Ralph Macchio. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty…)
Best known for his roles in the "Karate Kid," "My Cousin Vinny" and "The Outsiders," Ralph Macchio has decided to take a break from being in front of the camera and instead get behind it as executive producer of NatGeo's new reality series "American Gypsies." Airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m., "American Gypsies" centers on the Johns family and sheds some light on the modern Gypsy way of life in New York City. Macchio talks about his new show, the Romani lifestyle and his role behind the camera.
Everyone knows you as the original "Karate Kid"; has it been difficult to break out of that role, or has it helped in the entertainment industry?
"Karate Kid" is coming up on 28-plus, years and people still reference its dialogue, and have created catchphrases. The fact that everyone knows what you are talking about when you repeat some of the dialogue makes it a great thing to be a part of. Years ago, forever being cast in the role of "Karate Kid" proved to be a little difficult. As time has gone on, it becomes less of a struggle and more of an embrace.
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Do you prefer being in front of the camera or behind it?
It feels at home for me in front of the camera. But the aspect of storytelling connects the two roles. I greatly enjoy both — I really care about just getting the story out there.
How did you come up with the premise for "American Gypsies"?
I actually got the idea from a friend of mine's son and his son's friend. At the time, the two boys were working as film students in New York, doing a documentary on the Johns family. They had put together a trailer and wanted me to take a look at it to get my opinion. Within the first 30 seconds, I was fascinated by this Gypsy subculture that exists in New York. The Johns family combines age-old traditions with the differences of opinions amongst the five brothers of the family. Arranged marriages, psychic healing shops — it's all so fascinating.
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What kind of reaction do you think that your show will receive considering the negative connotation of the word "Gypsy"?
"Gypsy" is a word they don't like to use. They use the word "Rom," short for Romani. I think that the Romani people make up a community that protects their own from outside influences and keeps their language unwritten. It is a people of age-old traditions and family values. There is no simple definition for "Gypsy." This show is educational, not in a boring way, but reveals a lot about a lesser-known subculture that exists in the greatest city in the world — New York City.
As an Italian American, do you find that there are any similarities between your culture and the Romani culture?
I am also a little Greek. The Johns family is Greek as well, so I find similarities in the passion, bullheadedness and strong opinions. These values are ingrained in our upbringing. I connect with the family values of the culture. However, I am a little skeptical of the "psychic world" that the Romani culture harbors.