Ralph Macchio: ‘Karate Kid’ is ‘gift that keeps on giving’

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Ralph Macchio’s memoir, “Waxing On,” is on sale. Photo credit Michael Schwartz

NEW YORK, Oct. 27 (UPI) — Ralph Macchio says he is at peace with the rehabbed image Billy Zabka’s villainous character, Johnny Lawrence, is earning on their Netflix series, Cobra Kai.

“The wonderful writing for Cobra Kai and the beautiful performance by Billy Zabka add layers to that character,” Macchio told UPI about Johnny in a phone interview Tuesday to promote his new memoir, Waxing On.

“That’s what the show does so well. People see us together now and they want us to be partners in streaming heaven,” the 60-year-old actor joked.

“They love to see these guys get along and to see them at each other’s throats because their personalities get in their own way. That’s the fun and the entertainment of it all.”

In the 1984 film classic, The Karate Kid, spoiled California rich kid Lawrence and Macchio’s nice-guy transplant from New Jersey Daniel Larusso were teen martial arts rivals in love with the same girl.

Cobra Kai picks up more than three decades after Daniel beat Johnny at the All-Valley karate tournament and won the heart of Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue).

The critically acclaimed dramedy starts with Daniel and Johnny crossing paths again, only this time Daniel is the wealthy owner of a luxury car dealership and a family man, and Johnny is an alcoholic laborer estranged from his son.

Their unexpected reunion ultimately leads them back to the dojo at which they teach bullied youths their respective styles — Daniel tutors his students in self-defense, while Johnny promotes a more aggressive approach.

Over the course of five seasons, Johnny works hard to be a better mentor, boyfriend and father.

Johnny and Daniel eventually adopt facets of each other’s karate style and even team up to take on common foes.

Macchio noted The Karate Kid took a clear “black and white approach” to good over evil, while Cobra Kai is more nuanced.

“The character [of Daniel] still lives and breathes and means a lot to multi-generations,” Macchio said.

“Daniel LaRusso is clearly the hero of that [1980s] era and he still is. His intentions are always good, even though he slips and falls here and there with his temper or his knee-jerk reactions, but it makes for fun television.”

The actor acknowledged the show has a feel-good quality that seems rare, but welcome among the often cynical or dystopian offerings of today’s entertainment landscape.

“Take a movie like CODA, which won Best Picture. It was certainly overshadowed by other things during the Oscars, we all know,” Macchio said, alluding to how the uplifting story of a young woman torn between her dreams of being a singer and her commitment to her deaf parents was upstaged when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife.

“That was like a movie of yesterday, like Little Miss Sunshine. That sort of wish fulfillment, poignant, dramatic, but a heartfelt story normally doesn’t get made these days unless it is a smaller independent project. But I think there’s room for all of it.”

A new generation

Macchio credits the writers of Cobra Kai for tapping into the nostalgia of The Karate Kid, while making it more contemporary and relevant, particularly in its portrayal of young female karate champions, such as those played by Peyton List and Mary Mouser.

“I have 12-, 13- and 14-year-old kids coming up to me saying this is their favorite show and they know who Mr. Miyagi is,” Macchio said.

“How wonderful is that — to carry that legacy forward to the next generation? And then I have parents thanking me because they have something to do with their kids that everyone loves for different reasons because we have this wonderful young cast in the show.”

The physical aspects of Cobra Kai are helping Macchio continue to feel young, healthy and strong.

“There are more bumps and bruises and sore shoulders and the knees make a little more noise and the hamstrings remind me that they are not 21 any more, but, on the other side, it forces you to stay in shape and then we have these spectacular kids in the show,” the actor said, referring to castmates like Xolo Maridueña, Tanner Buchanan and Jacob Bertrand.

“They all worked very hard to keep that game up there. Thankfully, because the older guys still do it, but it’s nice to watch the young kids spring back so easily.”

A scribe is born

Macchio said he is pleased with the positive reception Waxing On received from critics and fans since it was released last week.

His only reservation about writing the book was that it required him to dive into new waters and develop new skills.

“I wanted it to be honest. I wanted it to sound like me from the get go,” he recalled. “I’d rather have a bad sentence that sounds like me than a brilliant one that sounds like somebody else.”

The married father of two adult children, who has no sordid past to relive on the page, wasn’t concerned about what to include and leave out in his book.

“This is the furthest thing from a salacious tell-all,” he warned.

“It’s very much a celebration of something and a journey of the shoes that I’ve walked in for nearly 40 years and how it’s never gone away and how it’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said about The Karate Kid and Daniel LaRusso.

“I’ve learned lessons through it and have stumbled and skinned my knees a little bit here and there, but always falling forward and moving forward and being positive of the privilege of playing this role and this career.”

Macchio began the task by coming up with pithy titles — like “Becoming the Kid,” “Strawberry Shortcake and the Cannoli” and “The Crane Takes Flight” — for the book’s 12 chapters.

In addition to reflecting on his best-known roles and parts he lost to other actors, Waxing On also details some interactions the Eight is Enough, Crossroads and My Cousin Vinny alum has had with fans, as well as advice he wishes he could give his younger self.

Highlights include his audition for The Karate Kid, his first meeting with Mr. Miyagi portrayer Pat Morita and his attempts to look like he was catching a fly with chopsticks without the benefit of special effects.

“I remember distinctly those moments. They were galvanized in my mind, but there were tons of other moments that are a blur, and they are just not in the book,” Macchio said.

He said he consulted other people involved in his stories and reviewed his early screen tests and auditions, which live on YouTube, to make sure he had his facts straight.

Other details about his career have been repeated to him so often they were easy to remember.

“It meant so much to so many people that it was always being brought up throughout my life. But I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast this morning,” he quipped.

Ŕevisiting The Outsiders

The book tour is giving Macchio the chance to catch up with old friends. He appeared on Rob Lowe’s podcast and alongside young-adult novelist S.E. Hinton at a panel discussion about their books.

Macchio said The Outsiders — the 1983 movie based on Hinton’s bestseller in which he co-starred with Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon and Diane Lane — remains one of his favorite projects to date.

“That one holds the most special place for me. I read that book when I was in seventh grade and I was 12 years old. It had such an effect on me as a kid going through middle school,” Macchio said.

“I just connected to those characters. I felt like they were my friends, and I credit S.E. Hinton, who was just 16 years old when she wrote that book.

“So getting the part in that Francis Ford Coppola movie with all these amazing actors … kindred spirits who all just sort of launched out of that. Johnny Cade is one of the best roles I ever had.”

When his own kids had to read the book for school, he went with them to English class as a special guest.

“I’ve done that a bunch of times. So has Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Francis Coppola. A couple of years ago, I was with Francis in Northern California in a theater with about 400 middle-schoolers talking about The Outsiders,” he said.

The actor said he loves when middle-school kids approach him at fan conventions with copies of The Outsiders in their hands.

“I’ll sign, ‘Stay gold,’ and they just melt,” he said, referring to a line Johnny Cade said just before he dies. “It’s wonderful to still have that. I remind them that I’m their grandfather’s age, but we can keep the secret between us.”

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