An exclusive interview with the TV personality, radio host, producer, author, fitness guru, family man and connoisseur.
By Jon Shakill
What comes to mind when you think of Mario Lopez? It’s a question that will almost certainly lead you to one of a few potential answers. But don’t be too quick to rush to judgment—he’s not necessarily the teen “heartthrob” from the late ‘80s through mid-‘90s that many still may perceive him to be, though he does still have his suave style for sure. Whatever the preconceived notion, at least one thing is true: Lopez has built a highly successful career in the entertainment industry, which is no easy task.
Today, most of you will recognize Mario Lopez from his current role as the prominent host of the syndicated entertainment news program “Extra.” As the host of “Extra,” Mario has interviewed scores of the most famous celebrities in Hollywood and beyond, from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jennifer Lopez to the President of the United States. In fact, Mario just accepted the show’s first Emmy Award on behalf of the “Extra” team for Outstanding Entertainment News Program.
“It’s been a dream gig for me. I mean I get to talk to the most interesting people and some of the biggest stars in the world,” explains Mario, “It’s a lot of fun. For example, today I just interviewed Daniel Radcliffe, better known as Harry Potter. And then I had Sharon Stone on later, and I’m not even sure who’s next […] Britney Spears was just on the other day.”
Not a bad gig some 20 years removed from his iconic role on one of the most popular Saturday morning teen shows on T.V. (that’s still in syndication to this day). You may remember A.C. Slater from “Saved by the Bell” —the cool kid jock and best friend of Zack Morris. Needless to say, cell phones have come a long way since then and so has Slater.
When I asked Mario how he feels about his long-standing association with A.C. Slater he said, “I appreciate it and I’m grateful for having that opportunity. I mean it was a Saturday morning show and I can’t believe it’s still on 20-something years later! And the fact that people recognize me for it makes me feel like I haven’t aged too poorly [laughs]. I have nothing but fond memories.”
Still others of you will be more familiar with “Super Mario”—the impressive performer on the 2006 edition of “Dancing with the Stars.” Lopez and his dance partner had to settle for second best on the show. But it didn’t take long for Mario to break it on Broadway. Indeed it seems that once he gets going, his momentum is hard to stop.
Whether it’s hosting “Extra” and befriending nearly ever star in Hollywood in the process, or hosting his national radio show “On With Mario” and playing tunes for listeners across the country, Mario definitely keeps his hands full. So what keeps him motivated to be constantly multitasking?
“Well most importantly, I’ve got kids and a family that I have to take care of. Aside from that, I’ve always been a hustler and I’ve never been lazy. I’ve become even more ambitious now that I’m a father, and I want to have more kids and I want to be able to make sure they’re secure.”
Now into a different phase of his life he has noticeably “grown up,” while maintaining his youthful vigor and positive spirit. If anything, his family life has motivated him to do even more rather than slow down. But it’s this type of lifestyle which makes those relaxing times with friends and family, with a cigar and a spirit, that much more to cherish.
The following interview covers some background on Mario’s career and personal life, and of course, his enjoyment of premium cigars and fine spirits. Here is the interview as it happened:
Jon Shakill: Mario thank you for your time today. So it seems that you have settled down into family life now. How much do you enjoy it?
Mario Lopez: No problem guys, thank you. Yes, it’s great and I love it. I’m glad I get to do it when I’m a little bit older now and I don’t take it for granted. I’m able to appreciate it and be a little bit more patient, so I’m happy with it. I’m looking forward to keeping the family growing.
JS: That’s great—so let’s start off talking about your career. In addition to “Extra,” which we’ve talked about, I understand that you are also a radio DJ. How do you split time between T.V. hosting and radio hosting?
ML: I just kind of make it work, but I mean it’s a very intense day. I just get up and have breakfast with my family, and then I head to work to do my radio show. From there I go right into “Extra”—so I kind of bounce back-and-forth each day.
JS: I saw that you’re a big fan of boxing and UFC and that you host sporting events sometimes. Can you elaborate on that—what do you do in this arena?
ML: A lot of people don’t know that I do color commentary for boxing on both HBO and the international feed. It’s a passion of mine and something that I’ve always loved. I still train and I like to do that, it’s a great world to be involved in. It’s more of a niche sport I realize, but it’s more for fun and it really has an international appeal. I have a lot of respect for those athletes.
In addition to that, “Extra” and the radio show, I’ve got a hand-full of projects that I’m producing as well, including my wife’s show “Love and Salsa.”
JS: Amazing. So now let’s get into the cigars and the spirits.
All About the Cigars and the Spirits
Lincoln Salazar: Mario, what does it mean to you to have a cigar and a drink with the guys?
ML: I don’t smoke cigarettes but I’ve always been kind of an old school type guy. I love the old movies and I love the look of the films with the guys with cigars. Whether it’s the Godfathers or the old Westerns and all that, I just thought it looked cool and that’s why I first tried it.
Initially that was the intrigue, but now a cigar represents a timeout. From there, I came to like how cigars chill me out a little bit, and I like the flavor of it and how it can enhance your experience. I’m usually a weekend guy with cigars, like Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If I’m going out on Saturday night and having a few drinks, I like to have a cigar. Or on a lazy Sunday by the pool I enjoy a cigar. So for me it means relaxing, taking it easy, or of course if we’re celebrating something.
LS: You have the opportunity to interview a lot of famous people on “Extra.” Have you ever shared a cigar with someone you’ve interviewed that meant a lot to you?
ML: I think the coolest cigar moment I had was probably with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s obviously very well-known for smoking cigars and he always smokes the same one. I also shared a cigar recently with Chris Noth from “Sex and the City” and “Law and Order,” and also with Lawrence Fishburne, so I was smoking a cigar with those two guys just last week.
So I find myself in different scenarios, either introducing people to a cigar who’ve never smoked them before, or with guys that are big cigar smokers. George Lopez and I will have a cigar together once in a while too. But I don’t need to be smoking with anybody, I can smoke alone or even in a group if no one else is smoking. Of course I’ll be respectful, but for me it’s like cookies and milk and just goes with a drink.
Jon Shakill: What types of cigars are your favorites?
ML: Well as you know we did the photo shoot with Rocky Patel cigars, and I’ve come to know him pretty well and consider him a friend. So I’ve grown partial to his cigars out of loyalty to friends, but I usually don’t discriminate too much when it comes to cigars. Because Arturo Fuente was one of the first cigars I was introduced to, and I’m a bit of a creature of habit, I’ve stayed with those for a long time too. People tend to give me those as gifts.
JS: What is your favorite spirit?
ML: Similar to cigars, I don’t really discriminate too much when it comes to spirits [laughs]. I used to be a big vodka guy but it seems as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gravitated more toward whiskies like scotches and bourbons. I feel those are great complements for a cigar.
For example, when I was at the Kentucky Derby this year, I was blown away by all the bourbons that were offered. It was quite the treat for me and that’s probably my favorite combo with a cigar, but I’ll drink it all. I’m a big fan of Woodford Reserve and the old-school Jim Beam. I also enjoy Knob Creek and even Maker’s Mark. Basil Hayden is good bourbon too, I mean I’ve got them all and have tried them all.
I love rum too and a good mojito. The first spirit I ever tried was actually Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, which is a nice introductory drink—it’s not too hard on you.
JS: Can you share some of your favorite moments over a cigar and a spirit? What best embodies the experience for you?
ML: It’s something that my father and I have really bonded with. Having a cigar, shooting some pool and enjoying a nice bourbon, while listening to good music. When he’s gone, which hopefully is a long, long time from now, those are some of the fondest memories I will have with him.
And also with my friends as well. I like to have parties at my house, especially when a good fight is on like boxing or UFC. If I’m not there hosting the fight, we all gather around the T.V. outside next to my bar and watch, and have a smoke with a good drink. It’s a great camaraderie and time to socialize—that’s what I love about it too.
I also had a nice two hour long cigar this past Sunday while my kids played in the pool and I just lounged on the chair— obviously far enough away from them so they weren’t exposed to the smoke. I never really have a cigar when I’m in a bad mood. It’s always when I’m in a good mood, or celebrating something or just relaxing. It kind of goes hand-in-hand. I don’t like to feel forced or to rush the cigar, so it’s usually just when I’m chillin’ and kicking back on the weekends.
Lincoln Salazar: What does being a “true gentleman” mean to you?
ML: I believe a true gentleman is someone who is respectful to other people—someone who treats everyone with respect. Someone who is polite, courteous and considerate, as well as positive. It’s someone who comes from a good place, not a negative place, but a good positive place. I see myself as a gentleman and a professional no matter what. Family is also really big to me and I think taking care of them is a big part of that.
JS: What’s next for you? What are you up to in terms of your next projects or career moves?
ML: I want to continue doing what I’m doing and also continue to build up the producing side of things. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep growing both professionally and personally.
Jon Shakill: Mario thank you for your time today, and also for your hospitality.
Mario Lopez: My pleasure guys, it’s been fun.
The Cigar & Spirits Magazine team had the opportunity to visit Mario in his Los Angeles home for this interview and shoot. It’s not an everyday occurrence that someone invites you into their home for this type of thing. But the man definitely exudes positivity and doesn’t appear to take himself too seriously, though clearly he does in action.
A friendly and welcoming attitude is one of the first things I noticed when meeting Mario in his Los Angeles home. And it’s not just Mario, it’s his entire family. It was his wife Courtney who greeted us at the door and immediately we felt welcome. It would be a few minutes before Mario arrived from a taping of “Extra.” Enough time for us to setup up the gear and move a few baby toys out of the way.
The day of our photo shoot, it just so happened that both Mario and Courtney’s parents were there, in preparation for the upcoming weekend baptism of Mario and Courtney’s baby son Dominic.
Our arrival didn’t seem to change the energy much, as everyone just went about their normal family business. They weren’t overly concerned with the small flock of strangers in suits that had just taken over the living room, wielding lights and cameras. If anything, we became part of the gathering, and Mario and Courtney’s adorable three-year old daughter Gia relished the moment—she definitely has show business in her genes.
We instantly got a sense of the family man Mario is upon his arrival. As we waited with some anticipation, the door finally opened to Mario proclaiming, “Daddy’s home!” As he greeted everyone with a smile and friendly introduction.
A man of many hats and of many successes, his friendly demeanor is a sure sign of his self-confidence. It’s the type of confidence that comes from a person who is sure about their direction in life and who pursues their goals aggressively, but while maintaining a certain grace. It’s not something you always find among these types—a true gentleman, not just one on TV.