He was only 22 years old when The Karate Kid first arrived in movie theaters in June 1984, yet these 38 years later, actor Ralph Macchio is still kicking butt in more ways than one.
Today, Macchio, 60, has an ongoing hit Netflix series on his hands with Cobra Kai and a new book out this week titled Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me. As he continues to bring compelling stories to the screen as his longtime beloved character, Daniel LaRusso, I wondered what it is about this moment in Macchio’s career that made him want to tell his life story now.
Macchio tells me, “Listen, we have something extremely unique and that is a movie that was so impactful back in the day and certainly a character that I’ve been attached to and associated with nearly four decades that is living, breathing and current in media with the Cobra Kai series. [The book is] just a way for me to share what it was like for me, what it has been like for me. The high times, the lower times, the personal journey through a character that has been so inspirational around the world for so long and sort of celebrate that in movies and in pop culture and my own personal life.”
He goes on to tell me that he began writing this book over the past couple of years during the early pandemic, “When the world shut down, seemed like ‘Well, I guess writing is something you can do when you can’t go any place, you can’t eat anywhere,’ so it kind of made sense.”
Not only is Macchio one of the stars reprising their The Karate Kid role for Cobra Kai, he has also been an executive producer over its past five seasons so far. I asked Macchio what has been the best part for him in continuing this nearly 40-year tale with his current Netflix series.
“The best part is reconnecting with William Zabka, with Elisabeth Shue, with Yuji Okumoto – all these great actors from the original film franchise. They come back and the writers do such a beautiful job of expanding their characters and everyone just knocks it out of the park and it adds to the legacy. On top of that, the young cast of our show are so terrific and caring and understanding that they’re a part of this franchise, this universe that came before them. They really carry the torch going forward to the next generation.”
So, what does Macchio hope readers will take away most from reading his new Waxing On book, a title that references one of The Karate Kid franchise’s most iconic “wax on, wax off” movie scenes between Macchio’s LaRusso character and Mr. Miyagi, played by the late actor Pat Morita.
Macchio responds, “Maybe the getting the part [of Daniel] – how that all came to be. The resistance to Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi. The full circle redemption of Elisabeth Shue in Cobra Kai and how that was not handled well in the beginning of the first sequel and just life lessons that I’ve taken with me from making that movie and having that experience. I think those little pieces of myself in conversation, which is how I try to write this. My honest voice going forward that young readers will be able to take away, and also nostalgic moments and a glimpse behind the curtain of a story that only I could tell.”
Beyond his The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai projects, Macchio is also known for other early Hollywood film roles, including The Outsiders (1983) and My Cousin Vinny (1992). With his life-long career working within the entertainment industry, I asked Macchio what he would say he likes more about the creation process in Hollywood today and what he misses most about how the industry was when he was first starting out four decades ago.
“That’s a great question,” Macchio continues. “You know, I love having all the feedback, the playback, the monitors, the seeing of the takes. On the other hand, I miss trusting your director, playing your scene – just being in the moment and then finding out about it later. It’s really interesting – now everything is so immediate with digital technology and everything else.”
As he reflects on his career and after experiencing stardom at a young age, I was curious if Macchio would give his younger self any specific message if he could today, knowing how everything has played out for him up to now, including the years between The Karate Kid films and Cobra Kai when Hollywood was not exactly knocking at his door.
“That goes to the ‘Youth is wasted on the young’ theory. You take things for granted. You try not to take things for granted when you’re younger – you do. Wisdom and time teaches you a bit of that. I would tell myself to stop – stop and smell the roses kind of thing, as lame as it sounds. Stop and look around and just take it all in because there was more than a handful of years, if not a decade and a half or longer, where it was nowhere to be found. I survived it in a very good way and came out on my feet and that’s also something to take away from this book, as well.”
Along with dedicating his book to The Karate Kid’s late director John G. Avildsen and his cinematic co-star Pat Morita, Macchio also dedicated his life story to his wife of 35 years, Phyllis, and their two children, Julia and Daniel. With Macchio turning 61 on November 4, I asked him what he would say are his greatest priorities at this stage of his life.
Macchio responds, “Spending more time with the family, spending more quiet time, which will happen because of the ebbs and flows of the business. Cobra Kai is not going to be out forever. I don’t know if I’m going to be a bestselling author or not – hopefully! Maybe there is more of that in my future and just enjoy the time with my wife and my kids, and just once again, stopping and enjoying the blessings that I have.”
As I began to conclude my conversation with this rather familiar actor to now multiple generations of fans, I wondered what message Macchio might have for the people who plan on reading his new book, both supporters that have been around to follow his career since the very beginning and those younger generations that have learned about Macchio and his Hollywood legacy through the evolving storytelling on Cobra Kai.
“The message is here’s a little piece of everyday me and my journey as this guy we all get to celebrate, meaning Daniel LaRusso. Hopefully, I come across as honest and humble. It’s the fans that have kept this journey alive. In the case of The Karate Kid, even I look at The Outsiders and some of these other projects, there is such a love from the fans for these stories and these characters. I’m the lucky guy that got the parts and they’ve kept it alive and I thank them for that.”