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Macchio started taking tap dancing lessons at the age of 3, and was discovered while performing an Eddie Cantor impression in a local dance recital at age 16. An agent approached him and began sending him on auditions for commercials. Macchio, however, wasn’t sold on the idea of becoming an actor. Once, when an audition conflicted with an invitation to a beach party that seemed too good to pass up, he sent a friend to the audition in his place.
In spite of his ambivalence, Macchio landed the part of Betty Buckley’s rough-and-tumble nephew on the TV series Eight is Enough, and instantly became a teen heartthrob. When the series ended, he auditioned for—and won—the role of Johnny Cade in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film, The Outsiders, starring with Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Matt Dillon.
In 1984, Macchio appeared in his most well-known role, as Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid. The movie launched the baby-faced actor to stardom, but despite the film’s success and Macchio’s newfound fame, he found it difficult to get quality roles. Although he played a high school student, Macchio was 22 when he made The Karate Kid, and while his youthful appearance worked well in the film, it made it difficult for him to transition to adult parts.
In the next several years, Macchio appeared in two sequels to The Karate Kid and a few box office flops such as Teachers, Crossroads and Distant Thunder. With his movie career stalling, he turned to the theater, making his off-Broadway debut in Cuba and His Teddy Bear with Robert DeNiro in 1986. The show was a hit, and it quickly moved to Broadway. He appeared in another off-Broadway show, Only Kidding, in 1989. Macchio scored another big screen success in 1992, with My Cousin Vinny, starring alongside Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci. Though the movie was well received, it failed to result in additional leading roles in major motion pictures. He continued to act, though, performing in a road production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and making small appearances in TV shows like Entourage in 2005 and Ugly Betty in 2008.
In 2011, Macchio competed on the 12th season of ABC's dance-competition show, Dancing with the Stars, ultimately placing fourth. The actor credits the show as being a shot in the arm to his career. Since then, he produced a series for the National Geographic Channel, American Gypsies, and starred in the film He’s Way More Famous Than You with Ben Stiller, Jesse Eisenberg and Vanessa Williams. The film was released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. In April 2012, Macchio was cast as Psycho screenwriter Joe Stefano in the film Hitchcock, an Alfred Hitchcock biopic, starring Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson.
In 2017, it was announced that Macchio will star in a YouTube Red series that will be a sequel to Karate Kid, co-starring William Zabka, who played Johnny Lawrence in the original film. The series has just completed it’s 3rd season of production and that season will premier in the Spring of 2020. The first two seasons have been viewed by tens of millions of loyal and new fans to the franchise.
Macchio met his wife, Phyllis Fierro, through his grandmother when he was 15. They married in 1987 and have two children, Daniel and Julia. Macchio and his son, Daniel, made a series of shorts about safe driving for State Farm.