BWW Interviews - Ralph Macchio & Karina Smirnoff Talk New Film, DWTS & Broadway Debuts

BWW Interviews - Ralph Macchio & Karina Smirnoff Talk New Film, DWTS & Broadway DebutsRalph Macchio's ACROSS GRACE ALLEY will have its East Coast premiere at the HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL October 10-14. The film tells the story of a young boy struggling with his parents' divorce who seeks solace in his infatuation with a captivating woman he discovers through a neighboring window. This coming-of-age story illustrates how brief encounters can have profound emotional effects.

Written and directed by Macchio, the film stars new discovery, Ben Hyland, four time Oscar nominee, Marsha Mason and world-class dancer, Karina Smirnoff, in her film lead debut.

Today, Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff chatted exclusively with BWW about how their special friendship, which began when they were paired together for Season 12 of Dancing With the Stars, led to the making of this poignant and visual film.

I first have to tell you both how much I enjoyed watching you on Season 12 of Dancing with the Stars.

Karina Smirnoff: Thank you. Season 12 was special in so many ways. Dancing With the Stars is a show where you're 100%, you're emotionally invested, you're physically invested, and then it's over in a heartbeat. You keep contact with your partner and your cast members on the show, but you rarely develop a friendship that becomes like a second family. You start knowing that this person and his family is your extended family and me and Ralph were lucky enough to develop that friendship.

Ralph Macchio: Well I don't know what she's talking about, I completely disagree. No, I'm kidding! I mean that is the truth, there's a great affinity on both sides for my family and yours Karina. And once you get me, you get the whole family. And that couldn't be more true and I adore her mom so it extends out- it's sort of like a soulful connection with two personalities and two different personal dynamics we had that sort of came together that created a really interesting friendship and a deep rooted one, which is really, really terrific.

So at what point did you start talking about working together on the film. Was it during that season, or afterwards?

RM: It was afterwards. We felt, and I think this is probably the case for a lot of people on that show, there is certainly a void when it's over. I think you either wind up being friends forever or never wanting to talk to the person BWW Interviews - Ralph Macchio & Karina Smirnoff Talk New Film, DWTS & Broadway Debutsever again. In our case, I felt the creativity that we had, the ability that we had to tell stories through dance and also through the weekly packages on the show - I miss that and I felt that Karina and I had more stories to tell.

And I think we both felt that and we both miss that creative process. And the getting to know her behind the camera and personally as the friendship grew over the course of the season, I became more and more fascinated with how intriguing a person she was and how much I felt this sort of real, human, understated, grounded side to her that was not sort of focused on the celebrity of Dancing with the Stars- and the glitz and glamour part of it. I saw the human side, the girl beneath the woman, was something I thought would be a fascinating character and so a lot of her character in our film came about in just conversations and our relationship and some discussions we had over that time from a human level.

So that's where the concept of placing Karina in that sort of place and unveiling that side of her began and our creative collaboration in my world of filmmaking, as opposed to her world of '5, 6, 7, 8 go!'

And Karina, this is your film debut. Can you tell us a little bit about your role and is this a career you'd like to pursue further?

Absolutely. It was an incredible experience. You know on Dancing with the Stars we get to create and we get to become a different character for the dance, but it was never as in-depth as it was during the shooting of the movie. And to work with Ralph and to have him explain to me the direction of how he wanted me to act in a certain scene. It wasn't like 5, 6, 7, 8, go as he says. He told me stories that connected to an emotional experience in my life. And he knows exactly what he wants you to do, which was a very good experience in many ways. I loved every minute of it. I'm looking at other roles right now- I'm excited about this new acting in my life because I have always wanted to act, but when you're growing up it's usually a dream and a lot of people don't think it can be reality, but Ralph has given me a possibility that can be the next chapter of my life and I am ever so grateful for that.

Ralph, in the film you work with a very young actor, Ben Hyland. Did you share some of your own experiences as a child star with him?

It's an interesting question, certainly I've always been intrigued and fascinated by stories that are told through the eyes of a child. One of my favorite films is Cinema Paradiso, which informed certain elements of this story. I just always find that place in our lives when we're the most pure and opened and sometimes see clearer than the jaded adult that becomes consumed with society and getting ahead. I really gravitate towards those types of stories and that's why I wanted this story to be through the eyes of a kid. So I do connect to that. I do connect to what it's like to be one of the younger people on the set.

I guess it's feeling less and less like it's relevant to me, but I look kind of young for my age so everyone thinks I was a child star, but really I was like 30, no I'm joking, I was 17 turning 18 the first time I stepped in front of the camera, I just looked like I was 13 years old.

KS: Just a side note, I saw a picture of Ralph and Phyllis on their wedding day and I was like, 'are you even legal to get married?'

BWW Interviews - Ralph Macchio & Karina Smirnoff Talk New Film, DWTS & Broadway DebutsRM: That's right, I looked like I was at my Bar Mitzvah. But, so to answer your question, I certainly was never that 7, 8, 9-year old kid on the set that never had schooling and a normal childhood, but because I looked young for my age and because I was always one of the younger people on the set, I sort of know what it feels like in that adult world.

Also, the fun part of working with a kid is you get to draw out their natural talent. I mean my job with Ben was to keep him as relaxed in the frame as I could because a lot of the things I was asking him to do were feelings and emotions that he has yet to experience in his life and that was challenging for me. So it's more about manipulating his expression to come to the surface because a lot of this film for him is, well a big section of this film is played almost like a silent movie without dialogue, there's music that underscores it, but it's very much all between Karina's character and Ben's character. They are in their own bubble for a certain part of the film and we're just witnessing, voyeuristically, what is unveiled in their lives. So it was challenging to get those performance levels up, but he was great! So the great thing about working with a kid is you get to tell them what to do and they don't storm off to the trailer. It's a different style of directing.

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Caryn Robbins Caryn Robbins is a Senior Editor and daily contributor to BroadwayWorld, and manages the TV, Film and Music spin-off sites. Her original musical comedy DEAR PROSPECTIVE STUDENT (follow @DearStudent) has been staged in two NYC theater festivals and was performed as an Equity Staged Reading in New York City in 2015. This June, DEAR PROSPECTIVE STUDENT won 'Best Ensemble Show' in Chicago's Premier Premieres Festival. Follow Caryn on Twitter @CarynRobbins
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