Beetle, a businessman named Ted Kord, also figures into Blue Beetle’s story). Jaime gains his powers from a mysterious blue scarab, which is bound to his spine and acts somewhat autonomously of his wishes, determined to protect him at all costs. It’s the first time the character has gotten the silver screen treatment.

As the first major Latino superhero to be depicted on the big screen (the film also serves as his first major movie role), Maridueña recognizes the importance. He knows he stands on the shoulders of those who came before him, and says he feels “privileged” to represent Jaime and play a Latino superhero. But he makes it clear that the film isn’t trying to show every Latino experience. “It’s impossible to encapsulate a whole culture in one movie— that’s not really the point,” he says. “Inherently, because of our writer, [Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer], the characters we’re looking at, the director, [Angel Manuel Soto], and the actors involved, it’ll be Latino.”

Growing up, Maridueña wasn’t actually a huge fan of comics. In fact, he’s always preferred to read graphic novels like Bone, Deadly Class, and The Last Ronin. His mother was into comics, though, and her interest eventually trickled into becoming his as well. He learned of the Jaime Reyes version of Blue Beetle in his preteens, before he even really wanted to be an actor. He later heard through the industry grapevine that a Blue Beetle movie was in talks to be made. Instantly, he felt the on-screen potential.

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“At that point, I was maybe 12 or 13. I was way too young,” he says. “And I’m like, ‘No, this is never going to happen.’ But luckily, I had gotten around to watching Young Justice, which Blue Beetle makes an appearance in. That’s when I finally ended up getting close to understanding ‘Oh, maybe this project is happening.’”

It took a few years—and proving his chops in major shows including Parenthood, Twin Peaks, and his most well-known project to date, Cobra Kai—but Maridueña eventually landed the role of Jaime. When he thinks back on the moment he learned he got the part, he says it felt like he was being “Ashton Kutcher Punk’d.” Maridueña thought the former head of DC Studios, Walter Hamada, had invited him to a one-on-one dinner. But there was a bit more company on the guest list.

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“[It] ended up turning into a one-on-eight dinner with everyone from production on Blue Beetle. The director, Angel Manuel Soto, surprised me. He just popped the question right there,” he says with a smile.

The wildest part of the casting news for Maridueña? Knowing no one knew about it but him. “I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, my mom doesn’t know about this, like nobody [knows].’ I’m like, ‘I know a secret. I know something that other people don’t.’”

From there, it was only four months between his casting and the start of filming. And rather than sitting at home waiting to show up on set, Maridueña had no choice but to keep busy. He found out about Blue Beetle just a week before filming began for Season 5 of Cobra Kai, and right away began training for the [so far] role of a lifetime.

Blue Beetle was the first project that required Maridueña to gain weight. His training for Cobra Kai focused on stamina and stretching, performing kicks and various moves without appearing to exert too much energy. “With [Blue Beetle],” he says, “there was an added strength, and an added amount of weight that I needed to put on for the suit and to make sure that my body could handle what it would be like to be in a suit and move around.”

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Welcoming in Jaime Reyes, however, also means saying goodbye to one of Maridueña’s formative roles: Miguel on Cobra Kai. On The Karate Kid spinoff series, he pays an asthmatic kid who becomes determined to be the best karate fighter he can be, yes, but also, as anyone who watches the show will tell you, just seems like a great kid. Over the show’s five seasons to date, viewers watched as Miguel gained confidence as a fighter and came into his own, essentially taking over the moniker of ‘The Karate Kid’ from Daniel LaRusso (played by Ralph Macchio).

As Miguel has grown in confidence and ability within the show, so too has Maridueña grown as an actor; he was only 16 when it began. Now, as Cobra Kai nears an end with its sixth season, he can’t help but feel nostalgic. “It’s not often that you get to work with people for six years and don’t want to bite their heads off,” he says. “It’s been such a fun ride. I really grew up with this show, and grew up with this character, and it feels very fitting for it to come to a close here.”

Although Maridueña is one of Cobra Kai’s most impressive karate fighters, he still found the training for Blue Beetle to be far more of a challenge; the movie got him into the best shape he’s ever been in. He played sports growing up, but never had interest in weightlifting. In preparing for the movie, he was required to become more disciplined in his regimen, with the film’s crew teaching him how to eat right and exercise to have a fit physique, while still looking—realistically—like a recent college grad who suddenly gained otherworldly powers.

Post-Blue Beetle, Maridueña imagines Jaime’s future appearances in the new DC universe could mean potential team-ups with major superheroes.

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Gunn and Safran’s DCU has already announced an initial slate of projects, led by the Gunn-written and directed Superman: Legacy, scheduled for release in 2025. But beyond that, anything could be on the table, including a future for Jaime Reyes and the Blue Beetle. Maridueña has imagined his character’s dynamic in this new world: “Blue Beetle in the comics has hung around Batman and Peacemaker,” he says. “Jaime feels like an adult to his world, but you put him next to a Batman or a Superman, and he’s a kid for sure.” Could Maridueña’s Jaime share the screen with John Cena’s Peacemaker? The superhero sparks would certainly fly.

Blue Beetle is just the start of Maridueña’s adult acting career, a new chapter he hopes will be part of “a long book.” With Blue Beetle and Cobra Kai, he played hopeful, likable young adults. But in the future, Maridueña wants to challenge himself and potentially step outside of his comfort zone. His goal for now is to work with new people, and let himself be surprised by what comes next.

“I could have never imagined Cobra Kai. I could have never seen myself in that role. I’ve never seen myself in a superhero freaking role,” he says, still incredulous at the career he’s begun to embark upon. “I’ve been very blessed to have people around me that see things in me that maybe I don’t. So I’ll stay on the lookout.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 2023 issue of Men’s Health.

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Milan Polk is an Editorial Assistant for Men’s Health who specializes in entertainment and lifestyle reporting, and has worked for New York Magazine’s Vulture and Chicago Tribune.

This article was originally posted here.

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