Ralph Macchio, WAXING ON

Ralph Macchio, WAXING ON

Zibby is joined by actor Ralph Macchio to talk about his new memoir, Waxing On, which takes readers through his life from The Karate Kid to Cobra Kai. Ralph shares how he has navigated the changing seasons of his career, what he likes to do with his family when he’s not acting, and the responsibility he feels while continuing to develop such an iconic character in new ways. The two also discuss 1980s nostalgia and Ralph shares a few of his favorite Miyagi-isms.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Ralph. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me.

Ralph Macchio: Thank you. Great to be here. I appreciate the time.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. As a child of the eighties — I’m forty-six. Everything you went through in this book, I was like, yes, that. Yes, the 1986 Mets. Yes, that movie. Yes, everything. Thank you for the flashback there.

Ralph: I felt it was so timely to tell a story that only I could tell, which is what it was like from the incarnation of getting the call to audition for this little movie with a silly title and where it’s taken me up until today. It’s still evolving. It’s really what I’ve learned from it, what I’ve gained from it, things I would’ve maybe done over but never, never looked down upon, and then a little of the untold, behind the scenes, the making of, and all that stuff. I’m excited. I’m excited for people to hopefully go out and read it.

Zibby: “Daniel with an L,” didn’t even know that wasn’t part of the script.

Ralph: That’s right. That was a throwaway. I was like, how come she gets a line? It’s interesting. When you talk about “Allie with an I, Daniel with an L –” I tell that story of the audition with Elisabeth Shue and the great director John Avildsen, who directed the original Karate Kid films and Rocky, to name another little one that still stands the test of time.

Zibby: I’ve heard of it.

Ralph: He wanted to create comfort. I was so nervous, not first auditioning for the movie, but auditioning with the love interest. It was all new for me. I was trying to be like the guy who’s had many girlfriends my little false bravado, East Coast cockiness. That became part of Daniel LaRusso. His sweetness is always there, but he had this — that “Daniel with an L” adlib, as small as it is, was part of the exploration of nuance of character. I credit John with that and, obviously, Lisa Shue. It’s one small, little story.

Zibby: After you mentioned in the book, the YouTube test reels, I had to go back and watch those too.

Ralph: I thought that was good. It’s like a visual aid that you get with a hardcopy.

Zibby: I watched. My kids are like, “What’s wrong? It’s so grainy.” I’m like, “This is from the eighties.” It was a whole movie, basically.

Ralph: It was. There was a big JVC camera. He would always have his camera like this. No matter what we did, he was always videotaping the experience, the exploration of just existing. That’s a great filmmaker. That’s why you have these characters that still resonate all around the world. It’s really quite remarkable.

Zibby: I found it really interesting — you talk, of course, about the fame and what it was like in the backseat of the movie and even watching the premiere coming out. All of a sudden, you were overnight celebrity, even though you had obviously been in The Outsiders and everything. That, I kind of expected. I was totally interested. I wanted to know what it was like. What I didn’t expect was the parts when you were talking about trying to find your footing after that period of time and trying to find your way into roles and how you felt like you were so typecast. How could you get around being the karate kid and actually find new roles? What that felt like to you at that time, can you talk a little bit more about that?

Ralph: The book is broken up into — it’s partially by design, but it works out that the first third is really about getting the part and the making of the movie and the behind-the-scenes, untold stories of how this happened. How did we catch that fly with chopsticks? It looked easy, but it wasn’t. And some of what I was feeling and all the experience of that. The second act, if you will, is after the crane takes flight after that summer of ’84, the success and then the ebbs and flows of it all and the dry times or the lean years. Then the last third is the lessons of the experience. After My Cousin Vinny — I started feeling it before then, but certainly after My Cousin Vinny, things kind of dried out. Even getting the part in My Cousin Vinny, and I write to this, was not easy. The studio didn’t want me. I was off the list. Italian guy from New York, Joe Pesci’s cousin, no, he’s not right. It’s like, no, I think he might be right. I was starting feeling that even before that point. It was frustrating. It was challenging. Looking young for my age, I talk about that too, that frozen-in-time element that is the essence of me being tied to this role, and then looking young for my age. I had a double-edged sword trying to navigate to the next chapter, if you will. Pun intended. It was hard at times. It was challenging to make sense of it. I understood it. It wasn’t challenging to make sense of it because I did understand it, but you still want to be able to control your own destiny there. As an actor, unless you’re creating it yourself, it’s very hard to control that. I needed to learn. Being someone who likes to control things and needs to release my grip, I’m still working on that today.

It became about, how could I fulfill myself creatively? How could I provide for my family? How could I do all these things and still not get sucked under? I never went down the path where I fell down the slippery slope. Most memoirs are about that, the crash and burn. How did I climb out? It’s a redemption story. I joke that I am the anti-E! True Hollywood Story. I’ve been married thirty-five years. My kids are awesome. We all have our things. We’re normal. We have our challenges and arguments and such, but we navigate through it. The foundation is strong. It’s a Miyagi-ism. The roots are strong. You let the tree grow. The book has that in it too. To answer your question, I’ve been gifted the blessing of this role, not to mention my entire career that has now become so relevant. It’s never gone away, but it is at another level. That’s why it just seemed the right time for this book. When I walk down the street, I have fourteen, twelve-year-old kids — they’re the ones running up. They see this show. Then they back themselves into the movie. They watch it with their parents or their dads or their moms. It’s a legacy I am so proud of and feel blessed to have been given the gift of that opportunity. It’s quite a unique journey. I survived the dry times by always keeping one foot in, one foot out, and balancing it. There’s another Miyagi-ism. See, I tie it all .

Zibby: I like it. Full circle.

Ralph: It’s a great script by Robert Mark Kamen. He deserves the credit. He wrote that in the original Karate Kid film. There’s life lessons throughout the whole thing that are still bearing fruit to this day.

Zibby: It’s so true. I have to say, Cobra Kai is amazing, as you know. It’s so genius the way you use the old clips and you and the dynamic. It’s just amazing. Every show should do this. It’s so well-done. It’s genius. Really awesome.

Ralph: The guys who created it, they’re super Karate Kid fans. It’s the only way to do it. You have to care. You really have to care. It’s not just a cash grab. It’s really, how could we enhance this and keep the legacy going? Every actor who’s comes in from the original film franchise, they just knock it out of the park, one better than the other. It’s really pretty awesome.

Zibby: It’s so cool. To go back to a Miyagi-ism, if you will, about balance, you were saying even the crane pose, it requires so much. That’s how you had to approach your own life and your family and everything. You just said quickly as an aside, oh, yeah, I was married thirty-five, which I feel like I would like to have an entire podcast just talking about, to be honest. What is the secret to that, not only balance with the intensity of your career and the ebbs and flows of that, but sustaining the same relationship that you’ve had — you were dating your wife when you went to the premiere of Karate Kid. You guys have been through, I can’t even think. What is the secret there? What are some of the lessons that everybody else should take back to their own marriages?

Ralph: A decent amount of credit needs to go to the partner. My wife Phyllis, a big amount of credit goes to her and being that person who can deal with the fame part of it and walk in lockstep and support throughout. Not everyone can do that. She’s a nurse practitioner. She is a caregiver. She is a people pleaser, people person, way more so than I am. I’m a little more selfish, a little more, me, me, me. Not totally, but we balance each other. There was certainly times and days and weeks and months that were more challenging than others, but it’s always — I’m not going to say eye on the prize, but this eye on the importance of the foundation of what we are as a couple when all the crap isn’t there. It’s the focus on knowing what that is, so knowing the minutia and all the crap that’s thrown at you day to day in navigating this thing called life that is so challenging, and raising kids. Our biggest arguments were always about raising the kids. Everyone’s doing that for the first time. You could have the manual and whatever you want. You’re going to fail constantly. I have. She has. At the end of it when you clear away all the dust and the fog, if you believe in what that foundation is and what that couplehood is and what life is together, that galvanizes the focus point and clears it up. Then you open a window again, and there’s old crap. It gets in the way. This bothers you. That bothers you. It’s not easy. It’s not easy, but being blessed with the right person is a good start.

Zibby: Yes, there’s the hack.

Ralph: That’s the disclaimer that says, oh, I just didn’t fix it for everybody.

Zibby: What did you think about putting in the book but then you were like, no, maybe that’s too personal, so you kept it out?

Ralph: Good question. I would say that that would be — there’s one section where I speak about a point where I was sort of out of balance in my career and life. My marriage and family was taking stress on both. I could have potentially gone into an explanation of what all that was. I chose not to because that would become too personal. That’s not the book I’m writing anyway. It is personal to me and what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling. If I was going to give details about someone else in my life, then it would cross a line that didn’t feel right for this specific book.

Zibby: Got it. That makes sense. If there was a good friend of yours who read the book, do you think this is what they would say about you? Is there some piece of you that is not a hundred percent here, like some part of your sense of humor? You’re obviously very funny. Is there anything you feel like those who know you best don’t see represented? Not a moment like I asked before, but just a piece of you. Not really?

Ralph: I would say something that I probably didn’t dive deep into is that if I get to that point of overwhelm on a day, I do occasionally snap. Not in an insane way. The wind does not stop and go around me. It does affect me. There are those people that I use that analogy. God, your hair’s not even moving. I’m like, I can’t even hang onto my hat right now. I guess if there’s one thing, I’ve come out of it sticking the landing, but sometimes I wobble on impact.

Zibby: That’s good. You’ve had the opportunity to act at every stage of your life. Now you’re in a new show. It’s like a do-over. I know we don’t get a do-over with our kids, necessarily. Although, maybe the younger kids get the benefit, but that’s okay. Anyway, when you’re now in a new show, what are you taking with you? Are you calmer in general about it? Do you feel like the years and all of the past experience have made you even better at this character? Now coming back to it, what does it look like? Is it the same?

Ralph: That’s a good question. Actually, the pressure of — or the responsibility. I won’t even say pressure. The responsibility of a character, this young Daniel LaRusso character who’s represented a piece of people’s childhood, pop culture, impactful, inspirational character, there is a responsibility that I needed to deliver on where that character would have wound up. Not always was that in the script of Cobra Kai. We would debate at times with the creators of the show, who are brilliant and care so much. There would be times where Daniel LaRusso’s actions, from my perspective, would not support how I would have thought he would’ve landed. In the full canvas of Cobra Kai, the reason for that is because then it gets to point A, to point B in the story. It hasn’t been just totally effortlessly easy. It’s been conscious and conscientiously navigated. At the end of it, everyone cares so much that the best foot forward winds up working. That’s a kind of convoluted answer. It wasn’t like, oh, good, I’m playing Daniel LaRusso again. This is a piece of cake. I’ll just be Daniel LaRusso. I have a responsibility. This character’s way bigger than the actor who played the part. He’s meant the world to so many people. It was probably more pressure than I needed to put on myself for it, but it’s because I care. I am protective.

Zibby: I love, even, that you start the show with trying to be generous to a former rival. That’s just great. Why not?

Ralph: Bonsai tree.

Zibby: Bonsai tree. Here, take it. Just take it. So funny. What do you do when you’re not hard at work producing shows and acting and whatever? What do you like to do on the weekends?

Ralph: This weekend, I watched some sports, which was nice in between a lot of these types of discussions. Sometimes not speaking and just watching someone else is kind of refreshing. I’m a sports fan, so I do enjoy — my New York Jets very rarely come out of it, but had a big comeback win yesterday. My Mets lost three in a row to Atlanta. It’s not looking great. Hockey season starts. There’s sports. There’s good food, a nice wine here or there with the food. I really enjoy tasting great wines with different foods, and music, listening to music, all different types, watching sunsets, if I’m going to go there, and sometimes sunrises if I get enough sleep. I still marvel at the fact that we’re on this planet. The sun comes up. It just continues. As crazy as it all is, and difficult and challenging, seemingly more so than ever, it’s nice to just stop and smell the roses, as they say.

Zibby: I was on a plane with my kids over the weekend. I was like, “Isn’t it so crazy that we all just accept that rain is a part of life?” Today, we’re all going to get wet. There’s going to be water from — we’re all just like, yeah, okay. Put up the umbrella. Don’t even think about it. The natural world is so amazing in all of its ways. You just don’t even stop. I agree. Do you feel like the process of writing this memoir is one you would want to repeat? Are you now like, oh, yeah, authors, I get it, I totally want to do this again?

Ralph: There were some days when I was looking at the flashing cursor on my screen just saying, the crane takes flight. How do I start this chapter? Then all of a sudden, something clicks. It does get exciting. Then you find the angle in and how to tell the story, and hopefully visually tell the story. That’s the thing I tried to do as much as I could do, visually tell the story and make it a conversation from me. I’m hearing from folks that that’s coming across. The fact that that is the case, it leads me to want to explore it more, maybe in the world of a children’s book, maybe in the world of a YA book. When I work on Cobra Kai, I really enjoy working with the young actors because I think they’re listening to me. Not that I have all the wisdom and anything else. If there’s one little piece of something I gained from someone I worked with and I could hand off a piece of that legacy, that’s rewarding. I guess that’s what a teacher feels like when you have an impact on someone. I enjoy that. With writing, I’ll know soon enough once the book is actually really out. Hopefully, people buy it and embrace it and it’s a positive thing. I’d love to look at other chapters.

Zibby: It’s great because it feels like a friend telling you the story. You’re so approachable in the way you write it. It’s as if this happened to anybody, that it could’ve just as easily happened. You were just taking us along for the ride.

Ralph: Being honest and, I guess you could use the word humble, but really, honesty is what I wanted to — on the pros and the cons of my journey.

Zibby: And the humor. I liked the humor a lot.

Ralph: I got humor. Self-deprecation is my favorite hobby.

Zibby: That’s great. What advice would you have for people who either want to get into writing or want to get into entertainment and they don’t know what to do? What’s your go-to line for those types?

Ralph: I think that being creative is something you can always do. There should be no reason not to be creative if you feel you have that. Making a living at it is a whole other story, of course. You could be able to reach people through your computer. You could write blogs. You could create your own content. I don’t think anything should deter a person who wants to express themselves. There is that point if you have two kids and your mortgage is out and you can’t make a living at it. Then you might have to do it on the side. I can’t answer that. I say always be creative if it’s in your bones and if you have something to say. It doesn’t make any sense to stifle it, unless it’s, obviously, something detrimental and negative to mankind. That would not be good.

Zibby: That would not be good. Thank you for that. Last question. Book publicity, movie publicity, preference?

Ralph: I’m learning. It is different. It is different because there are more deeper dives. Speaking with you, it’s not your six minutes on a news show to say, hey, here’s a clip, check it out. There’s an up and a downside to, here’s a clip, check it out. The upside is you’re in and out quick. The downside is you’re not really getting the story in. If you want someone to invest the time and expense to read your book or listen to the audiobook or whatever, I think it benefits to get to know a little bit more and feel that you’re looking to further that conversation as opposed to just click on and drop your twenty dollars or thirty dollars or whatever it is. I get it. On that note, I have to do a pre-interview for Jimmy Fallon. Now I have to put on that hat.

Zibby: That’s a much swankier hat, so you go. Thanks for giving me more than six minutes of your time. I appreciate it.

Ralph: It all counts. I appreciate it.

Zibby: No problem. Congratulations. It’s great. Take care.

Ralph: Thanks so much. Appreciate it. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

WAXING ON by Ralph Macchio

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