Although perhaps best known as A.C. Slater on the iconic ’90s sitcom “Saved by the Bell,” actor Mario Lopez is all grown up and boasts a resume filled with stage and screen roles. In addition to parts in shows including “Nip/Tuck” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” the current “Extra” host and one-time “Dancing with the Stars” runner-up was recently added to the cast of January 2016’s “Grease: Live.” Examiner caught up with the talented actor on Oct. 26 to chat about numerous topics, including his thoughts on the Boys and Girls Club’s My.Future program, the best recipe in his cookbook (yes, he wrote one!), and whether or not a “Saved by the Bell” reunion may be in the works.
Sherry Wight: How did you first get involved with the Boys and Girls Club?
Mario Lopez: I got involved with the Boys and Girls Club at an early age. I was about five years old and both my parents worked. I lived in Chula Vista, which is a border town, and I was a hyper kid, a lot of energy, and could’ve got in trouble if it went in a different direction. The club was there as a safe place with mentors that cared about you. It exposed me to so many great things, wrestling being probably the most important in my life. I was there for 10 or 11 years and love everything about it and have remained an alumni and supporter and ambassador for the clubs.
SW: Cool. Tell me about the My.Future program.
ML: My.Future gives kids access to the digital world and helps kids learn the skills that they need to compete in the workforce in the STEM program, which is of course science, technology, engineering, and math. With this program, kids are going to learn coding, web skills, robotics. It’s going to make learning fun and hopefully will instill a passion that they’ll want to pursue one of these fields as a career later on.
SW: We know that you’re an entertainment guy. Are you a STEM guy, too?
ML: Not really because I’m not of this generation. I’m not too tech savvy, to be completely honest with you. I’m happy if I learn how to work my phone. But my kids… even at the young ages of five and two are already on the computer and on the phone doing stuff and that’s just the world we live in now.
SW: I’m a couple of years younger than you, but we’re in the same boat in that my kids know more than I do.
SW: Now I’m going to jump around a little since you’ve held so many notable roles in my mind and I want to touch on all of them, if I can. I’m a really big fan of “Dancing with the Stars” and it’s nothing against Emmitt Smith at all, but I think you and Karina [Smirnoff] were robbed. Did you feel that way?
ML: Aw, thank you very much. I certainly felt that we put the work in and did the best we could and that, I think, is all you can ask for at the end of the day. I think a long time ago it stopped being about rewarding the “best dancer.” There’s a lot of other factors involved.
SW: Totally. It really is kind of a popularity contest and a fun thing for viewers. But I know I like the see the best dancers win so I was disappointed for you guys.
ML: I’m with you, thank you.
SW: Why did you decide to do that show in the first place?
ML: They asked me a couple times and I said no. My mom liked it, and I pretty much just did it for her.
SW: Awesome. I hope my kids will do things like that for me some day. Who do you think should do it who hasn’t done it yet?
ML: Oh, I don’t know. There are so many people. I don’t watch it, I don’t know…. Whoever wants to do it should do it. But it’s a lot of work. It’s tough.
SW: Okay, fair enough. New topic. I’m a kid of the ’80s, teen of the ’90s. “Saved by the Bell” is a cult classic for me. When you started as AC Slater did you think that it was going to be as big as it was?
SW: Did you ever think, even in your wildest dreams, that you would wind up giving life to a cult character?
SW: Which of your co-stars do you miss working with?
ML: All of them. They were all real cool. It was just like real high school. You know, you see who you can and you get along with them, and fortunately I got along with all of them.
SW: The “Tonight Show” skit you guys did earlier this year was amazing. On behalf of fans everywhere, thank you. I know I was rolling with the pregnant Kelly Kapowski. How did it come about?
ML: Thank you. Jimmy Fallon had mentioned it to me a while back, so we tried to get everybody to get their schedules in line and [checked to see] if they were up for it, and fortunately they were.
SW: Do you guys have any plans to do a reunion movie, maybe just a one-shot kind of thing? I can guarantee you that there’s an entire generation who would watch it.
ML: Not at the moment. I mean, I’m pretty busy and I don’t know where I’d squeeze it in personally. It’s not in the works.
SW: Okay. Now no one else is going to ask you about this today or even this month. I love cheesy Hallmark-like Christmas movies, and I really like “Holiday in Handcuffs.”
ML: Thank you.
SW: I talked to Melissa Joan Hart a couple of months ago and asked her a similar question: why did you take that role?
ML: It’s fun and it was an ABC Family movie, actually. To this day, I think it was their highest-rated one and has become a staple now: they play it every Christmas, people always tell me. I love doing sort of family-oriented fare, and who doesn’t want to be involved in Christmas movies? So it’s turned into a little classic for them so I wasn’t expecting that but it was a lot of fun. I wish I had the opportunity to do more stuff like that.
SW: We’re almost done here, just a couple of random questions for you to close it out. Your favorite sports team of all time?
ML: Well, what sport?
SW: Doesn’t matter.
ML: Well, I’m loyal to the soil that I came from, so everything in Southern California. I’m a Laker guy and a Dodger guy and we don’t have a football team here yet, but it’d probably be the Chargers since I’m from San Diego.
SW: Two words to describe what being a dad is like for you?
ML: Totally awesome.
SW: Cool. Okay, and the best recipe in your cookbook?
ML: I think probably my enchiladas.