The feel-good martial arts flick that turned a Jersey boy and a humble Japanese immigrant into one of the greatest underdog duos celebrates its 30th anniversary on June 22nd. Ralph Macchio opens up to us about his best memories of ‘Karate Kid,’ his props to actor Pat Morita, and why he may have better genes than Rob Lowe.
In all honesty are you tired of being asked about The Karate Kid or being associated with it?
In all honesty? There are days when “Do the crane”, “You really know Karate?” “Were you ever a shower on Halloween?” get a bit tiresome. But as I get “younger” or shall we say “attempt to age gracefully”—when I meet those who were/are inspired by the story or connected personally with the characters; or learn that this film helped shape their childhood; or see parents share with their kids who can all recite so many moments that effected them on a human level—it’s silly not to embrace that and be proud. But as I said, there are days… though I certainly wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s now part of my legacy. And it continues to live on.
Does this upcoming 30th anniversary mean anything to you?
It reminds me of the impact the film has had for three decades and that it continues to resonate across generations… and that I am getting seriously much older.
When you think of the original flick, what are some thoughts/emotions that immediately come to mind?
The magic and yet reliability of the film. The rush of emotion that struck me when first seeing it in a full theater. Everyone doing “the crane” out in the parking lot after… the moment we knew we had something special.
How did you prepare for The Karate Kid? What aspects of it have stuck with you throughout your film career?
We did a tremendous amount of rehearsals that the director videotaped—many available to be viewed on YouTube on director John Avildsen’s YouTube page. Even today, whether I am acting or directing… I like to have that rehearsal time to process and explore. It really served the richness and layers within the characters and the scenes, whether emotional or action-based.
What’s your favorite line?
“You’re the best friend I ever had” for its pure honesty.
What are some favorite memories you have of filming?
Creating the student/teacher – father/son dynamic of Miyagi/Daniel; the Miyagi drunk scene into classical music training montage (probably my favorite transition and sequence); finding and exposing the natural core emotion in the Daniel LaRusso character; pretend-dating Elizabeth Shue didn’t suck… and of course, getting to kick the guy’s ass who clearly would have pummeled me in a real life fight—pretty good, too! Oh, and pulling off the crane as the crowd roared!
Can you tell us something about Pat Morita that many people may not know?
He was six feet tall—okay, kidding. He knew way before I did how special our onscreen chemistry was.
How did your experience in movies differ from that in TV? Which do you prefer?
There’s little that compares with the thrill of a hit major motion picture experience. But I will say, with how studio movies have changed, right now the best writing in Hollywood is in television. Movies will always be movies, and you can never replace that feeling of when the lights go down and the image comes up. But TV reaches such a large audience and so quickly. Which do I prefer? The one with the richest opportunity to do what I love to do. Touch people and tell stories.
What was it like to compete in Dancing With the Stars? Would you do it again?
It was amazing, exhausting, enthralling, frustrating, invigorating, dizzying, and inspiring. That said, I have no intention of doing it again. There is a time and a place… and that was the right time and right place for me! Fan support was incredible. A home run. Then to fill the creative void after it had ended, I decided to write a film role for my dance partner, Karina Smirnoff, and we shot a beautiful short story together (Across Grace Alley).
You’re known for your ridiculously youthful genes. At 52, what’s your secret? (Are you and Rob Lowe related by chance?)
Haha. Yes, Sodapop and Johnny have preserved pretty well, so far. We are entering the “Stay Golden Years” but looking damn good. I blame my parents—good genes. Rob’s a great guy and am thrilled with all of his success. A good man. Though I’m two years older, and he should never forget it!
If you weren’t an actor, what do you think you’d be doing?
As long as I’m creating, I am happy… whether directing, producing, writing, acting … but would kill to be Springsteen for one concert night or Joe Montana for one game. Maybe tasting great wine or eating great food for a living could work.
What are some projects you’re working on now?
My short film, Across Grace Alley (I wrote/directed) with Karina Smirnoff and Marsha Mason has been screening at top-tier festivals this past year, and the distribution date is coming soon. A Little Game is an indie film I did with Olympia Dukakis, F. Murray Abraham, and Janeane Garafalo… awaiting a release date.
A bunch more that are in various stages both in front of and behind the camera. Stay tuned….