It’s an overcast afternoon in Midtown Manhattan, and I am sitting in the offices of Extra. I’d expected the place to be bright and lively to match the glitzy pep of the show, but instead, the interiors are done up in grayscale. Gray carpet, gray cubicles, gray filing cabinets, gray walls. Even the oversized photographs -- including Tom Cruise sliding around in his underpants for Risky Business -- are in black and white.
I’m there to interview Mario Lopez, who is a TV and radio host these days. But -- c’mon, if you’re of a certain age, even if you weren’t a Saved By The Bell freak, you’ll always remember him as A.C. Slater. So, when Mario invites me into his corner office, I have to remind myself to call him Mario and not Slater. He is friendly and extroverted, and either he is genuinely glad to meet me or he has become a superb thespian, because he welcomes me like an old friend. “If I have tears in my eyes,” I tell him, “it’s because I’m battling allergies. I’m not that emotional about meeting you.”
He laughs, I laugh. It all feels oddly familiar, like we knew each other as teenagers. At least, I knew his character, and this is why it’s not awkward when I start the interview by asking how he feels about losing his hair.
To be fair, that’s the reason we’re both there. Mario is doing a press day for Nioxin, a hair-care range for thinning hair. This doesn’t exactly make immediate sense to me, because -- even accounting for the blessed absence of the Slater mullet -- Mario’s hair is lush and thick. So I ask him how he started using Nioxin, seeing as he doesn’t seem to need it.
“Well,” he says, “because I have a full, thick head of hair, I recognize quickly when it starts to thin. Unfortunately, that’s when I stress out, that’s how my body reacts. I’m married now, so I don’t care about talking about it.”
Most men do, though; a recent survey found that 69 percent of men worry about thinning hair. My completely unscientific observations have found that approximately zero percent of men want to go near the topic. “Hair loss is the subject you have to tiptoe around,” I tell Mario. “No man wants to talk about it.”
Mario says it’s because men think there’s nothing they can do about it, and that it’s extremely embarrassing for guys. A subtle challenge to their virility, if you will. “It’s probably the equivalent of, you know… I don’t know what it would be for women. I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what to compare it to.”
As a rule, I don’t like to interrupt people, so I just sit there while Mario struggles to identify the lady equivalent of hair loss. Something potentially embarrassing, socially awkward, maybe not-so-erotic. And then I realize what I’d least like to reveal, and because Mario has been so open about his own hair issues, I decide to tell him.
“Um, do you want me to tell you what it honestly is?” I say.
“Sure,” Mario Lopez replies.
Reader, I apologize for admitting this to the man who likely played a role in many of your adolescent fantasies, but honesty forced me to do it. “Chin hair,” I declare.
I can feel my cheeks flushing as Mario blinks at me. He’s trying to hold back a laugh and not doing a tremendous job at it.
“You find a hair on your chin and you just want to die. Not that it’s ever happened to me,” I add.
To keep Mario from looking at my chin, I shift the conversation to this observation: He does not appear to be aging. His dimples are just as deep, his eyes are sparkling, his skin shows no signs of sagging. Nor does he have a shiny forehead, a telltale sign of overzealous Botox use. Yeah, he looks older than he did in his Saved By The Bell years, but in the grown-ass-man way. This is somewhat surprising because, between his hosting duties and radio gig and personal appearances, dude seems to work approximately 100 hours a week. Not exactly the formula for fresh-faced youthfulness. So I ask him: What are you doing to make this happen, and where can I buy some of it?
He seems surprised. (Again, either refreshingly open or a really good actor.) “Really?” he says. “I’m flattered. I’m starting to get a little gray around the temples” -- I glance, he is -- “but I guess I got lucky with not aging too poorly. And, I mean, I have makeup on now because I’m shooting my show. I’m sure that probably helps.” What about skin care? Certainly there has to be something, or maybe he steals his wife’s creams? Nope, he insists. “I use a scrub before I shave because it prevents ingrown hairs, and I like aloe vera because it feels tingly and tightens your skin.”
Time is running out, and my allergies are pummeling me. I’m sniffing so often that I probably look like a coke fiend, which reminds me of that old SBTB episode in which Slater and others proclaim, “There’s no hope with dope!” So I wrap things up by asking Mario about his kids, who look adorable on Instagram. Mario lights up when I ask about his daughter, Gia. “My little girl is my everything,” he says, beaming. “She’s a handful, but she’s awesome, and she’s all girl. A complete complement to every aspect of my life. You have kids?”
I don’t, but I say that if my fiancé and I have them, I feel pretty confident that our kiddo will be cute. Because my fiancé is quite handsome, I explain. “Well, you’ll have cute kids either way, because you’re a pretty woman, too,” Mario says. Politely, not slickly. I’m oddly touched by the compliment, probably because my pre-teen self (headgear, spiral perm) usually felt uncool and unpretty. Even though Mario Lopez is not his old character and I’m not quite as dorky as I was then, it surprisingly feels nice to talk with him on level ground. Even if he now knows about the whole chin-hair thing.
But wait, there’s more! I have a beauty website, The Glowhow. Come say hello and let me know what you want to see.