The Mexican-American actor talked to about his new role in A Chorus Line, his upcoming appearance on the 100th episode of Dancing with the Stars, and why he might have a future in politics

Por Lee Hernández /
Updated Abril 14, 2008
Credit: Getty Images

It's 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, and 34-year-old actor Mario López is running late for an interview with But the Saved by the Bell alum has a good reason – just two blocks away at the Schoenfeld Theatre, he's rehearsing overtime with choreographers for his April 15 Broadway debut in the revival of A Chorus Line.

When he finally arrives a half-hour later, López is dressed down in windbreakers, a red tank top, and sporting a black bandana on his head. He looks like a guy who is releasing a fitness book, which he is in the next few months (Mario Lopez's Knockout Fitness). After apologizing for being late, the soft-spoken actor revealed he had yet to meet the cast of the play just days before his big debut. “They've been busy with the production, so I've been learning with the touring company. I'll be meeting them in a few days and then I'll have to go on stage with them next week,” he said. Read on to find out what López had to say about his multi-faceted career.

Of all the shows on Broadway, why did you decide to join the cast of “A Chorus Line”?
I had gotten asked to do a couple of other shows, like Chicago and Grease, and timing-wise, it just didn't work out. In lieu of the writer's strike, the timing for this seemed to work out. They were very, very cool about working with my schedule – my MTV show Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew, Extra, and another show I'm doing on Lifetime called Salt and the City. They were also cool about letting me go for a few weeks to promote my fitness book that's coming out. The people were really cool, and this is an iconic play. Now that I'm involved in it, I am excited, but I'm also a little overwhelmed because I'm learning a lot in a little bit of time. I'm trying to work hard and be ready.

Tell us about your character Zach…
He's a guy who shot up the ladder quickly, and his story is about him being so focused on his work that he neglects the love of his life [Cassie], and it kind of comes back to haunt him. He's a guy who's dealing with his demons and looking at himself and what's really important in his life. I love that my character gets to act a lot and gets to dance. He doesn't sing, really, except at the end, and I kind of liked that too (laughs).

Zach is described as “charismatic, controlling, manipulative, and calculated.” Do you think it's going to be difficult for your fans to see you in this role, since you're known as an agreeable and nice guy, both in your personal life and on the timeless show “Saved by the Bell”?
I don't know about agreeable, first of all. I am a nice guy. I like the fact that people view me as a nice guy, because I try to be cool with all people. But I like this character because he's all those things. He's almost a bad guy without being a bad guy. And there are a lot of sides to me people haven't seen. I think I will get to emote that in this role.

Are you working out more now to get fit for the show, or are you training the same as usual?
It's a little different because there's a lot of dancing on the show, so I'm focusing my energy and time on learning what I need to know. Then if I have time, I'll stretch or get in another kind of work out. But I miss boxing a lot. I haven't had the chance to do it, and it's good to de-stress. I don't have anything to punch.

Do you hope that your role on Broadway, where there are few Latinos, will inspire young Latinos to follow in your footsteps?
I'm a proud Latino. I embrace my role as a role model and I want to set a good example for the little kids from the inner city. I am a former inner-city kid myself. I want them to think that if this little Mexican kid right here can do it, then they know they can do it too. I want to inspire not just with this play, but in anything I do, and I want to go back to the neighborhood and give back.

What does your girlfriend Karina Smirnoff think of your new role on Broadway?
She's happy for me. She thinks it's great. I actually get to go back on Dancing with the Stars to perform a number from A Chorus Line with the cast in a couple of weeks for the 100th episode.

Is your friend Eva Longoria coming to see you in the play?
I hope so. She told me when she's in New York, she's going to come. I'm sure she will. She and her mom and my mom are all supposed to come together.

How do you like living in New York?
I love New York. I'm surprised it's still this cold. I was here five months ago and it was cold then. I'm excited to check out all of the places there are to eat.

You're a very religious guy. Where do you plan to attend church in New York each week?
Yes! I'm a very Catholic Latino. Seeing as how I'm staying real close here in midtown, I'd like to go to St. Patrick's Cathedral. I'm also really trying to get in to see the Pope when he has mass here [this week]. I know it's a long shot but hey, you never know. I know he's also going to be at Yankee Stadium.

What do you think your legacy will be at the end of your career?
Good question. In the entertainment field, you never have to retire. You can do it until, well, until you die. That said, I'd love to branch out and get into politics in the future, and do more for the community. I want to get involved as much as I can.

You've done it all, from working on scripted television shows to reality television, and hosting pageants. Is there anything else that you want to do that you haven't been able to do yet?
After this, I've kind of touched on all aspects of the business. I've hosted live shows, pageants, shows about women, radio shows, sports shows, and shows about animals (laughs). I've also acted in comedies and dramas, I'm producing, and now I am starring on Broadway, which is great. So I would love to keep doing everything. I don't think there are any rules. I would love to keep doing it all – on bigger levels of course.