Previously Known For: As Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid, Eugene Martone in Crossroads, Bill Gambini in My Cousin Vinny and Johnny Cade in The Outsiders
|Currently Known For: Dancing with the Stars, The Deuce, and Cobra Kai|
“There’s an audience out there for all these different types of things. Whether it’s comedy, motion-picture drama, family movie or a cool, cutting-edge indie, it’s nice to know that I can span all those different genres.” The son of ranch owners, Ralph George Macchio was born on November 4, 1961 in Huntington, New York. Inspired by his mother’s love of old classics like The Million Dollar Movie and Casablanca, Macchio was captivated by cinema and storytelling, which is what motivated him to take a handful of theater and dance classes as a child. Realizing he wasn’t a terrible actor, Macchio stuck with it and made his acting debut at 19 years old in a handful of commercials for Bubble Gum and Dr. Pepper.
Fortunately, it didn’t take Macchio long to break out of commercials and into the film business as he made his feature film debut in Up the Academy in 1980 and followed up with a recurring role on Eight Is Enough. Then, after honing his talents in television films like High Powder and Dangerous Company, he saw his career blossom when he was cast as Johnny Cade alongside Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze in the 1983 coming-of-age drama, The Outsiders.
“What’s interesting is I read that book when I was 12, cover to cover. The Outsiders was required reading,” Macchio said t. “So, it was a dream come true to be in that film and get that role. We all felt like we were in the coolest movie ever and Francis Ford Coppola, one of the greatest filmmakers of our time, was directing… It’s nice to be involved in something that reinvents itself with every generation and has that kind of lasting power, and I do not take that for granted… That role for me was like your first love, your first girlfriend, your first kiss—you never forget it, and Johnny Cade from The Outsiders gave that to me.”
Forever grateful for his chance to work on the film, even bigger things were on the horizon for Macchio when he auditioned for and won the part of Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid. “I was always in first position, but they were putting me through so many hoops and I was the only one around,” Macchio recalled. “I knew that Charlie Sheen was a backup candidate. I knew Robert Downey Jr. at the time was, but it was always me and whoever else they were looking at for the other role, so I felt pretty good. So, when I got the call, maybe I was a little cocky, like, ‘Of course.’”
Macchio gave a stellar performance in The Karate Kid and skyrocketed to stardom as a teen idol with his picture plastered everywhere from magazine covers like Tiger Beat and Teen Beat to movie posters. He reprised his role in The Karate Kid Part II in 1986 and again in The Karate Kid Part III in 1989 and made a smooth transition to adulthood on the silver screen when he joined his friend, Joe Pesci, in My Cousin Vinny in 1992. “We all knew it was a funny script and obviously Joe Pesci was at a peak there with Goodfellas and everything going on,” Macchio recalled. “I had the part that was the least funny, but I had to be in the movie. And I got to say, ‘The two yoots.’ People yell that out to me. I could walk down the street today and someone would yell that out. That and ‘I shot the clerk.’”
After My Cousin Vinny, Macchio struggled to find leading roles on the silver screen and turned his attention to the stage where he earned outstanding praise for his 1996 performance in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. “I was known as the ‘Dancing Kid,’ not that I was all that great, but I had been dancing since the age of three,” Macchio said. “There’s a beauty to theater because you’re presenting the entire piece and you are experiencing it communally together. You give this gift of this tory you’re telling, this character you’re portraying and you receive this gift of acceptance from the audience. There’s something that’s irreplaceable at that.”
Slowly returning to television and film in the new millennium with appearances in Ugly Betty, How I Met Your Mother, Psych and Robot Chicken, Macchio reneged on his promise to never sign on for reality television when he put on his dancing shoes in 2011 for Dancing with the Stars. Partnered with Karina Smirnoff, Macchio finished in fourth place and realized the experience wasn’t as bad as he expected. “I said I would never do that show and it was not my cup of tea at first,” he admitted, “but it was just the right time. I did well enough… I’m an alumni and I’m proud of it.”
Since Dancing with the Stars, the 56-year-old father of two has stayed busy in television and film with his most recent credits including the Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe, The Deuce and Cobra Kai. He also starred in the theatrical production of A Room of My Own, which earned critical praise in 2016, but is happiest cheering on his children especially now that his daughter is on tour with Flashdance and his son is in college. Even so, Macchio still keeps one foot in Hollywood and says he’s mature enough to realize that the early stardom he enjoyed in his teens is incredibly rare, even after all these years. “There was a bit of time where it was overwhelming not getting roles, but as time goes by, as you age you get smarter and wiser with these things and you learn to appreciate it,” he says. “When you consider how few times the magic can work, you begin to realize that it’s a privilege and you’re quite fortunate to have had the opportunity.”
Living with gratitude today over opportunities like The Outsiders and The Karate Kid, Macchio enjoys sitting down to watch The Karate Kid with his own children but admits that he no longer sees himself as Daniel LaRusso and, instead, finds kinship with Mr. Miyagi. “It was interesting to watch the film with them, and for the first time I was relating to the Mr. Miyagi character as the mentor, as the one trying to guide the misguided youth and I kept saying this Daniel character is just a little arrogant in making these mistakes,” he said. And, while Macchio has a few regrets of not being more cunning in going for bigger roles, he hopes his legacy will love on—“That I embraced it wholeheartedly. I was genuine and tried to be as true as I can to the work and understanding and never taking for granted what I learned from it.”