Ralph Macchio just turned 61. Let that sink in: 61. And here he is, looking great and riding the wave that is Netflix’s Cobra Kai, the blockbuster Netflix series that centers on Daniel LaRusso, the character he originated in 1984’s The Karate Kid and played again in The Karate Kid Part II, and The Karate Kid Part III. On Cobra Kai, which recently concluded its fifth season, Daniel is married with two kids and trying to pass the wisdom and karate moves that he learned from the late Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) to the next generation. He’s friends now with former enemy Johnny (William Zabka), and together they contend with a pair of familiar baddies, John Kreese (Martin Kove) and Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith).
Macchio’s renaissance is the stuff of memoirs and – guess what? – he’s written one. Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me was published on October 18 and was instantly a New York Times bestseller. In the book, Macchio recounts his upbringing on Long Island and his experiences making The Outsiders, The Karate Kid, Crossroads, My Cousin Vinny, and Cobra Kai; waxes philosophical about the ups and downs of a career and the fact that he doesn’t seem to age; and muses about the importance of family, blood and chosen. Fatherly recently spoke to this easygoing dad to talk about sharing the screen with his own daughter, his true feelings about Karate Kid III, and why the Miyagi-verse could be the next big thing.
Once you decided to write a memoir, what was the process like?
A lot of people have been commenting, “Boy, your memory is impeccable. Do you have a super attention to detail?” Certain things are just galvanized in my mind. I remember those days. There's plenty of stuff that’s very blurry and I don't have the facts on, but I didn’t write about stuff that was blurry. I wrote about the stuff that really stood out and stayed with me for decades. That's how I built on those pieces and defined what I was feeling at the time. I always went back to, “What was the Ralph of it all? What was the Daniel LaRusso of it all? What was I feeling, going through this?” That's because I wanted the book to be honest and truthful in the journey. It started with writing some chapter titles down and then writing little paragraphs as to what those chapters would be. The challenge was, “Okay, now you’ve got to deliver on the promise of it.”
There were days that were frustrating because I had so much I wanted to say, but I didn't quite know how. Then, I’d get these little pearls that popped. The beauty is that Daniel LaRusso is still living and breathing, just like the Ralph of it all is. Because of Cobra Kai -- the relevance and multigenerational interest in the Karate Kid universe --, there was so much to write from different perspectives, be it the behind-the-scenes of making the film, what that experience was like when the movie came, some of the lean years after and how I navigated that, until today, and the success of Cobra Kai. It felt like a unique story to tell that only I can. That was pretty inspiring. It kept me going. I wanted to do it myself, obviously with a good editor and a good publishing company, and here we are. It’s being nicely embraced, and that's quite rewarding.
What was the anecdote you explore in Waxing On that you weren't sure you wanted to share, but ultimately felt you needed to include?
The Karate Kid III story always took some hits from me, in my opinion of what that film and what the experience was because I felt it never forwarded the character of Daniel LaRusso. It was nothing against my castmates. I felt it abandoned Part II’s love story and made it like they never existed. In the end, it got a little too big and cartoony for me, personally. What's interesting, and this might not be answering your question exactly, but that realization going forward of how those stories and those characters – say, Terry Silva, or Mike Barnes -- have given so many levels and layers to Cobra Kai that without them, we might not have as much story and success as we have today. It was eye-opening. What Jon, Josh, and Hayden did with Cobra Kai, having the wonderful Thomas Ian Griffith, Sean Kanan, and Robyn Lively, actors from The Karate Kid Part III, come into this show with more backstory, enhances the whole narrative of what Daniel LaRusso is going through. It actually enhances my character years later from something I thought was a shortcoming back in 1989.
One of the big surprises with Cobra Kai is that it's a family show. It's as much about the families of Daniel and Johnny as it is about Daniel and Johnny making peace, Miyagi Do versus Cobra Kai, etc. How important is that family element to you?
Very. When you look at the core of The Karate Kid, that wonderful screenplay by Robert Mark Kamen and the direction by John Avildsen, the themes are woven in at the foundation of Cobra Kai. It’s fathers and sons, single parenting, bullying, mentorship, coming of age, and good over evil. It's super-important to not let go of those, and that's why the show works. The fact that everyone cares so much -- the writers, crew, and certainly all the actors -- it's a testament to not losing sight of those themes from 1984. Mr. Miyagi was the ultimate mentor and father figure for any kid going through the ups and downs of adolescence, coming of age, and overcoming obstacles. That's what I wrote in the book. The simple line, “You're the best friend I ever had” is honestly my favorite Daniel LaRusso line from the movie. That's family right there. He’s a friend, not his father, but it's still this sense of belonging to a family.
What do you hope Pat Morita would think of Cobra Kai? And what's it like for you, in essence, to be the present-day Miyagi/Pat Morita?
He’d love the show. He would. Conceptually, it’d be a different show if Miyagi were alive, but (Morita) would embrace that, because he loved -- as I did, and do -- the love from the fans for these characters and the impact the film had. “Impact and Inspiration” is a chapter title, and one of my favorite chapters, because it tells the story of how fans have been impacted and inspired. Being the Miyagi of today? There's something bittersweet about that because, in the first few seasons of Cobra Kai, I remember the magic happening, as I call it, the soulful magic of working with Morita in that role, and the fact that he's no longer here. John Avildsen is no longer here. Jerry Weintraub is no longer here. That’s bittersweet, but I also feel the responsibility to help carry that torch forward. I have 12-year-old kids stopping me on the street, who know who Mr. Miyagi is, and asking, “Was he a cool guy?” It's wonderful to have the next generation teed up, to carry on that legacy. It's very unique and special.
Speaking of the next generation, your daughter Julia played Daniel’s cousin in an episode and gave Daniel and his wife Amanda a serious parenting lesson. How much of a proud dad moment was that?
I was beyond proud, equally as proud as it was coy and prideful by the writing staff to enjoy having my own daughter question my parenting skills. They had a good time. They got to say anything they wanted, and they had way too much fun. It was awesome. She knocked it out of the park. I was so proud. She was coming onto a show her dad is on, and she wasn’t just a piece of window dressing; they wrote her a real character. It was a proud papa day, that's for sure, and it's nice for her to be part of the Karate Kid universe now. The movie came out long before she was born, and she gets to be a part of it. Both my kids and my wife as well, and my parents for that matter… I’ve had cheerleaders up and down at Camp Macchio.
How ready are you for more of this Miyagiverse? There could be additional seasons of Cobra Kai, spin-offs featuring the younger actors…
As long as it is enhancing these characters, and telling a thought-provoking story while staying on point… As long as it’s good entertainment storytelling and something people enjoy… Look at Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Look at how well Top Gun: Maverick was received. It was beautifully done. They did everything right. You have a whole new next generation that you care about, but it's built into a world you enjoy. We have that opportunity and we have the heads behind it that care. Your writers and creators really have to care that it's being handled properly. I think it could go on in different incarnations, so why not?
Cobra Kai streams on Netflix.
Waxing On is out now from Dutton Books.
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