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Mario Lopez Seeks to Expand His Reach

hollywoodexclusive1Move over, Ryan Seacrest! Mario Lopez is quickly becoming one of the busiest men in show business as he's hosting "Extra" and "America's Next Best Dance Crew," which is currently in its fourth season — and now he aspires to do more.

"I just want to get into more of the producing end and try to create more projects where I'm not necessarily in front of the camera so I can create opportunities for other people. I just think it gives you more longevity in this business," notes Lopez, who for now is enjoying the process of helping young dancers catch a break on the popular MTV dance show.

"That show keeps me hip. It's got a young demographic."

Last year, Lopez had to split his time between the show and doing the Broadway musical "A Chorus Line," but as of right now, he has no plans to return to the stage.

"I don't know if I'll do any musicals anytime soon, but I'd like to do it again in the future," says Lopez, who has already found a nice home with television. He also hosts Animal Planet's "Pet Star."

"Between 'Saved By the Bell' on reruns and Animal Planet, which seems to be very popular with the older crowd, and 'America's Best Dance Crew,' I'm hitting all of the demographics," he adds with a laugh.

THE VIDEOLAND VIEW: Don't expect Christine Lahti's character on "Law & Order: SVU" to be like other assistant district attorneys seen on the long-running NBC show that returns Sept. 23.

"They wrote a very complex arc for me. Usually, on this show, since it's a cop show, lawyers don't get to do much," notes the esteemed actress-director. However, when the series' producers came to her with "the idea of this particular lawyer, it was fascinating."

The four-episode SVU stint "was intense, but fun," she says. "I loved working with Mariska (Hargitay) and Dann (Florek). They've been doing this for 11 years, so it was like barging into a family, working so closely together — but they were really welcoming," she adds.

Lahti and her producer-director husband, Tommy Schlamme, have twin 16-year-olds, a son and a daughter, plus their older son who's a film student at USC — so she doesn't like to be away from their L.A. home too long. So, "They flew me back every weekend. Thank God for first class. I got to sleep on the airplane."

She went from "SVU" in New York to her current work on the big-screen "Flying Lessons" with Maggie Grace, Cary Elwes and Hal Holbrook.

The "Flying Lessons" drama has Grace as a young woman who returns to her hometown a year and a half after her father's sudden and unexpected death to try to put her life together. Central to that is her estranged relationship with her mother, Lahti's character, whom she blames for her father's death, "though she's trying to forge a relationship with her, to have a second chance to connect with her." Lahti calls her part "a great character. She's a wealthy, upper-middle-class housewife whose husband is gone, and she's an alcoholic who has this really, really complex relationship with her daughter." Lahti says she re-watched "Ordinary People" as a prelude to shooting.

MEANWHILE: Speaking of former "Lost" ingenue Maggie Grace and her ever-hotter career — she'll be scurrying right into production of James Mangold's Untitled Wichita Project this week. This is the film in which Cameron Diaz goes out on a seemingly ordinary blind date only to find the guy — Tom Cruise — is a super agent who winds up taking her on a dangerous trip around the world in a race against time. Darn those blind dates! Grace plays Diaz's younger sister, a pregnant bride she is supposed to give away at her wedding. Final casting of subsidiary roles has been under way, including the part of a male flight attendant who turns out to be an undercover agent. "Must be a stunt man," per casting notices. Sounds like fun.

THE BIG SCREEN SCENE: "Chicago 8" is back on its way to production with a newly rewritten script. It's the real-life saga of radical anti-war protesters Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale. They were charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Casting is being completed now.

With reports by Emily-Fortune Feimster

To find out more about Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and read their past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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