“You gamble on your notoriety. You gamble on your reputation,” Lopez explains. “I’ve done kid movies, I’ve done animation. I’ve done my stand-up. I’ve been able to be adult; I’ve been able to be family oriented. And I have almost 10 million Facebook friends. I would risk what I’ve done with the 10/90 format.”
Lopez created Saint George with sitcom veteran Matt Williams, the brain behind such classic shows as Roseanne and Home Improvement. The powerhouse cast includes David Zayas (Dexter), Renee Victor (Weeds) and, in his first comedic role, Machete tough guy Danny Trejo, playing the good-natured but sometimes misguided Tio.
“I’ve done 10 episodes and I haven’t killed anybody,” says Trejo, sporting his signature baggy shorts, white tank top and matching sneakers. “George is a legend in the San Fernando Valley, so when I had a chance to work with him, I just jumped on it.”
Lopez was born in the Valley community of Mission Hills, Calif. Abandoned by both parents at the age of 10, he endured a tough upbringing at the hands of his abusive Mexican grandmother, Benita Gutierrez, who raised him with her husband, Refugio. In the early ’80s, Lopez began performing at comedy clubs. His popularity led to a gig hosting a morning talk show on L.A.’s KCMG-FM Mega 92.3. In 2000, Sandra Bullock approached him to try his hand in prime time with ABC’s The George Lopez Show, which she produced. The show ended in 2007 after a six-year run, but found new life in reruns on Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite. He returned in 2009 with Lopez Tonight on TBS, but when Conan O’Brien signed a deal with the cable network, Lopez Tonight was bumped to a later time and then canceled after three seasons. Lopez isn’t one to stay down for long, however. And now he’s determined to up his game.
“I’ve done a lot already but I want to do more. I want to help more, put more people to work,” he says. “I want to leave a deeper impression. I want to be good and I want to be better.”
For him that means keeping on top of both his physical and emotional health, going to both psychotherapy and Pilates every morning before work. And although his marriage of 17 years ended in 2011—even after his then wife Ann had donated one of her kidneys to help him correct a congenital abnormality—Lopez cites even stronger ties today with Ann and their 17-year-old daughter, Mayan. Ann is still very active in the George Lopez Foundation, which they founded to help underprivileged kids and families with health care and education and to increase awareness about kidney disease. Lopez says that Mayan, whose sense of humor he ranks better than his own, hopes one day to join the cast of Saturday Night Live.
“My ex-wife is very funny as well,” he adds. “Not particularly during our divorce proceedings, but she’s always had a very good sense of humor.”
The levity comes easily to Lopez. But there’s no mistaking the fierce will to achieve that keeps him in the game. And he clearly appreciates every step of the journey.
“To come back to do it again, but do it again with the highest quality of writers and creators and actors, it’s just something that I would have never imagined,” Lopez says, “No one really gets to go around twice. They hardly get to go around once.”
Saint George premieres Thursday, March 6 at 9pm on FX!