There are plenty of ways that Mario Lopez (best known as Saved by the Bell's A.C. Slater) can rev up a crowd — aside from taking off his shirt. He could wow them with stories about becoming a successful actor, bestselling author or Broadway star. He could inspire them by talking about achieving a fourth-career renaissance as host of Extra. Hell, he could stimulate them with Saved by the Bell stories that would make their toes curl.
But on Oct. 3, halfway through Hispanic Heritage Month, Lopez, along with Reggaeton star Don Omar and beauty expert Angel Merino, stopped by Macy's Valley Fair, in Santa Clara, to incite Hispanic pride. SF Weekly asked Mario Lopez about his Hispanic role models, why there are comparatively so few Latinos on television and any misconceptions about Hispanics that he'd like to break.
[jump] Who are your Hispanic role models and why?
Well, growing up, unfortunately there weren't too many visually onscreen for me to look up to, other than Desi Arnaz or Ricardo Montalbán. It was very limited, considering the numbers. But I used to see a lot of local newsmen, anchormen, and they were important to the community, and I sort of wanted to do that.
But now I think we've come a long way, and we have people like my friend Eva Longoria or Jennifer Lopez. The women are killing it, Sofía Vergara, and I'm happy to call them friends. And the way they're so diverse in their careers, I think it's so inspiring.
There are still misconceptions out there about Hispanics. Are there any that you'd like to break?
I don't really pay attention or give any thought or energy to any of them.
Then tell me what you love about Hispanic culture.
I think being Latino is a beautiful thing all the way around. The people are warm, they're hardworking, they're proud, they embrace their culture, they're about family, faith — and I celebrate all of those things. I wouldn't want it any other way.
What are some of the ways that you've improved yourself over the years that you'd encourage others to follow?
I've always had a guarded optimism and outlook about anything in life. But I constantly try to be as open to as many different possibilities and not try to limit myself, whether that is doing acting or Broadway or hosting or whatever the case may be. I try to just put myself out there as just an entertainer, not necessarily a Latino one, and just one that happens to be. It's worked out well. But my motto, for the most part, is you work hard, you stay focused and you do the right thing, and the right things will happen.
Most fans don't remember your first show, prior to Kids Incorporated and Saved by the Bell, a.k.a. Pablo. This shortly-lived sitcom about a Mexican-American family aired at a time when Hispanic shows were an anomaly in the US. Twenty-one years later, things haven't changed all that much. Why do you think that show didn't work, and why are Hispanic sitcoms still so scarce on American TV?
That show was a great pleasure to work on, because I worked with the great Norman Lear, who is known for his iconic work in television: The Jeffersons, Good Times, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, and the list goes on and on. The show was way ahead of its time, but unfortunately it had a lot of negative stereotypes that people, I don't think, really accepted. I was just happy that there were people who looked like my community on TV. But ultimately it wasn't told from a Latino's point of view, and that is a problem, generally speaking, for a lot of TV. There aren't that many Latinos telling those stories, and I think it needs to come from an authentic place.