George Lopez may be a television veteran, but his newest show, Lopez, introduces fans to a totally different cast of characters, including its own freshly goateed star. We sat down with George last week to get a sense of how Lopez differs from his previous work, and what viewers can expect from this intimate, funny look into life as Lopez. Catch up on episode one ahead of tonight’s episode at 10/9c on TV Land.
Lopez is a definite departure from some of your other television work. It feels more personal and there’s a real intimacy even in the way that it’s filmed. Do you think viewers are getting a chance to get to know the real George Lopez?
Well, I’m still trying to figure out who the real George Lopez is! You know one of the things that I thought about before we started this show—and this is me being as honest as I can be—I grew up an only child and I spent a lot of time alone growing up. When I was 18 I decided to get involved in a profession where you can travel alone, be on stage alone, be at home alone, so that didn’t really help me with building human connections.
In ’89 I did Arsenio for the first time, from ’89 to ’94 I toured quite a bit, and ’94 to 2000 was probably the darkest period of my life. I wasn’t on TV all the time, I wasn’t asked to do Friday night videos or stand up shows—they kind of looked past me. At that time I finally thought to myself ‘you know, I’m a little too concerned about what other people are doing and not concerned enough about what I’m doing.’ The minute I chose to worry less about what other people were doing and to focus more on myself, it kind of just changed my whole focus. It got me healthier too.
Then I met Sandra Bullock in 2000, and from 2000 to 2001 we spent a year trying to get people to buy the show—it was tough! The fact that the show is still on the air and people like it that much means a lot. But for me as George Lopez, I still have that question: who am I when I’m not telling jokes, when I’m not acting or being funny? What does that guy like? What is he about? And I think that’s why we created this show. I think we’ll need a couple of seasons to really figure it out. I don’t think at the end of this season all of the answers are there.
The show touches on what it’s like to live between worlds—you’re addressing the alienation that can come from finding success and being accused of abandoning your roots head on. I think a lot of viewers will relate to this. It can obviously make for moments of great humor, but it’s also a clever way to address a pretty touchy subject. Was this a narrative that was important for you to tell throughout the series?
Yeah! You know one of the most fun days I had this year was when I played golf with three of my friends from high school. And you know, I’ve been playing golf for years since ’81, so I’ve played all over the world. But I went with these guys that I went to high school with, and those five hours that we were out there was so much fun. Nobody was asking me for anything, and I thought damn I should do this more often.
George Lopez has sort of become this brand, and people will associate one thing with it, but that’s not all of it. My wish would be that this show goes on for a long time and maybe someone else gets to make a similar show—whether it’s an athlete or an actress—but someone who would look to highlight that same thread so that they can explore their lives away from the spotlight as well.
You did a lot of stand up early on in your career, but throughout the years you’ve really built up a sizable library of television work. What was the most jarring or surprising thing about entering the world of television?
Well, that’s a good question. When I was unknown, I’d think about what it would be like to walk into a restaurant and have everyone know you, never thinking that that would happen to me. Then when you walk into a restaurant, a store, or a market and everybody knows you, it’s the last thing that you’d want to happen! So I think that would go under #carefulwhatyouwishfor.
There really haven’t been many television shows where the central characters are Hispanic—is there an element of education via humor that you’re hoping to impart to viewers who may not have any understanding of what the Latin experience in America is really like?
Maybe, for some instances. But also I think that sometimes Latinos weigh heavy on things that are only Latino instead of honing in on the fact that we as Latinos have the same problems that other people have too. So instead of it being about piñatas it’s about being unable to connect, or being unable to give someone a compliment—that’s the area I like to play in.
What’s been your favorite part of working on the show?
My favorite part has been discovering some great young actors that haven’t been overexposed by TV. We had some people that came in that were really known, but we wanted to go with fresh faces. I’ve been through the wars—having things taken away from you—and to be surrounded by such optimistic actors in something so new is really exciting to me.