Mario Lopez talks family, his packed schedule, and the work ethic that’s taken him from A.C. Slater to Extra host.
Written By: Elizabeth Nutt Mario Lopez
Photographed By: Gil Cope
You know more about Mario Lopez than you think you do; that is, if you’ve watched an episode of Saved by the Bell, which, let’s face it, you have. Everyone in America has. A.C. Slater, the character he played for roughly seven years on the show, mirrored the real-life Mario. The dimple-faced, smooth-talking and charming adolescent jock with an affinity for dancing, wrestling and playing the drums was all Mario. Which means that anyone who tuned in to the 80s and 90s sitcom essentially had the privilege of watching Mario Lopez grow up. And grow up he did; today, he’s the father of two children with wife Courtney Mazza, he’s a celebrated host on Extra, and there’s almost nothing under the entertainment industry sun that he hasn’t done.
Mario recently turned 40, which means he’s done a little reflecting on his life thus far—enough reflecting to fill the pages of his first memoir, Just Between Us. “After I turned 40, it’d been 30 years in the business, which started when I was a kid at age 10, so I just sort of wanted to talk about all the transitions that happened in my life, what went on personally and professionally, ” says Mario. “I thought it was a good point in my life to sort of pause and think about how I got where I am.”
It was a good exercise, albeit a challenging one, as a litany of significant experiences got him where he is today. Mario Lopez was one of those rare child stars who, rather than fizzling out in his twenties or thirties, was able to find continuous success in the industry. Over the years, Mario has dabbled in everything from film and radio to Broadway and hosting. And, along the way, he found love with wife Courtney, and together they’ve navigated the initial years of parenthood (his daughter Gia is 5, and his son Dominic is 2). “I get really vulnerable and open myself up for the first time ever, ” Mario adds of his memoir.
Of course, the story must begin with Saved by the Bell. Mario was raised in Chula Vista, California, and his mother, who worked for a phone company, ensured that there was plenty for him to do. “My mom kept me busy in different activities to stay active and occupy my time, because in my neighborhood there were opportunities to get in trouble. So she put me in wrestling, karate, theater, dancing, anything, ” he says. And he’ll tell you that at age 10 when someone approached his mother and encouraged Mario to audition for the role of A.C. Slater, it was just another activity.
“I wasn’t shy, so I just sort of fell into it, but really, I would’ve been just as happy doing something else. It was just like having a cool summer job, ” he says.
Looking back, Mario realizes that the show served as a platform for his thriving career in the entertainment industry, but he’s also certain that a solid work ethic and the decision not to take anything for granted has led him to success as well. When Saved by the Bell wrapped, Mario fought to stay relevant, proactively seeking out a diverse range of experiences and work opportunities.
He cites American radio and television personality Dick Clark as one of his greatest mentors, and someone that continues to inspire him today. “Dick Clark had a huge influence on me in terms of how to look at myself as a brand and being able to be in things for the long run, ” Mario says. And it has been a long run for the actor, singer, dancer and host, who has appeared on everything from Pacific Blue and Dancing with the Stars, to The X Factor and Grease Live over the past few decades.
Of course, he’s well known, too, for his sculpted physique. In 2008, he was named People magazine’s “Hottest Bachelor, ” and that same year, he released his first book: Mario Lopez’s Knockout Fitness. Mario’s gone on to pen two other bestsellers—Extra Lean and Extra Lean Family—through which he divulges favorite recipes, nutrition tips and his secrets to staying trim and strong despite his busy schedule. “Working out and fitness are essential to my life because it allows me to de-stress and take out all my anxiety. It helps me stay balanced, ” he says.
And it also helps him continue to acquire fans, especially those that tune in devotedly on weekdays to watch him on Extra. Mario’s found his niche as a host on the nationally syndicated entertainment show, and it’s a role he relishes. For Mario, one of the job’s perks is that he gets to pal around with the likes of Julia Roberts and the cast of Game of Thrones, and he’s even had the opportunity to interview presidential hopefuls this year. “I get to just be myself, and it’s what I love to do. I like people, and I just love meeting people from all walks of life, ” he says.
Though Mario seems to have done it all, perhaps his most coveted role to date is that of the Family Man; some of the most fulfilling and exciting moments in his life have happened with his family, in the form of birthdays and baptisms. Mario’s just as likely to be spotted in front of the camera as he is dropping off Gia and Dominic at ballet or jujutsu classes. On weekends, he can be found hanging out with his family at their pool, hiking or having dance parties at home. Mario says that fatherhood has changed him for the better, that it complements every aspect of his life, and that it’s encouraged him to work even harder.
“I was blessed with great parents who were very supportive, and they instilled in me a strong work ethic. But once I had my own family, it just kind of went to another level, ” says Mario. “I try to create opportunities for myself. There’s so much going on, and every minute is accounted for.”
Mario has even successfully translated his love for tequila into a business opportunity. He was introduced to Casa Mexico Tequila just before his December 2012 wedding to Courtney in Mexico, and the company ended up supplying tequila for the entire wedding weekend. “It was a huge hit. The founder and I hit it off, and he approached me, and it was just a fun sort of venture, so I said why not? I’m a huge tequila fan and it’s a big part of my culture, ” says Mario, who partnered with the company shortly after his nuptials.
When he does take a moment’s rest, he can be found on vacation in Mexico with his family, or poolside at home with a Casa Mexico Tequila margarita in hand. But, in true Mario fashion, he won’t pause for very long, and he’s got plenty of ambition stored up for the next few decades. “I want to be the Latin Dick Clark, and I want to be in the business for the next 50 years. I want to be part of American pop culture and I want to be in your family room for years to come, ” he says.
The Good Guy: “I go to church every week with my family or by myself. If not, the catholic guilt gets on.”
Mario’s Favorite LA-area hangouts?
- My friend Caruso’s spots, The Grove and Glendale Americana
- Frida Mexican Cuisine for mariachi brunch
- Wild Card Boxing Gym