Ralph Macchio famously portrayed Daniel LaRusso in the first three Karate Kid films. Since 2018, he has also played the character in the acclaimed series Cobra Kai. Due to the fact he has made the iconic role his own, it may be surprising to some fans that other well-known actors could have been chosen to play the New Jersey-native.
Nicolas Cage Was Under Consideration To Play Daniel
In a January interview on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Macchio stated that he believed Nicolas Cage was under consideration to star in the 1984 martial arts film. He also revealed that the studio was interested in Robert Downey Jr. and Charlie Sheen to be Daniel LaRusso.
In 2018 Sports Illustrated interviewed the cast and crew of the Karate Kid. The publication reported that the film’s original “[c]asting sheets show Emilio Estevez and Nicolas Cage were considered for the role of Daniel.”
It should be noted that Downey, Sheen, Estevez, and Cage all have famous relatives. Sheen and Estevez are Martin Sheen’s sons, Downey Jr.’s father was an actor, and Cage is a member of the Coppola family.
During the Sports Illustrated interview, Ron Thomas, who played Cobra Kai team member Bobby, noted that the film’s producer Jerry Weintraub had the “idea to hire the sons and daughters of famous people [for some supporting roles].”
“We had [Steve McQueen’s son] Chad McQueen, Frankie Avalon Jr., John Travolta’s nephew. Ricky Nelson’s daughter played one of [Elisabeth Shue’s] friends until she fell out,” explained Randy Sabusawa, who was the assistant to the film’s director John Avildsen.
While Macchio is not from a famous family, his professional connection to Cage’s uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, helped him get cast as Daniel. The film’s casting director Bonnie Timmermann told the publication:
I brought Ralph in [for the title role] because I remembered the work he did with Francis Coppola in The Outsiders.
Robert Mark Kamen, who wrote The Karate Kid, stated that Avildsen introduced him to Macchio during the audition process. The writer revealed that the actor’s lack of coordination made him an ideal candidate to play Daniel.
“He wasn’t particularly coordinated for martial arts. I showed him some simple blocking and punching moves and he couldn’t do them at all. I said: ‘That’s perfect. We have a kid that knows nothing.’ I wanted a wimp. And Ralph is the paradigmatic wimp,” noted Kamen.
Macchio Talked About Auditioning To Play Daniel in a 2020 Interview
While speaking to Rolling Stone in August 2020, Macchio recounted his experience auditioning for the role. He noted that his audition was held in Avildsen’s New York apartment.
“I went up to his apartment and down the hallway of his apartment in the Upper West Side of New York were a whole bunch of teenagers all talking about ‘can you believe this show is called The Karate Kid. What a stupid title.’ And I agreed wholeheartedly little did I know that I would be carrying on my shoulder for the rest of my life,” recalled the 59-year-old.
He then revealed that his audition impressed Avildsen.
“He said to me at the end of it I should maybe take up some martial arts lessons or start taking karate ‘but I can’t answer for sure but I would’ — unless, he said, ‘unless I run into Spencer Tracy on the way back to LA you’re probably going to be hearing from us,’” explained the actor.