Ralph Macchio was on Justin Long’s Life Is Short podcast this week, where he spoke at length about his career, from The Karate Kid to Cobra Kai and everything in between. It’s interesting to hear Macchio talk about his leaner years, basically from My Cousin Vinnie in 1992 to The Deuce in 2017 and Cobra Kai in 2018, since it sounds like The Karate Kid was both a blessing and a curse. He is mostly known for the The Karate Kid, which is great, but it also prevented him from landing a lot of other roles because casting directors didn’t want to hire The Karate Kid because it’s all that audiences would ever see. For Macchio, he said, it was like being “frozen in time.”
In fact, he remarked that he struggled even to land his role in My Cousin Vinnie for that very reason, although he was fortunately able to beat out Will Smith and Ben Stiller before his career started to decline. He also said that, though he has always been grateful for his fans, it’s a lot easier to stomach strangers shouting his iconic The Karate Kid lines at him now that Cobra Kai has resurrected his career. In fact, he told Justin Long that his car is always dirty because he refused to wash it out of fear that someone would see him pick up a sponge and shout, “Wax on, wax off!”
Now, however, he “embraces” his role. “It’s a very satisfying feeling in our current world to sort of be a ray of light. It’s pretty wonderful to be spreading that kind of joy based on these characters.”
It’s interesting, however, to consider what might have happened if Macchio hadn’t landed The Karate Kid role. After all, before the movie came along, he — along with several other actors in the “Brat Pack” and the movie The Outsiders — was on the rise. Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, and Matt Dillon (among others) weren’t typecast soon after their breakout roles in The Outsiders.
Of course, Macchio wasn’t the only actor up for The Karate Kid, either. As he confessed on Long’s podcast, he saw Jon Cryer in the waiting room when he auditioned for The Karate Kid. Cryer, of course, would star in a series of teen comedies before he had his own lean years, only to have his career resurrected by Two and a Half Men.
Speaking of Two and a Half Men, among the three other big-name actors who auditioned for The Karate Kid was Charlie Sheen.
“I was found early,” Macchio told Jimmy Fallon earlier this week on The Tonight Show. “I was cast very early, but it was like one of those test deals where you’re not in yet. I remember walking by and seeing Charlie Sheen hanging out outside [producer] Jerry Weintraub’s bungalow, thinking, ‘What’s Charlie doing here? [He] doesn’t look like an Italian guy from Jersey!’”
It wasn’t just Sheen and Cryer, however. There was also “Nic Cage, I think, and Robert Downey Jr.,” Macchio told Fallon. “Robert Downey Jr. also did the workshop of the part I did in The Outsiders.”
Imagine Cage or Downey, Jr. being cast in The Karate Kid, and then imagine those careers more or less dying for three decades because they were never able to shake the typecasting. All of which is to say: being cast as Daniel LaRusso may be the best thing that ever happened to Macchio; being passed over for the role, however, may have also been the best thing to happen for the careers of RDJ and Nic Cage, as well.