When he first hit movie theaters as the young Daniel Larusso in "The Karate Kid", Ralph Macchio never imagined how much of an impact the role would have on his life. Now, almost 30 years later, the seemingly ageless actor is still being reminded of how he took the tedious task of waxing an automobile and turned it into a part of American pop-culture.
It's his contribution to pop-culture that has earned him a spot as a featured guest at this weekend's Wizard World Chicago Comic Con, which will be running at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont IL.
Prior to coming to Chicago, Macchio spoke with me via via telephone. We discussed what it's like to be remembered for The Karate Kid; having a sense of humor about being "forever young"; his upcoming return to the television series "Psych"; other projects he has in the works; and dealing with cyber bullies. He also answers a question that he has never been asked before!:
(The following is the unedited transcript to the interview featured in REDEYE August, 9 2013.)
Geek To Me: You’re coming to Chicago for Wizard World Comic Con-
Ralph Macchio: Yes, I haven’t done it before, and I hear it’s a great convention. It’s something I normally don’t do. I love meeting fans and stuff, but you get so busy with your schedule that sometimes it doesn’t work out. But this one, timing wise, worked out. I love that city, and so any excuse I can get to get to Chicago, I’ll do it. And I’ll get to meet a bunch of people. It should be a lot of fun.
G2M: The Wizard World convention started as a comic convention, but like many of this type, it has expanded to include all of pop culture. So my question is, how does it feel to be a prominent part of pop culture right now?
Ralph Macchio: It’s interesting. I get asked that and it just feels odd to me that a comic con came to me. They have a bunch of times over the years, and for whatever reason it didn’t time out, but I didn’t understand the concept of someone coming to me, and not like someone who wrote Superman. Or who played some X-Men character. And so it didn’t make sense.
But as time has gone on, when you look at some of these films that I was fortunate enough to be in, whether it be “The Outsiders” becoming a cult-classic - in it’s way and certainly that cast of actors - and “The Karate Kid” for that matter, being certainly a character that’s become somewhat iconic. Speaking to the fact that people feel like they grew up with that character, it’s part of their childhood.
And even now “My Cousin Vinnie” and some of the others, I now fall in a category where you represent a part of someone’s life, a part of someone’s upbringing, that they connected to. With “The Karate Kid” especially, there’s been so many references, and visual images from that film, you know? Who knew that “Wax on, wax off” would become part of the American lexicon? That “Sweep the leg, “Put him in a body bag,” the crane kick, would be something that spans thirty years of time? That generations still knows what it means?
G2M: Speaking of “wax on, wax off” you had a little bit of fun with that with your “Funny or Die” bit -
Ralph Macchio: Yeah, I love that video. (laughs) I had a good time with that. I pitched that to them. I’ve always been asked to play either versions of myself, or poke fun at myself, and I just always knew if I was going to do it, it was going to be on my terms. So I was able to do that and put a great team together and made what I think is a really funny and smart video.
G2M: And how did the bit with Robot Chicken come about?
Ralph Macchio: That came about because Seth Green and those guys just called up. And so many people had done it, sometimes I hesitate because you have to be careful it doesn’t become a tired, one-joke idea. But the Robot Chicken guys, they’re very clever, and asked if I wanted to do it. I had just done “How I Met Your Mother” which sort of touched on “The Karate Kid” legacy, and Neil Patrick Harris’ character’s hatred for me, which I got to share a whole night at his bachelor party, was a whole lot of fun.
So that stuff, when it comes up and it’s smart, I think it’s really worth doing. I think the fans really love it. Just like this comic-con thing. They love to hearken back to that time and connect. It makes you present and feel young again, that’s what it is.
G2M: Since you bring it up, I have to ask: seriously, how do you do it? How do you stay so young looking? Because if you have a secret, you can make a lot of money off of it.
Ralph Macchio: I know, I have to come up with this sort of fictitious product. I need to find one. Yeah, I’ve gotta blame it on my parents, I guess and my grandparents. I sort of tipped the scale (laughs) I break the mold in the youthful appearance thing. It doesn’t always feel that way when I get out of bed in the morning -
Ralph Macchio: I said that in the (Funny or Die) “wax on” video. Maybe I should go with a face cream or something. I do live a decently healthy life. But that doesn’t mean I pass on every alcoholic beverage and glass of wine that comes my way. I enjoy indulging here and there, so maybe it’s that. Maybe it’s moderation, I don’t know. But I’ve always had that youthful energy. I don’t always feel it, my wife and kids are like “why don’t we get that guy that everybody else sees?” (laughs)
Ralph Macchio: Sometimes I’m crotchety, angry, curmudgeonly, you know I do have that side. I don’t always show it.
G2M: You bring up your kids, and I know you were recently seen on the red carpet with your daughter Julia at the premiere of her film. Has she gone “dad I really hope I get these forever young genes from you so I can have an extended career”?
Ralph Macchio: Yes, but she says “I want to look as young as possible but I wish I looked more like mom and less like you.”
Ralph Macchio: (laughs) I don’t think she hates the fact, but yeah, she looks like my daughter. My wife and I don’t look that far (apart), we’re both, you know, dark hair from Italian. And I have a little Greek mixed in me, that Mediterranean look. We’re all trying to keep the young thing. We’ll see what happens. I’m still expecting one day I’m just going to wake up and be bald, fat and grey. I’m trying to keep it going as long as I can.
G2M: Just don’t go into the attic and find that portrait of yourself -
Ralph Macchio: Dorian Gray, yeah I’ve heard that. I don’t wanna find that. It’s kinda fun. I even poke fun at that in the (Funny or Die) video. In the video I’m with the hooker and she says “why don’t you come back when you turn eighteen?” And I’m banging her to make her believe I‘m in my late forties and she just won’t buy it. It’s fun. To me, in life, if you have a sense of humor about it that’s how you deal with anything. Pros and cons. Not every day is it that easy. You try to strive for that. That’s kind of the goal.
G2M: Speaking of having a sense of humor, not too long ago you had a role on “Psych” where you played a police officer. And “Psych” is known for refereeing the 80’s. And yet, with you on it, I don’t remember a single “Karate Kid” reference. Was that intentional?
Ralph Macchio: No, there was one. There are actually two. Ironically you mention this. I just got back from Vancouver from shooting another episode of “Psych.”
Ralph Macchio: And so it’s gonna be on this season. It’s an “all-star” episode. They brought back like eight or nine fan-favorites and I made the cut. It’s a really funny episode. It’s a remake of an episode from their first season. They’ve actually remade this episode called “Cloudy With A Chance of Murder” and now it’s called “Cloudy With A Chance of Improvement.” So I just got back from doing that. It’s a courtroom drama.
But that “Psych” episode that you’re speaking of, James Roday says “I don’t mean to go waxing on about it but” as a throwaway. It’s really fast. And another one I yell at the two guys and I say “do you understand me?” And then they quietly say “yes sensei” under their breath. So they were able to slip those in there. I think there was an “Outsiders” one too. They’re really clever. Those guys are great. And I have a good time. We’re good friends. Dule’ (Hill) and Roday, those are very talented guys.
G2M: I was hoping that this would lead to you having a recurring role on the show.
Ralph Macchio: Yeah, you’re always looking for that. And it’s the ebbs and flows of the industry, you know. I was on “Ugly Betty” and got about eleven episodes out of that show. We had a good time when we shot at New York. And it’s fun coming in when it’s smart, like in “How I Met You Mother” or “Psych.” It’s finding that recurring and/or series regular role, which is the mother lode everyone looks for.
In between, myself, I just directed a film with Karina Smirnoff, the girl I danced with on “Dancing With The Stars.” Marsha Mason is in the film and this young actor Ben Hyland. It’s called “Across Grace Alley”, and we’re going to launch at film festivals this fall. It’s starting to get accepted.
I take a lot of what I’ve learned from some of those filmmakers, Francis Coppola or John Avildsen, and Todd Holland who directed the video. I take what I’ve learned over the years, and I put my storytelling hat on, and write and direct as well. And produce as well. So you balance it, jump in front of the camera when it makes sense. And you’re behind the camera if I could figure it out.
G2M: I see you had a production called “A Little Game”?
Ralph Macchio: Yes, “A Little Game,” Olympia Dukakis is in that. And F. Murray Abraham and Janeane Garofalo plays my wife. And Rachel Dratch is in it as well. It’s an indie film we shot in New York last September, a little bit less than a year ago. I think they’re just finishing up the editing. It’s a charming story. It was fun to work with some of those veterans.
That’s the great, I mean, in the film (Across Grace Alley), (you’ve got) Marsha Mason. I’ve seen “The Goodbye Girl” fifteen times and people forget she was nominated for four Best Actress Oscars, and there I was directing her and telling her what to do. It’s kinda fun. (laughs) I would step out (from behind the camera) I would say “hm” I’d say something after her and she did it. It’s kind of fun to connect with people you grew up with.
G2M: What’s your role in “A Little Game”?
Ralph Macchio: I play a character whose name is Tom Kuftinec. It’s a story about a young, ten year-old girl, who is struggling with being an exceptionally smart child from sort of a working class (family). I play a super of a building in New York. And the parents are trying to do all the right things for her, and put her in a specialty school, but she doesn’t quite fit in as this isn’t PS 51. And along the way to this new private school she meets this older guy in the park, F. Murray Abraham, and he’s always playing chess in the park. He teaches her a little bit about life. He’s the Mr. Miyagi to her young, coming-of-age story. And I play the dad who’s trying to answer all those questions that a ten year-old would bring to him when he’s struggling to make ends meet, and give the best to his kids.
It’s very sweet, charming coming of age (story) with a little magical element there. It was a fun part to play.
G2M: With social media there’s a lot of talk about cyber-bullying, and bullying in schools in general. I know one the themes of “The Karate Kid” was how Daniel Larusso learned to deal with his bullies. If you can step into that headspace, how would the Karate Kid deal with cyber-bullying today?
Ralph Macchio: That’s an interesting question. Not to go too far off track, I developed a show which never got to air, which was sort of a realty-based show on bullying; and dealing with how it’s changed with social media. It’s faceless, you know? The bully is faceless these days. It’s not just stealing your lunch money, and pushing you into a locker. It’s far more complex.
How would the character Daniel Larusso deal with present day bullying? The only thing I could (say) - in trying to wrap my head around this both as a parent and someone who is asked the question playing that role - is the role of the bystander really needs to change. There’s no room for anyone to sit and watch. Or have knowledge of and not take some form of action.
It’s so complicated now because of social media. And sometimes it’s the parents who are the bullies. It’s faceless, it’s as covert as it gets, and challenging and difficult.
But I think my biggest advice is if anyone sees something has to say something, has to take some form of action. I remember as a kid myself seeing a kid get picked on in the lunchroom, and whatever, simple as that not saying it, and wondering why I didn’t try to impart some help or support. That’s a tough question because it’s a very complicated and difficult issue.
G2M: The Karate Kid had 3 films with 3 different love interests. Which one did Daniel Larusso finally settle on?
Ralph Macchio: Oh that’s a good one. I’ve never been asked that one before. That’s right, you had Elizabeth Shue in the first picture. You had Tamlyn Tomita as the little Asian Girl (Kumiko) in the second. And Robyn Lively- she was sort of just a friend. We never got a kiss out of that one. He got a kiss out of the first two. Who would Larusso wind up with? Wow.
Ralph Macchio: That’s a good one, because of virtue by the writers, they had Ali - she’d probably be so mad at him they’d never get back together. Maybe he goes back to Okinawa and marries the Asian girl. I don’t have a clue man. But that’s a good question. I like it. Maybe he finally gets in on with the Robyn Lively character because they never - you know she just kissed him on the cheek. How empty was that?
G2M: Yeah, after all the stuff he went through, especially.
Ralph Macchio: That’s right. Although that movie had so many problems with the script back then. The first one was by far my favorite of the three, although the second one I felt was a very worthy sequel. But the third one, what often happens, and always happens in Hollywood, they try to squeeze water out of a rock. And then they made another one. And then they remake it. But the first one was magic, it really was.
G2M: Where can people interact with you on social media?
Ralph Macchio: Yeah, I think Twitter is good. (@RalphMacchio) I don’t do much Facebook, occasionally I put a post up. Twitter is great. I connect out there. It’s fun.
I just had some fun last night. I was at a ballgame in Baltimore with my son who is looking at colleges. And there was someone in front of me who was maybe unsure of who I was, so she’s Googling me on her phone. So I took a picture of her and we put that out there and got a great response. That’s the fun part of it. That’s a fun way to connect.
And it’s a great way to promote projects you have; something indie projects, or smaller projects that don’t have the big press machine. You have a chance to bring people to the table. If you have a film festival or a screening, you can say come one down. Just like we’re doing in Chicago next weekend. When I get to town, I’ll hit people up and hopefully we’ll have a good time.
Ralph Macchio will be appearing at the Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con this weekend. Visit WizardWorld.com for more info and to purchase tickets.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun