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The Transformation Of Mary Mouser From Childhood To Cobra Kai

Netflix's "Cobra Kai" is a melting pot of strong personalities and powerful characters. From original "The Karate Kid" characters like Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), and John Kreese (Martin Kove) to next-generation newcomers like Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña), Tory Nichols (Peyton List), and Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), the series is teeming with acrobatic kicks and acerbic wit. Still, every good show needs a character that ties everything together, and for "Cobra Kai," that character is Mary Mouser's Sam LaRusso. Perhaps more than anyone else on the show, she's an integral component to many other characters' storylines or motivations, in addition to being a fully realized character with her own story. Some fans even speculate that she had a yet-unrevealed close connection with Mr. Miyagi before the old master's death and may even have trained with him. 

A role like that can be deceptively difficult to play, but Mouser proves episode after episode that she has the necessary acting chops. She was born in 1996, so it's easy to assume that the young actress' career has barely left the starting block. However, this could not be further from the truth. Mouser has been acting for the vast majority of her life, and she has a truly astounding amount of movie and TV credits for her age. But how did she end up at this point, and what was she up to before she became the scion of the LaRusso family? Let's take a look at the transformation of Mary Mouser from childhood to "Cobra Kai."

Young Mary Mouser traumatized Leroy Jethro Gibbs in NCIS

Mary Mouser started acting when she was very, very young. In fact, her first acting credit dates back to 2004 — and by 2005, she'd already made her mark as an integral part of television's toughest Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent's tortured existence. Mouser's role in "NCIS" might not have been the most visible, but it ranks among the most pivotal. Mouser played Kelly Gibbs, the daughter of NCIS special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and an important part of his tragic backstory. In Season 3 of the CBS show, viewers find that the gruff and reserved Gibbs lost his daughter and wife (Darby Stanchfield) when a drug cartel member named Pedro Hernandez (Thomas Rosales Jr.) killed them. The vengeful Gibbs soon murdered Hernandez in return, and the combination of this secret crime and the loss of his family makes up a large chunk of the NCIS team leader's dark and haunted past. 

Mouser appeared in half a dozen flashback scenes between 2005 and 2010, and though fans haven't always been happy about this incredibly dark storyline, it established the memory of Kelly as an important part of Gibbs' character — and, as such, Mouser's role heavily influenced the very fabric of the long-running police procedural. 

Mary Mouser appeared in two acclaimed roles in 2007

Mary Mouser started gaining more notoriety in 2007, when the young actress starred in no fewer than two noteworthy roles. On the movie side of things, she appeared in The Hallmark Channel TV movie "A Stranger's Heart" as Sarah "Cricket" Cummings, an orphaned girl whose parents' hearts were transplanted to Callie (Samantha Mathis) and Jasper (Peter Dobson), who in turn started feeling a mysterious connection with both Cricket and each other. She also appeared in a major role in "Life Is Wild," The CW's serial drama about a large blended family that moves from New York to South Africa, as the father (D.W. Moffett) becomes a veterinarian at a game reserve. 

Both roles were quite acclaimed, to the point that Mauser scored one nomination each in the 2008 Young Artist Awards (via IMDb). Unfortunately, "Life Is Wild" didn't make it beyond Season 1, and as such, the young actress headed toward new adventures. 

Mary Mouser was Lacey Fleming in Body of Proof

Before her acting career took a new, high-kicking turn as Sam LaRusso, Mary Mouser played a very different daughter character in ABC's medical-criminal dramedy "Body of Proof." Mouser's Lacey Fleming is the daughter of medical examiner Dr. Megan Hunt (Dana Delany) and her lawyer ex-husband Todd Fleming (Jeffrey Nordling). The character spends the first season largely in the sidelines, but Mouser was elevated into the main cast for the next two seasons until the show's cancellation in 2013.

In an interview with Brief Take, Mouser remembered this period of her life with fondness, especially because she got to work with Delany. "I had a great experience on a show I was on called Body of Proof," the actress said. "I worked with Dana Delany for three years and for the duration of my fourteen-year-old self to my seventeen-year-old self, and all the things I went through in that period, I consider her family to me."

Mary Mouser played a First Daughter and fought zombies

Mary Mouser didn't rest on her laurels after "Body of Proof" ended. In 2014, she joined Season 4 of ABC's political thriller "Scandal" with an appropriately scandalous twist. Per Entertainment Weekly, original actress Madeline Carroll's scheduling conflicts led to Mouser taking over the role of Fitz and Mellie Grant's (Tony Goldwyn and Bellamy Young) rebellious daughter, Karen, who couldn't care less about the political game — which is a shame, seeing as her parents are the 45th and 46th presidents of the United States. Mouser's tenure as the scandal-prone Karen was ultimately short, as she appeared in just two episodes. 

Fortunately, she continued working steadily, and in 2016, she scored her next recurring role, which couldn't have been more different from the daughter of two presidents: one of the desperate teens in Hulu's high school zombie horror show "Freakish." Mouser played Mary Jones, the sister of main character Grover (Leo Howard). The role is a juicy one and far from your basic "final girl" fare, as Mary gets bitten early on and spends her time on the show slowly turning into a zombie-style monster — or "freak," as the show calls them. As this was Mouser's last major role before she joined "Cobra Kai," the show is well worth revisiting for the surreal "Wait, did Sam LaRusso just turn into a zombie?" experience alone.  

Cobra Kai made Mary Mouser a star

And then there is "Cobra Kai." Mary Mouser's physical skills and ability to channel a very young Ralph Macchio-like combination of determination and uncertainty make her the perfect choice for the show's second-generation LaRusso martial arts master. However, despite being a perfect fit for the role, Mouser almost missed her chance to get it — because, as she revealed in an episode of "The Netflix After Party" (via CBR), she didn't wake up in time for her audition. 

"I got my initial audition and I guess I didn't set any alarms," the actress said. "I woke up to my boyfriend calling me saying, 'Hey, how did your audition go?' I was like, 'What audition?' He was like, 'You have that audition.' I was like, 'Right.'" 

Fortunately, Mouser got a second chance and, evidently, made the best of it. "Cobra Kai" became a Netflix phenomenon and turned her into a household name at a fairly young age — and with well over 50 credits to her name at this early stage of her career, there's no telling how far she'll go.