TV host and actor Mario Lopez approached turning 50 with more excitement than dread. “It’s weird, I think I am so thrilled about being 50 that I haven’t absorbed it,” Mario, who celebrated the October 10 event with a family-and-friends trip to Mexico, tells Closer. “It may not hit me that hard until I turn 51. That could be like, ‘Dang, I’m on the other side now!'”

Approaching life with a smile has helped Mario go far. He first became a familiar face on television in the 1990s, playing A.C. Slater on the teenage comedy Saved by the Bell. While he has continued to act, in adulthood Mario found a whole new audience as a television host. These days, he’s doing double duty as a co-host on NBC’s Access Hollywood and Access Daily. Mario is also a husband and the father of three school-age children, Gia, Dominic and Santino.

Happy birthday! Of course, they say that age is relative.

“It’s funny, I was on The Golden Girls [in 1987]. Those ladies were in their early 50s! The character of Blanche was supposed to be 47. That’s wild when I think about it. Now I’m in that age bracket!”

Is this what you thought 50 would feel like?

“I feel great. I still participate in very physical activities like jiujitsu boxing. It makes me feel alive; but the [slower] recovery time of my body reminds me very quickly that I’m not that young anymore.”

Not every actor can also be a good TV host. How did your upbringing prepare you to tackle different kinds of performing?

“When I was younger, my mom sent me to a bunch of different activities to keep me busy. I was the only dancing, theater, wrestling and karate kid. I’ve always liked to be diverse. I think it was good to do many different things, not limit myself, and create more opportunities. I am really blessed to be able to do all these different things.”

Do you feel that your work ethic was instilled into you by your parents?

“Absolutely. And I try to lead by example. It’s rubbed off on my kids because they’re involved in many activities. They’re hard workers.”

How did you begin acting?

“I just sort of fell into it, to be honest with you. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to be on TV, but acting was just another one of my many activities. I was living in San Diego, California, and even though it’s only a couple of hours south of L.A., it’s a world of difference.”

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who inspired your career path?

“The person who made a significant impact on me and changed my approach toward the business was Dick Clark. I became very friendly with him after I worked with him [on the 2001 daytime talk show The Other Half]. He took me under his wing and became a mentor. That’s when I said to myself, ‘I want to do that. I want to be like Dick Clark.’”

What kind of sacrifices did you have to make for your career?

“Missing out on some of my kids’ activities is the biggest one. But I do coach their wrestling team.”

What do you remember most fondly about your time on ‘Saved by the Bell’?

“It was nice because we were actual teenagers playing teenagers. We would always shoot in summertime, which was a lot of fun. Trips to Vegas and Hawaii were personal highlights.”

How did you handle all the attention as a teenager? Was fame difficult on you?

“Not really. There wasn’t any social media back then, thank goodness, so it wasn’t as saturated. I got to go to a regular high school and experience sports, prom and homecoming. It was great.”

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as a young performer?

“Yes — that I can take my time.”

You’re Catholic and have been very open about going to church and believing in the power of prayer. Is this just a natural extension of who you are as a person?

“I never talk about politics, even though I know that’s very popular with lots of people in entertainment, because I don’t want to alienate anyone. I don’t want to give them a reason to change the channel. I believe people should do what’s best for themselves and their family. But I do speak on my faith, because I’m very proud of it. I’m not trying to influence someone one way or the other, I’m just being honest about how I feel. I’ve been surprised by the positive response.”

You’ve been married to your wife, Courtney Laine Mazza, since 2012. What’s your secret for a happy marriage?

“It’s no secret — I’ve got a great partner. Courtney’s awesome! She gets me. That’s one of our most essential things as partners and parents. We understand each other and try to make each other better.”

What do you like most about being the age you are today?

“I feel very settled. I’m fortunate to be where I am, both professionally and personally, and I have great kids.”

What is your typical day like?

“My day starts with getting the kids ready for school. Then, I usually go and do jiujitsu. I’m sequestered at Universal Studios for the rest of the day. I do a nationally syndicated radio show called On With Mario Lopez, which is also taped. From there, I film Access Hollywood, my nighttime entertainment show, followed by Access Daily, the daytime version. That’s all three, every day, Monday to Friday.”

That’s a lot to keep you busy!

“I also have a podcast called The 3 Knockdown Rule and I’m producing and hosting A Blank Slate for the Game Show Network. I also recently did a documentary on HBO with my buddy Mark Wahlberg called The Golden Boy. I’m busy, busy, busy!”