Ralph Macchio ‘waxes on’ about ‘Cobra Kai,’ ‘Karate Kid,’ ‘Crossroads’ and new book
I've always been a huge fan of Ralph Macchio. He's had some of the coolest roles ever.
He's played a virtuoso blues guitarist who outplayed Steve Vai and beat the devil in "Crossroads," Joe Pesci's cousin in "My Cousin Vinny," an "Outsider" with Tom Cruise and he's also played in Artie Lange's Beer League, but we know him best as Daniel LaRusso from the Karate Kid trilogy.
And now Cobra Kai, his new book "Waxing On, the Karate Kid and Me."
Ralph Macchio spoke to me about all of it on my New Jersey 101.5 show.
You must hear wax on wax off every day.
"Not quite every day, but it's certainly part of the American lexicon these days. And, now being handed down to the next generation, which is kind of the coolest thing about it. Now on the street, you get 12 and 13-year-old kids that are running up, who know, who Miyagi was and who Ali was an AI is and then they're rooting for their own next-generation karate kids of the corporatized series. So it's really kind of wonderful at this point in my life to see that continue, and that kind of, in a good way, give, bring some joy. In a world, it's not always so joyful. So it's nice to be on that side of it."
My sister teaches 5th grade and one of her students was over the moon after meeting you at a book signing and getting a picture with you. How does it feel to play a character so beloved by different generations after 38 years?
"Well, that's the icing on the cake and the cherry on top. It's interesting: you look back, if you asked me this question, 15 or 20 years ago, I might have had a different answer. Not a negative answer, but just I wasn't sort of ready to embrace it all fully and see the impact over nearly 40 years time and to know that it's — I don't necessarily think we're in the middle of it, but it's still continuing, you know, we're not done yet."
"In a way, a character and a movie. And now a series that, can inspire kids and bring fathers and sons and mothers and daughters to the family room to watch communally, watch something that that all generations can get something from" says Macchio. "It's kind of a nice thing to have. And then you bridge off of that."
"This fifth grader, as you say, but he's probably 10 years old, give or take, you know, then they read 'The Outsiders' in their ... English class. And, they're up late enough though, to watch 'My Cousin Vinnie,' It's kind of fun to, to sort of be kind of relevant to a whole new generation and it's really kind of rewarding and quite unique."
In "Crossroads" you beat Steve Vai in a guitar competition. How hard was it to look like you were playing the guitar?
"I worked hard on looking like I played the guitar, I learned how to play the guitar. And when I say 'play,' I literally just 'play' the guitar. As far as making spectacular music. That's another story."
"Just like any specialty in a movie or a character and a role you take on, you go as deep as you can to create the truth in at all but with being a guitar virtuoso, with three months of rehearsal, not so much gonna happen."
"But I worked really hard at looking like I was playing the instrument and I certainly immerse myself in the blues and even classical guitar at that time, and I still love it."
"I got to keep that Telecaster. I have that guitar," says Macchio. "Literally, just today posted some piece of fan art on my Instagram story that someone had sort of a visionary poster of 'Crossrods' with Steve Vai and myself and lightning coming out of my guitar and fire coming out of his guitar. That's all part of that pop culture relevance that we're touching upon, And it's, yeah, I love being a part of that movie and working with those great musicians and telling them that story."
How is it you never age?
"One of these days I'll write that book. I actually do touch on that in the 'Waxing On' book that is done. So excited with how well embraced it's been and how people really enjoyed those stories. But there is a chapter, I think called 'Frozen in Time,' what it's like to be someone who was, you know, that many people recognize from a certain era and a certain time, and the fact that I decided to age extremely slowly."
"It lends itself to great reward and also some difficult challenges as well. But as far as saying I never age, I don't know about that. If I pull up close enough to the mirror. You may see. But thanks to my parents and my grandparents and my lineage. I have good genes and age maybe a little bit slower than the average bear if you will."
Did you ever dream that the "Karate Kid" could come back and be so relevant 40 years later?
"I wish I could say yeah, it was all my master plan. I was just letting it sit on the back burner until I was ready. No, I write about this in the in "Waxing On" book and I take a dive into the making of the original film as the first part of the book. But then I dive into sort of the afterlife of it all and how it's always stayed relevant and never gone away. But how the Cobra Kai theories work."
"These three great writers who came up with the concept were super Karate Kid fans, and they just really they loved every fabric and every little nook and cranny of all three of those movies more than I do. And then they figured out ways to extend the stories and come in from different perspectives of each of the original characters."
"Certainly the Johnny Lawrence character played so, so well by William Zapka. And, you know, and then bringing back Elizabeth Shue and Tamlyn Tomita, Yuji Okumoto and Thomas Ian Griffith as Terry silver a character, I never thought I'd play another scene within my life."
"Karate Kid III for me personally was never the one ... because I just felt that, you know, it's sort of a little bit abandoned the growth of the Daniel LaRusso character in the movie itself in 1989. Now, today, it bears more fruit than ever, and it opens up all new stories as these guys who write the show in the whole writing team collaborate, diving into the gray areas and the nuances of these people in areas that we don't know. And expand on that. Now you have new stories from characters that you care about, which is the secret sauce, in my view of what why is working and engineers hitting on all cylinders?"
Can you watch The Karate Kid trilogy the same way? Now when you go back or sample it for the first time, knowing all of the development has been written?
"Yeah, it opens up your eyes to the perspective of what characters, what prism, and what angle you're viewing it from," says Macchio.
"The 'Karate Kid' was very classic of that time, very black and white with good over evil and overcoming the obstacles and you followed your protagonist just like you followed Rocky or Marty McFly and back to the future or Daniel Russo in the Karate Kid."
"These were the heroes of that time that you related to, connected to, that you routed for."
"Then all of a sudden, that's what's so smart about what the Cobra Kai creators did, They said, You know what? you take what's Miyagi's line "no such thing as bad student only bad teacher." Right? So that's what was uttered in 1984."
Now you look at that, and you say, OK, so why is this student who was the villain, as in Johnny Lawrence, that there's only a bad teacher? What was the student like? What could this student have been, then you go into his backstory as the kid in, and how he was manipulated by his evil Sensei, and all of a sudden, you have sympathy for Johnny Lawrence."
"Maybe LaRusso a little bit, you know, over gutsy and with his temper, and then here's the attitude, Jersey attitude, all of a sudden, you start saying, hey, maybe he could have dialed back a little bit."
"And then that's, that's the beauty of what's working. And now at this point, now that we're in season five of the series, and I write to this in the book as well, now, that has been sort of, you know, these are these two guys Daniel and Johnny, there are two guys that arguably, could have been friends. If they weren't, you know, one had a good Sensei, and one had a bad sense."
"It's kind of one of those roles were flipped. And now, you, the audience, you know, the audience in the world, for that matter, with the Netflix explosion of this show. want these two guys to work it out and be together and they really enjoy that. And so that's where we are now and it's exciting to see where it's gonna go forward."
I gotta ask you about the relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi compared to the relationship that existed between Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita.
"I spend a decent amount of time talking about that because you know, the original Karate Kid film when you look at it, the Mr. Miyagi character is really that, that secret sauce, that special element, you know that raise that film from being just an 80s teen movie, overcoming obstacles to something special and magical."
"And you know, Pat and I just had an instant connection from the first day we met each other there was a give and take it was a tango and well-written scenes without a doubt, but there were just some other elements that were even beyond the work that we did."
"It was just kind of like a special as the unconditional love we had for each other that just generated across the screen and still to this day, and without that there are no "Cobra Kai" theories because there would have been no Karate Kid movie, you know, it's pretty awesome."
To get "Waxing On The Karate Kid and Me" by Ralph Macchio click here.
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise only. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.
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