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Sunday, November 18, 2012
Ralph Macchio talks hockey & 'Hitchcock'

By Scott Neumyer

Ralph Macchio
The Long Island-born actor roots for the Mets, Jets, Islanders and Knicks. Well, the Knicks are good this year, right?
If you’re a child of the ’80s, you probably know Ralph Macchio best as the crane-kicking Daniel Larusso in "The Karate Kid" series of films.

If not, you might even know him from his fan-favorite stint on ABC’s "Dancing With the Stars." After revitalizing his career with a hilarious Funny or Die viral video and his time on the prime-time dance floor, Macchio is keeping busy.

In the month of November alone, the former child star will appear alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins in "Hitchcock" (in theaters Nov. 23), team up with Fran Drescher on TV Land’s "Happily Divorced" and get all sappy in the Lifetime movie "Holiday Spin."

Macchio recently sat down with ESPN Playbook to chat about his love of local teams, making his Little League all-star team and working with Sir Anthony Hopkins.

What team would make you happiest if it won a championship?

Besides the teams that I root for -- which are the ones that don’t win championships lately, like the Mets, Jets, Islanders and Knicks -- I would have to say, being a nostalgia guy, the Chicago Cubs. I’d like to leave the world having seen the Cubs win a championship. Great fans. Great stadium. Great history. And they’re just never quite there. I’d give it to the Cubs. That would be nice to see.

What is your most prized piece of sports memorabilia?

I have a football that my cousin Harry gave to me. He played on the Jets practice squad for a while and he gave me this football when I was a little kid, that he said he passed around with Joe Namath. That’s a pretty cool piece of my childhood that I still have.

And I have some hockey sticks signed by Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith, so those are pretty good, too. The New York Islanders is the team that I grew up with, which was a legacy team and now they’re sitting in Brooklyn in a basketball arena. [Laughs.]

What is your favorite sports moment as either a fan or a participant?

Let me think if I had a Little League moment where I didn’t suck. [Laughs.] I remember making the all-star team in Little League when I was around 11 years old. I was not a great athlete, but I loved it, so making starting second base in the all-star was great for me. I think someone must have been sick and they slotted me in. [Laughs.]

Bobby Nystrom
Macchio was there to see Nystrom clinch the Cup in '80.
As far as pro sports, there are two events that I was at that are neck and neck: (1) I was there when the Islanders won their first Stanley Cup (the Nystrom goal in overtime). I’ll never forget it. I was there in 1980 and for Long Island and for me and my friends, I’ll never ever forget that moment.

And (2) the Mets in 1986 winning the World Series. I was at those games. I was there at Game 6 with my wife (at the time we weren’t married) on the first-base side. I’ll never forget seeing the white of that ball come through Buckner’s legs and behind his heel, and that’s all I remember after that. Those are the two big ones that I got to be at.

If your life depended on your performance in a competitive sport, which one would you choose?

That’s a tough one. I guess I would say being a pitcher in baseball. I would just love to have the opportunity to be there and have someone at the plate that’s just phenomenal and then just buckle their knees with a called strike three. To cut someone down in that moment would be amazing. The beauty of baseball is that it’s a team sport played by individuals, so it’s literally one-on-one for certain moments.

Who was your childhood sports idol?

It’s a combination of some of these teams I rooted for. Tom Seaver when I was a kid. And Ron Swoboda, believe it or not, because he had that awesome World Series backhand diving catch and I just dreamed that I was Ron Swoboda when I was 10, 11 and 12. And the Islanders guys. Bryan Trottier was always my favorite Islanders player. Joe Namath, too.

You obviously have a great deal of love for your local teams, but what modern athlete do you love to hate?

Oh, that’s easy. I wish it was more unique and obscure, but I would have to say that I love to hate Alex Rodriguez. I feel like it’s a bad answer, especially in light of his performance in the playoffs this year, but I’m a die-hard Mets fan and I can’t pick anyone else.

I’m a big Derek Jeter fan -- just how he represents himself -- so A-Rod is kind of the antithesis to that. Jeter goes down and this is where the A-Rods of the world have the opportunity to step up, take control and own the team, and it just didn’t happen for many reasons. He’s got so much God-given talent and he’s obviously a spectacular athlete not in his prime anymore, but there’s just an element of the fact that they’re playing a kid’s game and I don’t think they should ever forget that. It just looks like he’s not having any fun. It’s easy to not feel great about him.

What was it like acting alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins in "Hitchcock"?

He is just the epitome of class and professionalism. I’ve gotten to work with some great guys in my career including Robert De Niro on Broadway and Nick Nolte, but the one thing about Anthony Hopkins -- and I’m not comparing them; they’ve all been great to work with -- was that he knows your name instantly. He knows the names of most of everyone on the crew. And this was only after one week.

Anthony Hopkins
Sir Anthony is all class.
I’m not starring in this movie by any stretch of the imagination and I don’t want to misrepresent that, but it was a great experience. I play Joe Stefano, who is the screenwriter of "Psycho," and I have a nice scene with Hopkins where he interviews me. It’s a charming little scene that felt really good when we did it. It was the end of a long day. Here he is at 70-some-odd years old in full prosthetic makeup with the fat suit and everything. I’m sure it was at least a 14- or 15-hour day for him. We did his coverage and I was expecting the crew to tell me that they’re going to send him home and I would just do my coverage without him. It’s a normal thing they do on sets all the time.

But Anthony refused to leave and wanted to be there for all the coverage. He said, “Why would I take myself out of our scene? If I’m not here, then it’s not our scene.” That just spoke volumes to me. I was basically a day player on the movie with a couple of scenes and for him to do that just showed the kind of guy he is. On the way out, he shook everybody’s hand all the way down to the grips and electricians. It’s a credit to him and to a lot of young Hollywood that may not take that path.

Were you a Hitchcock fan and, in particular, a "Psycho" fan prior to signing on to the film?

Yes, absolutely. I was a big "Psycho" fan and a big "Rear Window" fan. Guys like Spielberg and Zemeckis and really anybody who is a storyteller-filmmaker today has studied Hitchcock and the way he visually tells a story. He was the master of suspense certainly, but visually you would get a lot of information from what he would do with the camera and what he would allow you to see as the story was unfolding.

What’s it like to have transformed from young Hollywood star to now, as a more mature actor?

It’s nice to slowly but surely graduate. I’ve maintained what I joke about as my “youthful appearance.” I’ve played 16 for 32. [Laughs.] So it’s nice to slowly graduate into those kinds of roles, but I really just like to diversify as much as I can when I have the opportunity. To do a film like "Hitchcock" that’s a big production with a high-level cast and then, on the same page, to do a half-hour comedy with someone like Fran Drescher who has carved her place as one of the best in that multicamera sitcom format. To get to tap dance in both of those arenas is awesome.

I just did an independent ensemble film called "The Little Game" with Olympia Dukakis and F. Murray Abraham, which was a nice change as well. And then I have the mushy Lifetime movie called "Holiday Spin" coming out for Christmas. I’ve never done one before, so my aunts, uncles and grandmothers are going to be happy.

Those Lifetime movies are kind of a rite of passage, right? You have to do them at some point.

Yeah, at some point. [Laughs.] Listen, just like when I did the "Dancing With the Stars" thing a few years ago and it turned out to be such a huge win for me. There’s an audience out there for all these different types of things. Whether it’s comedy, motion-picture drama, family movie or a cool, cutting-edge indie, it’s nice to know that I can span all those different genres.

Note: "Hitchcock" hits theaters on Nov. 23. "Happily Divorced" is back on TV Land on Nov. 28. "Holiday Spin" premieres on Lifetime on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 9 p.m.