Mario Lopez is Hispanic and he wants you to know it. You can tell by the type of attitude he puts behind pronouncing "Latino," and by the fact that salsa was his dance of choice during his career boosting stint on Dancing with the Stars.
During my press conference-style phone interview, multiple Hispanic publications, including HispanicBusiness.com, were virtually crowded into a tight room where Mr. Lopez sat distant on speaker phone. To avoid being verbally overrun by his many adoring female reporters, we were technologically silenced until we pushed "1" on our telephones, metaphorically raising our hands to be called upon. I was a bit nervous to interview him, I mean, this is AC Slater we're talking about here, you know, Slaaaaater!
Yes, that Slater, from Saved by the Bell, which aired on NBC from 1989 to 1993. Thanks to reruns in syndication, generations have grown up watching the studly Slater boss around Screech, make out with Jesse (ooooohhhhh) or battle buddy Zac Morris for high school jock supremacy.
But still, those glory days were so twenty years ago. What's A.C., um, Mario Lopez, doing these days anyway?
Despite the fact that most tabloid readers just recognize him as that super hunky guy who rides jet skis a lot, Lopez is one busy dude. The baby-faced 34-year-old took a brief break from LA and moved to New York, where he played a tyrant dance trainer on Broadway's "A Chorus Line." The reviews were good, although some critics argued that he stole the show maybe a little too much. For Lopez, who has been looking to expand his career through multiple facets, this criticism probably came more as a compliment than an aspersion.
"I've always wanted to be diverse as possible and make bold choices, I've always wanted to just kind of do it all, have fun and be fearless," Lopez cleverly commented, after being asked about his 'Fun, Fearless Male' award from Cosmopolitan Magazine. "I hope that I keep doing all the same things. One thing that I do want to add is doing more on the production side that focus more on Latinos, which I am already working on."
Lopez is looking to add children's author to his resume, writing a kids' book with his sister Marisa titled "Mud Tacos", which is expected to come out September 2009. "Tacos" is throw back to his nino days, when the two Lopez youngsters would play at their Nana's house and make pretend tacos out of whatever they found in the backyard, a la mud pies.
"It's about focusing on brother and sister bonds growing up, a Dora the Explorer type vein," Lopez explained of his new book. "[It's to] encourage kids to use their imaginations."
As if authoring his childhood lessons isn't enough, Lopez has big plans to transform the book into a cartoon, where the voice of his sister would be played by long-time pal Eva Longoria. "It would be cool for us to get to play brother and sister."
Even though for generations X and Y, to be Lopez is likely to be associated with Saved by the Bell, the Extra host promises he is satisfied where he is today. "[On Extra] I get to be myself and have fun and not feel like I'm an older cheesy anchor person," said Lopez, who is scheduled to continue his gig as the host for MTV's America's Best Dance Crew. Lopez is also a huge fitness buff, no pun intended, authoring 'Mario Lopez's Knockout Fitness,' which he recently employed to help a friend shed a Screech (about 40 pounds). But being decidedly sculpted and really ridiculously good looking is not without its price. The fitness guru admits that, "I've had to turn down stuff that is either shady, racy, or a little too provocative or in not in good taste."
Lopez went on to dish about being Hispanic in Hollywood, saying that it isn't as easy to get parts when you don't have blond hair and blue eyes. "I don't think I've had as many opportunities growing up being Latino so yeah, the opportunities are definitely less." Yet Lopez admits that being a minority in a predominantly white show biz has not been his largest obstacle.
"My biggest challenge is to keep it going, and being taken seriously [as] a former child actor. This past year I felt very blessed to appear in a Broadway show, [to be in] every facet of the entertainment business."
Growing up in Chula Vista, near San Diego, just a few miles contiguous to the Mexican border, Lopez said that he has never forgotten or dismissed his Mexican roots. "I don't take the fact lightly that I am a Latino in this business. I want to represent well and make them all proud and don't forget where I came from. I try to behave like a Latino, carry myself like one," said Lopez. "Aside from me being Latino and my friends being Latino I think everything about me is very Latino. I grew up in Chula Vista, you can't get any more Latino than that. From that to the dancing, liking the salsa dancing, the boxing, and the food, that's pretty Latino."
Though now convinced of his loyalty to Hispanics, and that his favorite word must be 'Latino,' one reporter became slightly provoked when Lopez dodged a question asking why he hadn't appeared on a Novela. A defenseless Lopez said he would without a doubt do a darker, Spanish-language film, but he "just never though about" being on Novelas before. Fair enough, Lopez, we'll give you that one.
Amongst the glamour and frippery of Hollywood, Lopez promises his fans that he still has his head on straight. "I'm really close with my mom and dad and they help me keep grounded. I've been in this business along time and you kind of know what's good for you," said Lopez, who told HispanicBusiness.com that he is also a former Boys Club member.
"It shaped me and helped me stay off the streets and [taught me] just how to work hard and have good role models," explained Lopez.
He noted that he has raised significant funds for the after-school program and is participating in a charity triathlon soon to support kids in his Chula Vista community. "There's a lot of bad guys out there and I want to be one of the good ones."
With those abs and arms, Mario, we'll forgive you even if you aren't.
Somewhere, Mr. Belding must be smiling proudly . . . and getting ready to ask Mr. Lopez for a job.
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