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For Ralph Macchio, things have a way of coming full circle.
In the early ’90s he found himself reading for a role in My Cousin Vinny. Director Jonathan Lynn liked him for the part, but the studio didn’t, seeing him simply as “that guy from The Karate Kid.”
It turns out that among those up for the role of Bill Gambini was Will Smith, still a few years away from becoming the biggest movie star in the world with 1996’s Independence Day.
“Ben Stiller and Will Smith, that’s who the studio wanted. Even though he’s written as Vinny’s cousin, they said, ‘We’ll figure that out later,” Macchio says in this week’s episode of Heat Vision Breakdown. “Will actually came in to read, and we read together for My Cousin Vinny at one point.”
The part of Bill Gambini, cousin to Joe Pesci’s Vinny, ultimately went to Macchio.
Macchio is now celebrating the 35th anniversary of The Karate Kid, the 1984 hit that spawned sequels, the ongoing YouTube series Cobra Kai and a 2010 remake … starring Will Smith’s son, Jaden. The elder Smith spoke to Macchio ahead of that film.
“He called me once they decided to make a remake of The Karate Kid in 2010. My opening line was, ‘The last time I saw you was when we auditioned for My Cousin Vinny,'” says Macchio. “‘That’s the first and last time I got the part and you didn’t.’ We had fun.”
Looking back at Karate Kid, Macchio still treasures the time he spent with Pat Morita, who played his onscreen mentor Mr. Miyagi. In 2005, Macchio was asked to give Morita’s eulogy.
“I was nervous about what to say, so I didn’t do a lot of prep outside of speaking from my heart and knowing how rare it is have that sort of piece of magic,” says Macchio of their collaborations. “I always call my relationship with him and those performances a bit of soulful magic. … There’s one line I had in my head that I wanted to end with when I spoke of him and what he meant of me. ‘Forever my sensei.’ It came to me on the plane out to Vegas, which is where the services were, … and I’m proud of it.”
In addition to Karate Kid, Macchio was part of another iconic ’80s film: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders, which featured stars such as Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon and Diane Lane. It also boasts a well-remembered poster, showing its leading men cracking up.
Macchio notes he was responsible for those laughs by taking a crack at one of his co-stars. The gang was taking group shots, and there was a table of food meant for the cast.
“One of the production guys behind the cameras said ‘all the food over here is for the talent.’ He was telling the crew guys,” says Macchio. “Leif Garrett was walking by and I said, ‘Remember, Leif, he said that’s just for the talent!’ It got this big laugh. … We laugh about it to this day. Everybody cracked up and there’s this picture.”
Cobra Kai season two is available now on YouTube, with a third season gearing up. Watch Macchio’s full interview at the top of the post.
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