Sometimes, Ralph Macchio feels as if he has been frozen in time — that, in the eyes of many people, he is still the same person he was in the early 1980s, when his career was launched by two now-iconic roles.
Macchio was cast as Johnny Cade in the 1983 film adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s classic novel “The Outsiders,” followed the next year by “The Karate Kid,” which would spawn two sequels.
The fact that Macchio looks a great deal younger than his 57 years makes one wonder if there is a portrait of him in some attic that shows the true ravages of life and time.
It’s an idea that makes Macchio laugh.
“I wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated a while ago about this,” he said during a recent telephone conversation. “I wrote about athletes who have this one moment — maybe a great moment, maybe a huge mistake — that everyone remembers, until it becomes the only thing people remember about them.
“And I’m sort of in that same situation, because what people think of about me are ‘The Outsiders’ and ‘The Karate Kid,’” Macchio said. “And, to be honest, it’s a great problem to have. To keep the legacy of these two characters and their stories alive is not a negative.”
Macchio will return to Tulsa to talk about his experiences while filming “The Outsiders” in Tulsa as part of The Brunch, being presented by Arts Alliance Tulsa.
Macchio was last in Tulsa in 2017, taking part in a fundraiser for The Outsiders House.
“I’m going to be able to bring my whole family with me, so I will get to show them the house, have them meet S.E. Hinton, and just have a good time,” he said. “Tulsa and ‘The Outsiders’ mean a great deal to me, because that film was a real labor of love.”
Macchio said he read Hinton’s novel when he was about 12 years old, and was immediately drawn to the character of Johnny Cade, the doomed “greaser” and best friend of the book’s narrator, Ponyboy Curtis (played in the film by C. Thomas Howell).
“Mainly, it was because the way he is described in the book resembled the way I looked — dark hair, the ‘runt of the litter,’ so to speak,” Macchio said, laughing. “I was never the biggest kid in my class, and always looked younger than my age.
“And Johnny is a likable character, something of a victim of circumstances who had some huge obstacles to overcome,” he said. “So there is this heroic, romantic aura to his character that appealed to me as a 12-year-old.”
When filming started on “The Outsiders,” Macchio was one of the older members of the cast.
“I may have looked like I was 14, but in fact, I was 19 going on 20 when we filmed the movie,” he said.
Macchio has returned to his other iconic character — Daniel LaRusso from “The Karate Kid,” in the YouTube series “Cobra Kai,” which picks up the characters of Daniel and his “Karate Kid” nemesis, Johnny Lawrence, played by William Zabka, some 30 years after their first confrontation.
The show, created by Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald, premiered its 10-episode second season on April 29, and filming is to start on the third season in August.
Macchio, who is one of the executive producers on the show, said it was the vision of the show’s creators that prompted him to agree to be part of it.
“I thought it was a smart way to enter this ‘Karate Kid’ universe through the character of Johnny,” Macchio said. In the series, Johnny is a washed-up 40-something who reopens the Cobra Kai dojo, while Macchio’s Daniel is a successful car dealer. The rivalry between the two men is one of the show’s main themes, as they try to find some sense of purpose and balance in their lives.
“I like that they wanted to balance the characters, and explore the grey areas of people who were originally presented as very black or white,” Macchio said. “The timing was right, as well, because these seasons are shot like a five-hour movie that we carve up with these 10 episodes.”
Macchio also was adamant about including allusions to the character of Mr. Miyagi, played by the late Pat Morita, who served as Daniel’s mentor in the films.
“That was one thing I wanted to make sure was woven into the show, because the Miyagi world was the magic that got us here in the first place,” he said. “My character has lost his mentor eight years before, and he needs to find a way to fill that void in his life. Those were for me important facets for the show to have.”