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Interview: Ralph Macchio of Ugly Betty & Much, Much More

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Photo courtesy of Jill Feldman

Ralph Macchio's role in the new indie comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead (screening at Slamdancethis year) will prompt speculation that he's back in the business. Truth be told, he never left. With a recurring role on ABC's Ugly Betty, a pilot in the works which he will co-write and a feature film under wraps, he's as in-demand and career-focused as ever.

His latest venture is a quirky, quasi-adaptation of Hamlet (hence the homage in the film's title), which tells the tale of a downtrodden theater director tasked with pulling together a play, and the resulting hijinks that occur when vampires are thrown into the mix. Nothing gives good comedy like blood-sucking beasts, right?

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LAist sat down with Mr. Macchio to ask him about his participation in this bold adaptation, his words of wisdom for future filmmakers and his take on the blasphemous rumors surrounding a remake of The Karate Kid. (Gasp!)

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Photo courtesy of Sarah Brown/Slamdance Film Festival 2009

Let's start by talking about your film, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead. Tell us about it.

I met the filmmaker, Jordan Galland, who is an interesting guy with a specific vision on how he saw this story, which is a real eccentric look at Hamlet and vampires and the Holy Grail. It's like Woody Allen meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's a quirky, funny, horror comedy, but more comedy than horror. It's a New York City love story that involves a 1,000 year-old vampire conspiracy. How do you even pitch that?

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I play an Italian American wise-guy, quasi-mob boss. I was on the fence whether or not I'd be the right guy for the part. I don't fit exactly the mold of the Tony Sopranos of the world. I grew up with the Godfathers and Goodfellas though. I got to work with Robert De Niro on stage way back when and I got to work with Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny, and I took a little of all those guys and put it into this Bobby Bianchi character. I'm this colorful clown of the story. It was fun to not have to carry the movie.

What was it like for you getting into your role as Bobby Bianchi?

I know these kinds of guys. I've lived on the East Coast and New York. I'm Italian-American so I've been around this sort of spirit of these guys who are almost cartoons within themselves...bigger than life, talk the talk, walk the walk kind of guys who underneath are just teddy bears wanting to be accepted for the existence outside of their stereotype. Throughout the film, [Bobby] is constantly failing. I love that because it's so likable. He comes up with an invention called "The Germ-a-Whack" that he swears is going to sell and it doesn't. You know, what kind of wise guy would be a germa-phobe?

How did you initially get involved in the film?

They sent me the script and I thought, "Well, there's gotta be like 15 other guys who have been in the Sopranos who would be better for this part than me." I looked up Jordan's work and I know he worked closely with Sean Lennon, who does the music for the movie. Every famous person's son is involved with this movie somehow! So we sat down and we talked about how I could fit into the character's shoes and made a couple of adjustments. We [film-goers] get so jammed in the face with what we're told we're supposed to see within the confines of high, overhead studio movies [so] I'm always up for supporting young filmmakers with unique points of view. And we used this Red One camera that's the future [of film]. That was interesting and new for me. When I started out everything was 35 mm film and they were cutting it with scissors!

You've done acting, writing and directing, out of the three, is there any one that you find the most challenging?

None of them are easy. The desire is the easy part. Getting it done is the hard part. Acting for me, that's how I started out so...you don't forget how to ride the bike, but you gotta get back on and practice how to be great with riding the bike. To be in a movie like this, it's been a while so you have to get sharp again. There's nuts and bolts to it, but you're constantly working and looking to go to the next level. It's exhausting.

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Do you have any favorite spots in Los Angeles? Any favorite restaurants or places you like to visit?

LA for me is almost always work or trying to sell a project so I usually don't go there to kick my feet up. I usually hit the ground and it's meetings or shooting something. Back in the old days, I used to go to The Ivy because I love the crab cakes. It sounds so, "Oh, The Ivy, c'mon" but it was the new spot with the white picket fence, and I was nuts for the crab cakes. Forget about the whole scene. I didn't care about the scene. There are also a couple of coffee places. It's always great when you find a great coffee place in the city. Now it's Starbucks on every corner.

And for me, the [places are the] memories of Los Angeles. I mean, the first time my movie was on the gigantic billboard on Sunset Boulevard -- you never forget that moment, you know, when you come around the corner and The Outsiders is up right above the Chateau Marmont [or] when the Karate Kid poster is up on the side of some building. It's that iconic look of Los Angeles with the lights, the hills, the billboards. It's like Times Square in New York. There's only one place that looks like that. Those are moments that I will never forget. I'll still drive down Sunset [but] it's the reason that actors jump off buildings. Once those billboards are up and then they're not anymore, it's kind of a tough place to drive around and see everyone else. The industry is so focused on success. I've never had difficulty with that, but I can see if you keep looking at the billboards, it's probably not a good thing.

What's your take on the remake of The Karate Kid with Will Smith's son?

I've heard of that for a while. It's been talked about, but now that they're doing it I'm hoping it's a big success for everyone involved. I think the biggest difficulty with remaking that movie is to fill the shoes of Mr. Miyagi's character and what Pat Morita's role was in that movie, that magical mentor figure (Jackie Chan is rumored to be filling the role). Being a kid that gets picked on or bullied, who learns martial arts and confronts his nemesis and wins -- that kind of story is going to work forever. The beauty of the original movie was all the chores and set-ups that [Daniel] was put through and then when it paid off, it was so fulfilling for the audience. The movie is still present on television. Even young audiences still know the original so I hope they reinvent the angle of it. I have no doubt that Jaden will be fantastic and you're gonna root for him, but he's young for the story. I don't know where the love interest is at age eleven, but he's a very charismatic kid and a good actor.

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That wraps it up. Thanks so much Ralph.

Thanks for your time. We'll talk one of these days again, I'm sure.