Why Ralph Macchio Had Doubts About Pat Morita Playing Mr. Miyagi

Mr. Miyagi -- Daniel

YouTube Pat Morita stars as Mr. Miyagi in 'The Karate Kid.'

Since the premiere of The Karate Kid in 1984, the late actor Pat Morita has been associated with the character Mr. Miyagi. Arguably, the Okinawa-born sensei is one of the most iconic movie characters.

Ralph Macchio Stated That He Was Unsure About Morita Playing Mr. Miyagi

Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) gifts Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) a car for his birthday.

YouTubeMr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) gifts Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) a car for his birthday.

However, his co-star Ralph Macchio recently revealed that he briefly had doubts about Morita playing Miyagi.  

In a February interview on the Life is Short podcast, hosted by Justin Long, the actor discussed his career taking a decline following 1989 film The Karate Kid Part III. He shared that he “fought to get in the room [to audition]” for the movie My Cousin Vinny, as the studio feared the audience would only view him as Daniel LaRusso. 

“[The studio] told Jonathan Lynn, who was the director, basically, ‘he’s the Karate Kid, we don’t want him, you know, you’re just going to see that,’” said the 59-year-old. 

The actor then admitted that he had a similar feeling about Pat Morita. Before being cast as Mr. Miyagi, the comedian, was best known for his role as Arnold on the ABC sitcom Happy Days

“Ironically [that’s] what I felt when they brought Pat Morita in for The Karate Kid. I’m like ‘oh Arnold from Happy Days? This is going to be terrible,’” explained the father-of-two. 

Other People Involved With ‘The Karate Kid’ Also Had Doubts About Morita

Pat Morita

GettyPat Morita strikes a pose at the Democratic National Convention in 2000.

Macchio was not the only person involved with The Karate Kid who questioned if Morita was the right fit for the role. In a 2018 Sports Illustrated interview, the film’s cast and crew talked about the movie’s production. 

According to Randy Sabusawa, assistant to John Avildsen, who directed the film, famed Japanese martial arts actor, Toshiro Mifune, was sought after for the role. 

“Jerry [Weintraub who produced The Karate Kid] was of the mind: Let’s get the most famous Japanese actor on the planet for Mr. Miyagi. Let’s go for the grand slam,” said Sabusawa.

The film’s production coordinator, Susan Ekins, noted that Mifune audition but he did not get the role as “he didn’t speak a word of English.”

Pat Morita’s stunt double, Darryl Vidal, also stated that “everyone thought of him as Arnold [the owner of Arnold’s Drive-In] from Happy Days.”

The film’s first assistant director, Clifford Coleman, then told the publication: 

Nobody wanted Pat Morita; he had a horrible background. He was the type of stand-up comic who got up on stage loaded, dirty and foul. He was not Pat Morita the sensei.

Robert Mark Kamen, who wrote The Karate Kid, revealed that Morita eventually landed the role as Avildsen “insisted on [him]” and “put him on tape.”

While Macchio initially felt uncertain about Morita as Mr. Miyagi, he noted it was clear the late actor was perfect for the part during the audition process. In a 2014 interview with USA Today Sports, the actor stated: 

Even in those audition scenes, you see Miyagi and Daniel there. Those were just cold reads. Those were walk ins. John [Avildsen] talked about the characters a little and go. Those takes were done without any direction outside of explaining what the scene was and who the character was. It’s not terribly far from what’s the polished version on the screen. It informs you on how important casting is and how important the right actor in the right role is. I was just the right kid at the right time and Pat was the right actor at the right time. Basically you could argue there’s nobody else.

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