"Karate Kid" Ralph Macchio Grows Into Mature Roles with Magic Hands Freddy

Special Features   "Karate Kid" Ralph Macchio Grows Into Mature Roles with Magic Hands Freddy
Magic Hands Freddy star Ralph Macchio — known for his young roles in the "Karate Kid" movies and "The Outsiders" — is finally breaking free of his youthful pigeonhole and landing age-appropriate roles.
Ralph Macchio during his Karate Kid days
Ralph Macchio during his Karate Kid days

"It took me forever and I'm still breaking out of the youthful roles as I'm in my early forties," revealed the actor. "I was always 19 playing 14, 20 playing 16. And I played 16 for like 30 years. Obviously, I have a sense of humor [about it].

"That's just something that comes with when you're recognized for a style of role and certainly for one character that was such an iconic film character, 'The Karate Kid' — without tooting my horn in any way. Even in films like 'The Outsiders' and 'My Cousin Vinny,' I've always been the youth — or from 'My Cousin Vinny': the 'yout.' So being associated with certain roles and looking young for my age has made for a pretty high hurdle."

It was a hurdle he thankfully didn't have to leap when auditioning for Birdy at the Women's Project Theatre. "I was too old, believe it or not," Macchio explained. His reading, however, impressed casting director Judy Henderson who suggested him for Magic Hands Freddy.

The actor — who still plays the younger brother opposite Michael Rispoli ("The Sopranos") in the new Off-Broadway play Magic Hands Freddy by Arje Shaw — does put it all in perspective. "You know, these are good problems and you have to be positive. Would I like to look too old for my age and not had any success? That's the other option. So, I'll take it."

The new work marks a return to the stage for the New York native who made his Off-Broadway and Broadway debut in Cuba and His Teddy Bear opposite Robert DeNiro. "It's been so long for me since I've originated a role on stage. And I just thought, I'm from New York and I love the theatre and this seemed like a terrific role for me and the right time." Between the stage plays, Macchio also starred in the national tour of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying — fulfilling a childhood fantasy. "As a kid, I took dance lessons from 3 to 18. I took tap, jazz, ballet. I used to watch the 4:30 movies on channel 11 growing up. I'm probably dating myself there. I wanted to be Gene Kelly and play baseball and hockey — which he did. So I had that musical theatre background, but I was always third guy in the back, to the left. Never front and center singing 'I Believe in You.'"

The one-time wanna-be hoofer admits he would return to the musical theatre, given the right role. "I would think about coming back to a musical. It is a tremendous amount of work... but I would embrace it again if it was the right type of scenario. My voice is lyrical, pleasant-sounding," he said, quickly adding, "pleasant enough. I'm not going to blow anybody away. It would have to be the right fit."

Macchio also turned to working behind the camera recently, penning and directing a short film titled "Love Thy Brother." "It was based on something that happened to me and my brother when we were kids — a slice of suburban sibling rivalry. It's a ten minute comedic short of brothers that are confronted with an intruder in their house." The short, which played at the Sundance Film Festival, was recently picked up by HBO.

Following his stint with Magic Hands Freddy, the happily-married father of two plans to pursue that outlet. "Everyone says 'I want to direct.' But, I've always aspired to do that and I'm continuing to move forward on scripts that I have. I still want to direct and it's certainly in the forefront of my mind of what I'm working on."

For tickets to Magic Hands Freddy — which opens open Feb. 19 at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street — call (212) 239-6200.

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