Ralph Macchio is best known for his role as Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid film series, as well as its spinoff series, Cobra Kai. However, he was not the first choice for the role. In fact, director John G. Avildsen went through many options before settling on Macchio for the iconic role, including such stars as Sean Penn and Charlie Sheen. Here’s what you need to know.
Macchio Beat Out Many Well-Known Actors To Get The Role
Earlier this year, Macchio confessed on Justin Long’s Life is Short podcast that one of the people he saw auditioning for the role of Daniel LaRussio was Jon Cryer, who he saw sitting in the waiting room right after his own audition. Earlier this year, on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Macchio was able to name some other big-name stars who he beat out for the role of Daniel LaRusso, including Charlie Sheen, Nicholas Cage, and Robert Downey Jr:
I was found early. I was cast very early, but it was like one of those test deals where you’re not in yet. I remember walking by and seeing Charlie Sheen hanging out outside Jerry Weintraub’s bungalow, thinking, ‘What’s Charlie doing here? You don’t look like an Italian guy from Jersey!’
Of the other contenders, Macchio went on to say, “Nic Cage, I think, and Robert Downey Jr. Robert Downey Jr. also did the workshop of the part I did in The Outsiders.”
According to TheThings, other actors considered for the part included C. Thomas Howell, who co-starred alongside Macchio in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders, and Sean Penn, who had recently garnered recognition in his debut role in Taps, as well as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Bad Boys.
According to casting sheets obtained by Sports Illustrated, other actors who auditioned for the role included Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen’s elder brother by three years, Anthony Edwards (who was deemed “too tall”), and Eric Stoltz (who the casting sheet said had “not enough dynamics”).
Macchio Was Cast Based On The Strength Of A Previous Role
As casting for The Karate Kid took place in 1983, Macchio had recently garnered recognition for his role as Johnny Cade in The Outsiders. According to casting director Bonnie Timmermann, it was the strength of Macchio’s performance in the film which convinced her and her team to hire him. “I brought Ralph in [for the title role],” she said, “because I remembered the work he did with Francis Coppola in The Outsiders.”
As Elisabeth Shue, the actress who played Danny’s girlfriend Ali Mills, put it, “Ralph was a big star compared to the rest of us. We were all like: Woah, he has a manager.”
Macchio’s previous experience also came into handy when it came to channeling Danny LaRusso. Macchio explained in a 2020 Rolling Stone interview that the eccentricities of his character in The Outsiders influenced the development of his character in The Karate Kid. Macchio explains:
I connected to The Outsiders when I was 12 years old, and when they were doing the movie I had to be in it, and I had to play that part. That doesn’t happen often and may never happen again. I did have, and probably still do have, a little defiance and cockiness, and that’s bled into LaRusso and that makes him entertaining. A guy who has such knowledge about balance and inner peace and all those Miyagi-isms and philosophies, but when the wrong guy rubs him, he goes to his childhood ways — that makes him entertaining.
It also wasn’t just Daniel’s face which Ralph Macchio had an effect on. According to Macchio, Daniel’s last name was not LaRusso before he was cast. “The character was originally named Danny Weber,” he said in the Sports Illustrated interview. “As soon as I walked in the room, it changed to LaRusso.”