If you miss the drama of The Sopranos, meet American Gypsies. The show, debuting 9 p.m. Tuesday on National Geographic Channel, documents the Johns, a family of Romanis who are coming undone thanks to outside influences in a gaje, or non-gypsy, world. We spoke to exec producer Ralph Macchio, most recently in front of the camera as a guest star, Fran Drescher’s love interest, on Happily Divorced.
Can you describe the first episode and what to expect?
It’s an interesting look into this subculture that exists right under our feet in New York City. There’s the patriarch [Bob] who loves his grandchildren but can’t accept them because they want to pursue outside interests. There are these steadfast traditions, like keeping kids home schooled and having marriages arranged. The dynamic is what I find most relatable. I don’t necessarily endorse their lifestyle and choices, but I find them fascinating nonetheless. That said, we are documenting just one family. It’s not necessarily indicative of all.
Why did you want to become involved in a project like this?
Being Italian and Greek American, I have traditions that my great grandparents passed down that I still bring forth. I grew up respecting my elders. I’d never been involved in so-called reality TV. I came up in a 100 percent scripted world. Being behind the camera is fresh and inspiring to me.
What do you hope people take away from “American Gypsies?”
There’s this stereotype about gypsies. They’re seen as a minority group, as nomadic, fortune-telling, toothless, roaming-the-desert kind of thing. But it’s a compelling culture. They’re outsiders. I always make that joke because I was in that movie. Even though the show is documentary style, it has enough bells and whistles to make sure people tune in. As in all television, you’re trying to keep people from grabbing their remotes. This story felt right.
Speaking of “The Outsiders,” the 30th anniversary is next year. Anything planned?
Wow, everything seems like it’s the 30th anniversary! That movie holds a special place for me. I read that book when I was 12 years old, and wanted to be one of the greasers and got to be the best one, in my opinion. The most sympathetic character. It reinvents itself with every generation. I can’t tell you how many teenagers tell me on Twitter how much they love it. We did a 20th anniversary DVD. It would be great to get the team together. I would totally be a part of it if [ Francis Ford] Coppola was on board to do a screening, maybe in Tulsa [where it was filmed], or as a tribute to Patrick Swayze.
Your old costar Tom Cruise is in the news a lot.
Well, the bigger they are, the more the controversy. I’ve been following [his divorce], but not in an ‘Oh, my God, what’s happening with Tom and Katie? kind of thing.’ It’s not my business or real interest. What are you gonna say? It’s always tough because we don’t know people’s personal relationships.