Many of us grew up with Mark-Paul Gosselaar when he burst onto the scene in the ’90s as Zack Morris on “Saved by the Bell.” While not all child stars enjoy the same level of success as adults, Gosselaar’s career continues to blossom. In his latest role, he steps up to the plate as Mike Lawson — the cocky yet loveable MLB catcher in Fox’s new show, “Pitch,” which makes its debut tonight. We chat with Gosselaar about putting on weight for the role, how to be a baseball fan in L.A. and whether or not having a female pitcher in the major leagues is really possible.
What’s the story behind getting the role?
I read the scripts. It was one of the couple I was reading for pilots and when I put it down, I knew there was something special there. I knew the showrunner, Kevin Falls, who was also the showrunner for “Franklin & Bash” and I said to him, “Hey, you got to get me into this and he said ‘I think we already have you on the list to read.'” I went in there and had a really good session with Dan and all the other producers and Kevin as well. I kind of felt that I had a good chance with getting the role, and thank God that I did.
You changed your appearance quite a bit for this show. Want to talk about that?
I had to gain a bit of weight and that was probably one of the hundred things I had to do. I don’t gain weight easily just because my wife and I are healthy eaters and our kids are healthy eaters. Having very limited time, I kind of just ate everything.
Michael Phelps style.
It came out to about 4,000 calories a day. I gained weight for the pilot, but then I have been on a strict diet ever since. I need to gain a little more but I’m trying to keep it where I can take off my shirt. Baseball players are athletic-looking and fit, but they’re not ripped.
Did you go through any baseball training?
We have been working with retired major league baseball players. One of the guys I have been working with, sort of exclusively, is Lee Ellis. He is a minor league guy. He coached for a high school team in our area. I’ve been working with a lot of people — probably three time a week for three hours.
Are you a baseball fan?
I’m a casual baseball fan. I don’t really follow teams, mostly players. Growing up in L.A., it was kind of always hard to pick a team to kind of root for. But players I like watching.
Do you think we’ll ever have a female pitcher in the major leagues?
I don’t know. There are so many variables involved. I don’t think it’s such a simple thing to say which sport is bad and this is the way it’s always been or, you know, women can’t play. It’s the simple things — where will she change? Is she in the same locker room as us? We are doing an episode right now, where it’s a beanball episode. You know, do you hit a female batter? Are you willing to be the first guy who hits Ginny Baker in the majors? But are we willing to look over gender? [On theshow,] Ginny Baker is a great pitcher and deserves to be in the majors. A lot of people in the pilot episode said they thought Mike Lawson was hard on her and I said “No, I didn’t see it as that way.” I saw it as Mike Lawson is the captain of this team and he would do that to any person being called up. It has nothing to do with gender but more so about her ability and her talent. He wants to win.
What was it like to work with Kylie Bunbury?
She’s great. I am so impressed with this girl. She is so smart and so talented. And for her age she carries this gracefulness and this sort of poise as a young actor that you don’t see too often. It’s a pleasure to work around her — her work ethic and her strength to carry on is very similar to her character. It’s very inspiring.
You started your career very young, too. What advice do you have for young actors out there?
Goodness gracious. It’s such an honor and privilege to be in the position that I’m in. And to make it here — you know, there are a lot of people that have made it to this level and they just forget how hard it was, how hard we had to fight to make it here. They just lose all sense of themselves and what I was able to do for so long is just realize how special it is to do what we do for a living. It could end for me. In September when the show airs, if it doesn’t get ratings, I am back to being without a job and having to go out to find another job. You don’t want that to happen but that’s the truth. I think a lot of actors forget that it could all go away very quickly.
When you’re not acting, what do you do in your spare time?
Oh my gosh. I am a busy father. I have four kids. Its all kids — pretty much all of the time. My wife and I love to spend time together. Most of the things we do is with family and trying to get outdoors and spending as much time at home with our family as possible.
“Pitch” makes its debut on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 9/8 on FOX.