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Q&A With Executive Producer Ralph Macchio

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

Photo: Ralph Macchio, executive producer of the series American Gypsies. (View larger version)

Photograph courtesy Ralph Macchio

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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:  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:  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:  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?)!

3 comments
Rahni Hoffmann
Rahni Hoffmann

All true Roma are from north India originally. You still see them on the outskirts of villages there today. 

james mcgurk
james mcgurk

There was a Roma Camp in sw phila pa and I attended a wedding reception and did dance with the women.  this was back in around 1958. Been looking for the Roma that live there but the area was redeveloped under Eminent Domain and everything was just torn down. It was at that time the largest redevelopment project in the U.S.  Haven't met too many Gaja that did that, in fact never met one except he four other people that were invited.  Pretty special if you ask me.  The Roma had dark skin and am thinking they must have been Spanish originated.  Have tried all means to find out what clan they were from but no results so far. My father did do their refrigeration on their cars back in '60 and they'd came from Jersey.  Am writing a book for Y/A  although I do have  good memory of those days, I like to get it right if I could find out what Clan lived there at that time.  Pretty sure the Clan would go to Florida in the winter and back to Phila in the spring.  Would appreciate any help you can give. I have already pulled up a lot of info and printed but need more accuracy when I put it in the book.

Deb Grimwood
Deb Grimwood

Hi Ralph I'm Debbie from Liverpool England I'm intrested in the show because my dad had a picture on his wall of a lady all in black standing next to a old canvas caravan. I asked who she was and he said your great great grand mother Roma gypsy and I am the only one in the family with black eyes and have got the gift but I no that it would be interesting to meet them to see if thay recognise that I've got a gift but not tell them my back ground what do you think get in touch.