BWW Interviews - Ralph Macchio & Karina Smirnoff Talk New Film, DWTS & Broadway Debuts
Ralph 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 ever 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?'RM: 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.
Karina, you've really had quite a year. You went from Dancing With the Stars, to Broadway's 'Forever Tango', to acting in this film. What has that been like for you and how was your recent Broadway experience?
Yeah it's very humbling. It's a dream for many people and I get to actually experience it in real life to go from filming a movie to doing one of the biggest shows on TV, which is still a phenomenal experience, filming the new season, and then going to the most prestigious stage in the world, which is Broadway. I thank the Lord every day for all the blessings. It gives you that much more energy to wake up in the morning and be ready to start something new. It's so humbling, it's so exciting and I can't wait to release the movie. It's going to be at the Napa Film Festival, the Hamptons Film Festival so I'm excited now to actually see this avenue of the movie business because working on the script, it's a long production, it's a long process and then you get to go to the film festival and you go, 'oh my goodness this is so real!' But, you know, I am so blessed to have an amazing team and an amazing manager, amazing friends. I mean Ralph entered my life for a reason because he signed the contract to be on Dancing with the Stars literally the day before we were supposed to start.
Wow, the day before?
RS: Yeah, that's a great story because I had been asked to do Dancing with the Stars in the past and I never thought I was the right person. I always thought that I wouldn't stink at it, I thought I'd be good enough, but literally someone dropped out the last day. I remember signing my deal like 20 hours before being announced. And I was texting my wife, 'Get me out of this now!'
So it's funny how I did not want to do the show, I knew it was the right move for me to do the show and I certainly had a big warm embrace by everyone in America that cheered and rooted me on. It was just amazing how the show creates that platform, you feel like you're running for President a little bit. From that is the journey of the show and how exhausting it is and then it's over and then it was about how to build on the creativity we started. How can I do what I know how to do, wanted to do, and using Karina and the motivation of our relationship to come up with a story idea and obviously finding this wonderful kid because if you don't find the right face for that kid, the story doesn't work.
And then having Marsha [Mason] come on, who I had never met, just based on the script she wanted to be a part of it. And yeah, like Karina said, it's a year process. The movie, whether it's a 20 minute movie or it's a 2 hour movie it just takes at least a year. You know, Broadway, once the show's established, like Forever Tango, it's the rehearsal process of 7 weeks or whatever it is and you're up and it's another show every day. Film is a longer process and then you're sitting in a theater and it's up on the screen and you can't fix it tomorrow. It is what it is.
Karina, you spoke a bit about Broadway earlier and now you have a Broadway pro, Corbin Bleu, as your partner on this season of Dancing With the Stars. What do you think your chances are of taking home the Mirror Ball trophy - because the two of you are fantastic!
RM: They're amazing!KS: Thank you so much! This is very exciting and nerve wracking because people have such a high expectation of Corbin, but you know what, we're definitely not taking any easy ways out and people know that a few members of the cast have dance experience and I think with Amber, with Christina, with Elizabeth , with Corbin we're all pushing them as far as we can and I think it's going to be a very exciting season.
Ralph I know that you are from Long Island originally so what does it mean to you to be premiering the film on the East Coast out in the Hamptons?
RM: Yeah I'm really excited about that. Our East Coast premiere is the Hamptons Film Festival. I really wanted to get in to the Hamptons Film Festival because getting into the festival is very difficult because anyone with an IPhone can make a movie now so there are thousands of submissions so it's going to be great to have that here! We premiered in Los Angeles at the LA International Shorts Festival in September. Karina and I sat side by side and the screen was enormous!
KS: And every scene I just kept sliding lower and lower!
RM: Well because you can't hide behind the pivot turns or the big hair or the makeup when you're in a film and there's a close up, but her performance is so rich and honest and understated, which is a word I love to use because it's usually not an adjective used to describe Karina.
KS: Thank you!
RM: No, but in a good way. It's a great thing! But when the film is playing, it's really rewarding to see how it touches people in a short amount of time. We're in the connections short program, that's the title of our program, and it's so perfect for the film because that is what it is able to do. I'm proud to say that the vast majority of people who have seen the film say that they have felt connected or emotionally moved by one of the characters and that's been quite rewarding. That's why I get so excited to show it all the time!
It sounds terrific and I wish you both the best of luck.
RM: Thank you so much. You know I've done a decent amount of theatre and I've been on the Broadway stage so it's home, so it's nice to get this kind of coverage from BroadwayWorld.
KS: And just as a side note, this was really cool because my first Broadway experience was at the Longacre Theatre and it's the same theatre that Ralph did 'Cuba & His Teddy Bear' with Robert DeNiro.
RM: Yeah we both had our Broadway debuts in the same house!
Oh my gosh that's amazing. Well obviously you two were destined to meet and create this wonderful film.
About Ralph Macchio:
Macchio is best known for his lead role in 1984's The Karate Kid. The film was a phenomenal success and spawned two equally popular sequels The Karate Kid, Part II (1986) and The Karate Kid, Part III (1989), both starring Macchio.
He's been seen on the big screen in the blues road movie Crossroads (1986), featured alongside Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny (1992) and as a hit man in A Good Night to Die (2003). Arguably.
About Karina Smirnoff:
Smirnoff is best known as a professional dancer on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, winning the thirteenth season with army veteran and soap opera star J. R. Martinez. She's also won runner-up title, a semi-final title, and several quarter final titles.
She is a five-time U.S. National Champion, World Trophy Champion, and Asian Open Champion. Smirnoff has won the title at the UK Open, is a three-time champion at the US Open, two-time champion at the Asian Open, five-time champion at the Dutch Open, and five-time US National Professional Champion. She has taken second at the British Open Blackpool Dance Festival and she is the first woman to also ever make the "British Professional Final" with three different partners. This year, she made her Broadway debut in Luis Bravo's 'Forever Tango' opposite