Ralph Macchio left his “Dancing With the Stars” days behind him back in May, when he was eliminated from last season’s competition. But he still has much love for the weekly ballroom battle, even though he has “mixed feelings about the competition element of the show and how the machine works.”
Macchio — who turns 50 next week — recently elaborated on those mixed feelings during a phone interview in which he also discussed which current “Dancing With the Stars” contestants he is rooting for, his daughter’s appearance in an upcoming Kristen Wiig comedy, his recent online video efforts to encourage safe teenage driving and, of course, “The Karate Kid.”
On “Dancing With the Stars”:
It’s been a few months since your experience on “Dancing With the Stars” ended. Looking back, what do you think you gained from that experience?
Macchio: The platform for “Dancing With the Stars” is like none other because — I have mixed feelings about the competition element of the show and how the machine works, quote-unquote. But the performance element and the creating, I loved it. I ran there every Monday night because the audience and the crowd, even on the street, was such a huge groundswell of support from the moment we came out in the first episode. Fortunately, we were at the top of the pack coming out of the gate so I got a tremendous amount of press out of it. And it was also this big nostalgic embrace [from] people who grew up with, you know, “The Outsiders,” “Karate Kid,” “My Cousin Vinny,” and of that time. It’s a great platform because the show wants everyone to do well. It’s a show based on supporting a positive outcome, as opposed to trainwreck TV, which so many of these reality-based shows design themselves around, although they’ll deny it.
I passed on it back, a few years before and I think I probably would have done the same thing again, except they came to me last minute because someone had dropped out. And I felt with the remake of “The Karate Kid” recently having come out and I had this Funny or Die video that I made called “Wax On, [Bleep] Off.” — it was such a big hit for me that I realized the fan base was out there and probably itching to see me in a relevant, current form. And it turned out to be just that, a very positive thing. If I walk down the street today, people love that I did that show. It helps to not suck at it, you know. I was pretty good, even though some weeks I got harshly criticized. For the most part, I think I was a fan favorite and I really enjoyed Karina Smirnoff. We had a great chemistry together. So it was all good at the end of the day.
You said earlier you had mixed feelings about the competition part of it. Because you feel that people sometimes get voted off when they shouldn’t?
Macchio: That, and I still think the judging has the ability to pump someone up or push someone down based on whatever — I’m not saying it’s a fixed agenda. But they do have to carry a 10-week story arc and keep people interested. You’re working your butt off 10 hours a day, every day. No days off, virtually. And you’re putting it out there in this 90 seconds, because that’s all you can control. The rest of the show, you know, that machine is going to run its course.
Obviously, if you’re horrible they’re going to mention that. But there are people that last a long time that are not very great dancers, and there are people that are really good and show improvement that don’t wind up sticking around too long. But you have to know that going in. I hear people getting so angry at the show, like “How could they vote that off?” and “How could they score you that low?” You’ve got to know what you’re watching. It’s entertainment, it’s a competition, it’s a game show, but it’s a chance to represent yourself and work hard. And that’s what I tried to do. I tried to be funny, humorous, self-deprecating and represent myself well — put a positive vibe out there and perform for the fans, because they showed up every week, whether it was on the street or in the studio. That was awesome.
Are you watching the show now?
Macchio: I have been. I’m doing a little bit of the YouTube clips. If I’m home at the time, I’ll watch the whole thing. I’m rooting for Karina, obviously. We felt we deserved to make it to the finals last year, so I always say I brought her to the red zone and maybe this year, this guy [J.R. Martinez] will take her in for the touchdown. And Ricki Lake I think is doing, I think is certainly a candidate.
But that’s as far as dancing goes. Personalities is the whole other part of the show, so we’ll see.
On his series on teens and driving, shot with his son Daniel:
How did the State Farm video series come about?
Macchio: It was a very simple decision because I think it’s such a great cause. I’m a father of two teenagers of driving age. My daughter is 19 and I taught her how to drive, along with driver’s ed — I’ll give them some credit. But driver’s education is not always available in schools, less and less these days. And it’s expensive and many people can’t afford that. Also, research shows that the more the parents are involved in a positive experience in teaching their kids to drive, it creates safer scenarios. This is the No. 1 cause of death in teenagers — it’s car crashes. So if I can help bring that number down, injuries as well as fatalities, it’s just a no-brainer for me.
It’s a program through State Farm — you log on to teendriving.statefarm.com and the program is called Road Trips. And it’s free online and available to anyone, regardless of whether they’re a State Farm customer or not. My son and I are using the program and there are videos of us on there going through the program, and we continue to use it. It provides tutorials and instructions on how to better make use of your practice time, and it also informs the parents. We often overlook. a lot of what are the basics and the fundamentals because we have experience. Just because you have experience driving, doesn’t necessarily mean you have experience teaching how to drive.
How old were you when you got your license?
Macchio: I was 16. I failed once. I got it the second time. My wife passed the first time — believe me, that comes up all the time. But yet she wants me to be the one to teach the kids how to drive because — whatever, I’ve been nominated and I’m happy to do it.
Was your son Daniel hesitant about appearing in these videos with you?
Macchio: No. He’s very comfortable in front of the camera. Both my kids are way too comfortable in front of the camera. I’m fortunate. Both of them are very articulate and fairly level-headed teenagers. I’m blessed to have that. I credit myself and my wife but you also, you know, you don’t know what you’re going to get when you make these kids. I got two good ones. [Daniel] handles himself well. You’ll see in the videos and everyone who checks them out — he calls me on my stuff and comes back at me when I’m a little sarcastic with him, and it creates a positive experience amid trying to learn something that’s very important.
You mentioned that both of your kids are comfortable in front of the camera. Do either of them have interest in acting?
Macchio: My daughter certainly is, very much so. She’s a dance major in college and she just got a part in her first movie, a movie with Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening and Matt Dillon, who I worked with on “The Outsiders.” It’s a couple of lines in one scene but she got her first job and she was able to do it in between classes, so that was nice for her.
Which movie is it?
Macchio: It’s called “Imogene.” I don’t know when it’s going to be released, they’re just editing it now. It’s Kristen Wiig who produces it and she’s just genius. And Julia, that’s my daughter’s name, her favorite movie of this last year was “Bridesmaids” so the fact that she got to be in a scene with Kristen was a big coup for her. And Dad — I had nothing to do with it. Yes, I introduced her to an agent but she did it all on her own.
And my son — listen, they had all their screen time on ”Dancing With the Stars,” and the audience cheering the old man on, so I guess they got a taste of it.
On His Upcoming Projects:
Are you working on any films?
Macchio: I just shot a small independent film called “He’s Way More Famous Than You.” Michael Uhrie, who’s one of the co-stars on “Ugly Betty,” directed it. And he’s in it and I play a pretty funny version of myself. Ben Stiller does the same thing, and Jesse Eisenberg, Vanessa Williams — they’re trying to get it into Sundance right now. So I’m looking forward to that.
That was shot in New York, wasn’t it?
Macchio: That was shot in New York, yes. And then for National Geographic Channel, I have a series that I helped put together called “American Gypsies” — this is from the producing side, behind the camera — about an interesting subculture, a gypsy family in New York. It goes into the inner workings of that subculture in 2011 and how those traditions are still going on and yet there are at a crossroads in dealing with the Americanization of the next generation. That, I think, airs — we have 10 episodes, we’re shooting them now and that will air in the spring.
And hopefully a couple of other bigger announcements are on the horizon, I just can’t say yet. They’re not set.
And, Lastly, On ‘The Karate Kid’:
Is there a day that goes by without someone saying something to you about “The Karate Kid”? I’m guessing no. How often does this happen?
Macchio: Well, if I stay inside all day, then, you know, my kids and my wife don’t reference it. But yeah, listen, that’s something I’ll have forever. It’s an amazing testament to that film and how it’s become pop culture and a sort of — there are catch phrases and images from that movie that have become part of the American lexicon. There aren’t many days that I don’t hear “Wax on, wax off” or “Put him in a body bag.” But then I also will hear, “I shot the clerk” from “My Cousin Vinny” and the “Stay gold” and “Do it for Johnny” from “The Outsiders,” so I was fortunate to be in a couple of movies that decades later, people still reference.
“The Karate Kid” is part of the fabric of who I am, and the remake has only sort of enhanced the relevance of the original. I wasn’t sure about that, and that’s been pretty flattering. And it also informed the whole “Dancing With the Stars” thing. It was just the right timing. Yeah, I hear it all and I act like I’m hearing it for the first time. And everyone who yells out whatever movie catch phrase, they feel they’re the first ones who came up with it, which is kind of hilarious.
When was the last time prior to this phone call that someone yelled a catch phrase at you?
Macchio: Yesterday when I was walking down the street in New York. Someone said my name and, uh, and then saluted with a wax on, wax off. And a bunch of interviewers I’ve done, some have come up with some really obscure ones from the movie.
Macchio: Like, I always hear, you know, to catch the fly with chopsticks — that’s the other thing. If I’m ever in a restaurant and it’s an Asian restaurant and there’s a fly? I just get up and leave. Because I know I’m in for trouble.