January 14, 2000

An Interview With TV Star/Heartthrob Mario Lopez

By John Philip Wyllie

It has often been said that Hispanic actors are under utilized in Hollywood, but finding employment has not been a big problem for Chula Vista's Mario Lopez.

The star of the USA Network's "Pacific Blue" has worked almost continously from the outset of his acting career, a career which started with "Kids Incorporated" back in 1984. His big break, came along four years later when he took on the role of A.C. Slater for the long-running "Saved by the Bell" series. The popularity of that show gained him national recognition and paved the way for his later success.

"I've been very blessed and lucky," Lopez says, regarding the pigeonholing that often occurs with Hispanic actors. "I haven't gotten labeled as a Hispanic actor. I like to consider myself an actor who just happens to be Hispanic. In some cases, the casting directors have casted blindly and have not looked into my ethnic background."

Now 26 and in the second year of his stint as Pacific Blue's temperamental bike cop, Bobby Cruz, Lopez splits time between the show and various outside projects. The latest of these is the soon to be released feature film "Eastside" in which he stars as a misunderstood Hispanic youth growing up on the tough streets of East L.A.

Now as I've gotten older, I like to play characters with a "Z" in their last names," reports Lopez. "I'm proud of my background, so I hope there will be more roles where Hispanics are being portrayed."

Despite his success and hectic schedule, Lopez returns frequently to Chula Vista. When he is not enjoying the company of his close-knit family and friends, he is often found contributing to some local cause.

"I love Chula Vista," Lopez declared following a Christmas charity event which drew hundreds of his fans to the Plaza Bonita Shopping Center. "Anything that I can do to help the children, especially the ones here in the South Bay, I'm more than happy to lend my time."

A few weeks later, Lopez was volunteering again, this time on behalf Junior Seau's "Shop with a Jock" program, where 200 local underprivileged youngsters went shopping with local professional athletes and celebrities. Although being diagnosed earlier in the day with strep throat, Lopez was not about to let the kids down. Despite considerable discomfort, Lopez made good on his promise to appear.

While his Mexican-born parents, Elvia and Richard Lopez have no theatrical background, Lopez credits much of his success to them. "We haven't had any actors in the family, but I was fortunate to be blessed with a strong and caring one. I grew up in a household without a lot of problems and they have been very supportive from day one."

Lopez enjoys the challenges of his career and is grateful to be among the few who have sustained long-term Hollywood careers. "Right now, I'd like to just continue on a series where I am doing good work with a balance of comedy and drama. That and do occasional features and movies. Eventually though, I'd like to have my own production company. Then I could create great opportunities not only for myself, but for other actors as well."

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