Talk about disappearing into a character! Mark-Paul Gosselaar, a.k.a. Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell, went the expected route and parlayed his good looks into leading-man roles in NYPD Blue, CSI, Raising the Bar and Franklin & Bash. But at 42, he’s packed on the pounds and stopped shaving for his latest role: San Diego Padres star catcher and team captain Mike Lawson, who’s suddenly saddled with a headline-grabbing but inexperienced female rookie pitcher in Pitch, which premieres on FOX tonight (8/7c).
The show follows Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury), who’s called up from the minors to play for the Padres (no fake team names here—MLB gave its blessing and full cooperation), and explores what that means for the team, sports and America.
Gosselaar was on board with whatever it took to make Lawson believable, from intensive training to the physical transformation, despite the unfortunate side effect of less action in the bedroom. Here, he weighs in on the part, its perks and his facial “homegrown contraceptive.”
“People see me now and think that I left the business or I just don’t give a shit anymore.”
What drew you to Pitch and your character, Mike Lawson?
A really fantastic script. It’s beautifully written. It leaves you wanting more after you put it down. I wanted to know what happened to these characters. It was a water cooler script. Those are the ones you want to fight for. Mike reminded me of [Hall of Fame catcher] Mike Piazza. He was someone I admired growing up. I could relate to the character. I could relate to Ginny’s relationship with her father. I could relate to the age that Mike is. He’s a vet at the end of his career and I could relate to him having to deal with these younger guys coming in and moving up, and having to struggle to keep his position. Also, after a sitcom last year [Truth Be Told], I wanted to go the complete opposite way and do something more complex.
Do you remember when you felt like a rookie on set?
Sure. I understand the anxiety that comes with it, the need to succeed, to make everyone believe that you belong there—those are things I still struggle with to this day when I walk on a set. I had to do a two-page monologue in front of the Padres, and they’d never seen me act, only seen me play. I had the nerves, wanting to succeed in front of these guys and prove that I belong there. So I do understand what Ginny goes through.
Mike is pretty hard on Ginny at first.
No, Mike is hard on anybody that comes up and is going to be starting in their first game as a rookie. Gender is not even an issue at that point. It’s, “We need to win the game. What are you going to bring to the table?” And in the first game when she decides to throw in the towel, it doesn’t matter who the player is, you gotta get the fuck off the field. So yeah, he was hard on her, but not because of her gender. He’s the captain, and he demands a lot of his players. And he thinks, “We don’t need the distraction or the baggage that’s going to come with her.”
Did you watch any baseball movies for inspiration?
No. I made sure that I didn’t watch a lot of things that I grew up watching for fear that we’d try to match something we couldn’t match. We just worked with our technical advisors on the script, making sure that the show would give Major League Baseball the authenticity it needed. That’s why we went through extensive training. We’re still in training, about two or three times, minimum, a week. We just immerse ourselves into the world of baseball. We’re constantly texting each other photos of proper batting stances. For me, as a kid who grew up in the industry and who also always wanted to be a professional athlete, it’s like the best of both worlds.
You wanted to be a pro baseball player?