Q&A With Executive Producer Ralph Macchio

Photo: Ralph Macchio, executive producer of the series American Gypsies.

Ralph Macchio, Executive Producer of American Gypsies

Photograph courtesy Ralph Macchio

Ralph Macchio is an Italian-American (slightly Greek) actor, best known for his roles as Daniel LaRusso in the Karate Kid series, Billy Gambini in My Cousin Vinny, and Johnny Cade in The Outsiders. Recently, he competed on the 12th season of Dancing With the Stars and was named one of People Magazine's sexiest men alive in 2011. But he also works behind the camera, and is an executive producer of American Gypsies.

Q:  How did you get involved in American Gypsies?  Explain your role and the journey so far.

A few years ago, the son of a friend of mine was working on a project for film school; he showed me some of the rough footage and I immediately found the concept and characters fascinating. It was something that I had never seen before or ever thought still existed. I got very excited with its potential and wanted to get this story out there.

I had worked with StickFigure Productions on another project and thought they would be the perfect partners to help shape and sell this as a TV series. American Gypsies has gone through more than a few incarnations over a long development road, but like many of the best projects, it feels all the richer for taking that journey. At its core, this is still the show we envisioned it to be.

Q:  How would you describe American Gypsies?

American Gypsies is a docu-series that focuses on one of the most prominent Gypsy families in NYC, the Johns family. They have their own traditions and laws unlike anything we have been exposed to. This untapped subculture that exists right under our feet will be exposed to cameras for the first time as they struggle to uphold their Gypsy traditions while reaching for the American dream of today's generation. It has character elements of The Godfather and The Sopranos in its passionate family dynamic.

Q:  What are people going to be surprised to learn about American Gypsies?

People are going to be surprised at just how relatable the individuals are. How even though the lifestyle and customs may differ from "the norm," this family is dealing with much of the same conflicts and dilemmas that we all do. They are passionate in their beliefs, yet caring for one another overall. There is a respect for their family that goes against many of the Gypsy stereotypes.

Q:  What do you think the reaction to the series is going to be?

The reaction to the series is going to be one of fascination and excitement. These characters are compelling and colorful. Even when we are struck by their unorthodox choices, we can't help but be drawn into their stories.

Q:  You just did Dancing With the Stars and have worked on a wide range of projects over the years.  Is Gypsies different than anything you've worked on before?

It is different for me in that we are shooting real people. I come from the scripted world, so the documentary element is new.  However, it is all storytelling, and that is very familiar and comfortable. It always needs to be rooted in character for me, and from the actor's perspective — we are still focusing on that. If you don't care for the characters and personalities, you have no show.

Q:  Do you prefer in front of the camera or behind, and why?

I get inspiration and joy from both. As I mentioned, the storytelling element is what connects the two. Whether I am playing a character or helping guide a character, the process of building the story is similar. I am certainly "at home" in front of the camera, whether it's acting a scene or dancing the dance ... but throwing on the baseball cap and not having to sit in makeup is so awesome!

Q:  You are an Italian American.  Do you see any similarities with the Romani, or "Gypsy," culture?

Actually, I have a little Greek in the bloodstream as well (my Dad is half Greek). So I would say the strong-minded, passionate personalities seem right at home for me. Family comes first, and the importance of traditions being carried on is a similarity as well.

Q:  Who is your most beloved American Gypsy personality?

It is tough to say for sure at this early stage. Bobby certainly is our window into the world, and a sympathetic parental individual. Nicky and the other brothers create excitement in their diverse opinions. Tina is colorful and eccentric. Val, Chris, and Sable provide the energy of the younger generation. Okay, I don't have one yet.

Q:  What is your favorite scene you've seen so far?

I recently looked at a scene in a hospital waiting room after Bob Sr. (father) had a stroke and the family comes together — it demonstrated the conflict, passion, and love this family has for each other. It exposes their concern for non-Gypsy medicine and the fighting between the brothers on how to address a dire situation as the clock ticks. Yet it shows the undying care for the well-being of their father and Tina (mother) and how they come together. It was dynamic and relatable on a human level.

Q:  What is the most interesting thing you've learned from or about the Johns family?

How much they care about how they are represented. They truly want their heritage to be portrayed accurately. As well as the arranged marriages, their Gypsy court system, the psychic shops, the homeschooling (or lack thereof) AND that they know of my movies and thought I didn't suck on DWTS! (Who knew I had a thriving Gypsy fan base?)

Cast and Crew