Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Transformation Of Peyton List From Childhood To Cobra Kai

Peyton List has been a small screen mainstay in many a household thanks to a string of celebrated work in family-friendly projects. But today, the actress is best known for busting heads as Tory Nichols in "Cobra Kai."

The popular show based on the "Karate Kid" film franchise began as a launch series for YouTube Red in 2018, with the second season following on the platform in 2019. Since then, "Cobra Kai" has been calling Netflix home, serving as one of the streamer's biggest hits over ensuing seasons. Nichols' tough-as-nails All Valley champ Tory made her debut in Season 2, but by the end of the third season had established herself as not just one of the show's strongest characters, but a legit fan favorite to boot.

If you've been watching List's career since the early days, it's clear Tory is just the sort of role she'd been working toward for some time. And its addition to List's oeuvre makes her transformation from child model to Disney star to roundhouse-kicking badass a fascinating one, to say the least.

Peyton List knew from a young age she wanted to be a performer

Peyton List started her career as a child model but transitioned to acting at a very early age. That was seemingly always part of the plan, with List admitting she'd always been eyeing a performing career in a conversation with Brooke Shields for Interview Magazine. And it was thanks to her mother that the actress got an opportunity to pursue her dream.

"I never thought of it as a career," she said, adding, "It started off as an after-school thing I would do growing up in New York." List said that her twin brother, Spencer, was approached first by local producers and that her mother lobbied hard to get her seen as well. "My mom said, 'Oh, well, my daughter is the one who's always wanted to do it,'" List told Shields. "And she kind of fought for me. So, my mom is really the one that saw that I could do it."

List would initially model in publications like American Girl and Justice, eventually appearing onscreen in several uncredited roles. One of those uncredited gigs came in 2002 via a spot in the daytime soap opera "As The World Turns." She'd go on to book roles in dozens of other film and television projects before finally entering the Miyagi-verse.

List said hi to the Web-Slinger in her first big-screen role

If you spend a few minutes scrolling through Peyton List's filmography, you'll find a genuinely impressive list of titles. But if you go back all the way to the beginning of the actor's career, you might be shocked to see List followed her one-off spot on "As The World Turns" with a brief role in one of the biggest blockbusters of the early aughts, Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 2."

Yes, List's role in the film is very much of the "uncredited" sort, with the actor appearing alongside her twin brother as a young girl chasing a ball through the perilous streets of New York City. The brief scene comes early in the action when Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) puts a make-or-break pizza delivery on hold to save the young girl and her brother from being hit by a truck. In terms of screen time, the scene is little more than a cameo for the baby-faced List twins. But they do earn a line of dialogue, uttering in tandem "Yes, Mr. Spider-Man" when the Web-Slinger lectures them about not playing in the street.

Brief as it is, the moment remains a memorable one in what is arguably the best "Spider-Man" movie to date. And even at such a young age, Peyton List's boundless charisma is well on display.

List came of age playing younger versions of established stars

A few years after working with Sam Raimi in "Spider-Man 2," Peyton List embarked on a screen journey followed by many a child star before — playing the younger version of a big-name actor in a flashback scene. And as it happens, she'd have quite a bit of success booking such roles in the first decade of her career, portraying the younger version of some major stars over that period.

One of the earliest of those roles found List playing the pre-teen version of Katherine Heigl's Jane Nichols in the 2008 rom-com "27 Dresses." It remains arguably the biggest of such roles for List, not only because "27 Dresses" was a massive hit at the box office, but because the young actor was front and center as young Jane throughout the film's opening flashback. And if you've seen "27 Dresses," you know the bright-eyed List commands the screen every minute she occupies it. Two years later, she appeared in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" portraying young Becky Barns to her elder on-screen counterpart, Teresa Palmer.

She'd follow that gig by playing the child version of Taryn Manning's Larissa Welsh in a 2011 episode of "Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit." And that very same year, List turned up uncredited as the younger version of Kate Hudson's Darcy in "Something Borrowed."

Diary of a Wimpy Kid's Holly Hills became a signature role for Peyton List

As it was, 2011 served as a bit of a breakthrough year for Peyton List. And apart from those "younger version" roles, the year would see the actor debuting a pair of her most notable pre-"Cobra Kai" roles. In film, she appeared as Holly Hills in the beloved "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" franchise. Adapted from the works of Jeff Kinney, said franchise began in earnest the year prior with the big-screen adaptation of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." The first sequel — "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" followed in 2011, with List's kind-hearted Holly becoming a main player in the action after protagonist Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) develops a major crush on her.

Though Holly and Greg were on very friendly terms by film's end, that crush goes largely unrequited in "Rodrick Rules." Things, however, heat up between the pair in the 2012 follow-up, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days." List sees a major jump in screen time during the summer-set threequel, with Holly and Greg becoming a full-blown couple by the time the credits roll. In case there were any question, their journey to coupledom is as hilarious as it is heartwarming. And List is an absolute joy to watch throughout.

Peyton List broke out with Disney's Jessie

Circling back to 2011, it turns out that was also the year Peyton List landed what was then the biggest role of her career, fronting the Disney Channel hit "Jessie." List didn't book the title role on the series, instead appearing as Emma Ross, the impetuous, and fashionable eldest child of the family Jessie Prescott (Debby Ryan) cares for. As the actor said in an interview with PopSugar, although there were some differences between her and the character she played on Jessie, the two share a love for fashion. List reprised her role as Emma for the 2015 Jessie spin-off "Bunk'd" and also appeared in other Disney shows "Austin & Ally," "K.C. Undercover," and "I Didn't Do It."

Guest appearances aside, List played Emma for four full seasons of "Jessie." But as big a break as the role was, the actress admitted to Coveteur in 2017 that she struggled with the fact that the general public tends to hold teen Disney stars to an almost impossible real-world standard. "It's weird, because Disney stars are normal teenagers," she said, adding, "Everyone expects that because they have this show where everything is perfect — bad things do happen, obviously — but I think they just expect them to be really conservative and always cover up and not really be who they truly are."

She shed her Disney skin to work on heavier projects

Perhaps in an effort to show who she really is, after completing the 2016 Disney movie "The Swap," Peyton List put considerable effort into distancing herself from her squeaky-clean Disney image. During a 2021 chat with Interview Magazine, she admitted that was tough in part because she'd spent so much time making rounds with Disney Channel fare, she'd forgotten how to audition, and ultimately needed to relearn how to keep calm during the process.

Nevertheless, List found herself busy during her post-Disney career, quickly landing the lead in the independent film "Anthem of a Teenage Prophet." The indie drama — which co-starred "Shameless" breakout Cameron Monaghan and "Yellowjackets" star Juliette Lewis — was a heavier project that showcased her range beyond family-friendly Disney offerings. List has continued to surprise audiences since, including with her role as Tory on "Cobra Kai."

In a funny twist, according to List's comments to WWD, her Disney past helped her land the "Cobra Kai" role, as the creators of the Netflix hit apparently couldn't pass up the opportunity to cast a former "Disney Princess" in one of the series' most emotionally complex roles. That gamble has officially paid off big time for everyone involved.

Pop stardom became a big part of Peyton List's career plan

Though she's undoubtedly best known as an actor at this point in her career, Peyton List spent much of her pre-"Cobra Kai" time carving out a secondary career in the music industry. With a handful of legitimately catchy singles out in the world, one might say she's been charting a path to low-key pop stardom.

While she'd been writing songs for years prior, List waited until she was 20 to drop debut her first single, 2018's breakup anthem "Liar Liar." As she told Nylon in an interview coinciding with the release, she'd been holding off recording the song for a while because, "It took me a while to feel super-confident and super-proud of it." She said she also wanted to wait until her Disney days were behind her before pivoting to music, as she didn't want to be filed in with every other Disney star-turned-pop singer.

List was probably wise to wait, as she's been able to work on her music completely on her own terms and without Disney-sized expectations. (And she avoided having to ink a deal with the Disney-owned Hollywood Records.) She has, however, only released a handful of singles and music videos to date. And with no new tracks since 2019, one can only assume her booming acting career is leaving little time for the recording studio these days.

It seems Peyton List is not the only Peyton List in Tinseltown

Thanks in no small part to her role on "Cobra Kai," Peyton List is a name well-respected in Hollywood circles today. But even if her name now conjures images of a talented child star transitioning to an adult career, it's worth noting she's not the only Peyton List in town. In fact, one could easily argue the other Peyton List has had every bit as compelling a career to date, with that older actor booking notable roles in "Flashforward," "Mad Men," "The Flash," "Gotham," "Star Trek: Picard," and "The Rookie" over the years.

It's pretty rare that two actors forge ahead with the exact same name, as SAG-AFTRA rules tend to limit such issues. It's even rarer that two actors with the same name have the sort of success the Peyton Lists have had. And yes, it's almost unheard of that the two might end up on the same call sheet for any film or television project. Yet that's precisely what happened in a 2002 episode of "As The World Turns" in which the two Peytons apparently appeared not just in the same episode, but the same scene. We now can't help but think the "As The World Turns" team missed a golden opportunity to have Peyton List portray a younger version of, you know, Peyton List. 

Peyton List kicked butt as Batgirl before kicking butt on Cobra Kai

It turns out that the 2002 episode of "As The World Turns" was not the last time the two Peyton Lists were credited on a project together. But the second time the name anomaly came into play, both actors were credited for voice performances in the 2019 animated superhero hit "Batman: Hush."

Sadly, the two do not share any scenes in "Hush," with the elder List giving voice to the nefarious Poison Ivy (whom she also played on "Gotham") and the younger voicing the butt-kicking Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl. The film was adapted from a popular 2002 story arc from DC Comics that found the titular baddie using his shocking wealth of knowledge about Batman to wreak havoc on the man behind the mask and his allies. "Hush" debuted at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con the day before its streaming release, and remains one of the best-loved of the recent "Batman" animated features.

As for the younger List, she obviously is not fronting the action here. But her Batgirl does play a pivotal role in the overarching narrative. And given how strong List is in the role, one has to wonder why she's done so little voice work in the years since.

Peyton List starred in a pair of YouTube original films before joining Cobra Kai

Peyton List booked her "Cobra Kai" role the year before "Batman: Hush" was released. But given that her Season 2 debut as Tory Nichols came when the series was still part of the YouTube Premium slate of original programming, it's not entirely shocking List landed the role, as she'd already starred in a pair of original films for the then-nascent streaming service.

Those films were 2016's "The Thinning," and its 2018 sequel "The Thinning: New World Order." The young adult dramas are a sort of hybrid between "The Hunger Games" and "The Purge," unfolding in a not-too-distant future in which overcrowding has led society to take extreme measures in population control. In this case, that means straight-up executing any and every student who fails to pass a certain standardized test. The films finds List sharing the screen with the controversy-courting Logan Paul, with their characters discovering unsettling discrepancies in the fateful test and eventually uncovering the ghastly government conspiracy behind the process.

"The Thinning" films are hardly aspiring to high art. But the audience scores for both the original, and its sequel are decent enough. So they might be worth a look if you're hot to do a deep dive on List's pre-"Cobra Kai" career.

Peyton List became a karate kid

Then came "Cobra Kai." And the role of Tory Nichols has more than given Peyton List an opportunity to showcase her star power. As the actor told Screen Rant in 2020, she continues to have a lot of fun with the character in what she deems a dream job. "It is the most fun role I've ever had the chance to play," she said. "And every day I'm just like, how did I get this? And how am I here? I love this so much." That joy clearly comes across as List embodies every facet of the character's physical and emotional journey with disarming grace.

Playing Tory has also given List an opportunity to develop legit martial arts skills, which she reportedly refines during workouts at a small, private dojo owned by the uncle of a friend. The actress has said as well that she finds her "Cobra Kai" role empowering as it forces her to train so heavily. And any "Cobra Kai" fan can attest that List puts those skills to extraordinary use during scenes that require her to speak with her fists.

But the actor is arguably at her best on "Cobra Kai" when she's speaking with her voice. And considering her origins as a child model and Disney Channel star, Peyton List's transformation into a fully-developed karate antagonist has proven quite an unexpected, if most welcome surprise indeed.