There was a time in Ralph Macchio’s life where he couldn’t imagine playing “ Karate Kid ” protagonist Daniel LaRusso ever again. After three films, Macchio didn’t think there was more to add to the story, and he wanted to flex his acting chops with other roles.
“People think I live in Newark, New Jersey, and my mom drives a green station wagon, and I have this Japanese American guy who fixes the faucet when I need him,” said the actor, who has a new book out called “Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me,” about his experience making “Karate Kid” and how time helped him embrace the character.
Macchio’s feelings were only reinforced in 2005 when Pat Morita, who played his mentor and father figure, Mr. Miyagi, passed away.
“It just seemed, why dance a solo without my partner? It’s like, you know Abbott without Costello… He and I had something special from the moment he started reading Mr. Miyagi and I would answer back as Daniel. That chemistry was unique and effortless.”
Over time, it was William Zabka, who played Macchio’s “Karate Kid” nemesis Johnny Lawrence, who felt there was more story to tell.
“He was always like, ‘I wonder if there’s a way to bring these two together,” said Macchio.
Macchio was surprisingly intrigued when Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg pitched the idea of “ Cobra Kai,” a continuation series of these characters some 30 years later. After two seasons on YouTube, it was picked up by Netflix where it was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series. Season five is now streaming.
“They just saw how you could open up this world and take the black and white of ‘Karate Kid’ and add all these gray shades of these characters where not everyone is good or bad all the time and your allegiance may change as you learn (character’s) back stories, and that’s really a lesson on how to do it and how to do it right. And then we have this great young cast as well. They’re just incredible. They’re becoming big stars.”
With his book, Macchio is forthcoming about some things he would go back and do differently if he could. When Elisabeth Shue was written out of the sequel after the first “Karate Kid,” he says he should’ve contacted her.
“I was doing a movie called ‘Teachers’ at the time, and then I had ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Karate Kid II’ lined up, and I didn’t stop to think of what that might have felt like for her. So then years later, I look back and I think I would have probably picked up the phone at that point.”
Macchio says he’s always had an appreciation for the impact of “Karate Kid” but writing “Waxing On” amplified that.
“It was even deeper and more poignant as I was writing.”