After all those years playing Mr. Belding on Saved by the Bell, actor Dennis Haskins has plenty of fun stories to share from his time on the show. We interviewed Haskins for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the '90s phenomenon, and he opened up about everything from off-camera pranks to working with Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Today Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection was released, and earlier this month, we got a TV blast from the past when Elizabeth Berkley channeled Jessie Spano with her "I'm So Excited" performance" on Dancing With the Stars. See what Haskins had to say about Berkley's dancing, his favorite episode of the show, and more.
POPSUGAR: You were part of the series from Good Morning, Miss Bliss through Saved by the Bell: The New Class.
Dennis Haskins: I was there from day one when we did Good Morning, Miss Bliss, and the focus was on Hayley Mills, who was the only person I'd ever written a fan letter to. I was glad to have a job and to work with one of my idols, and we were having a good time. It was new. No one had done this, and we had potential.
PS: Do you have a favorite scene or episode from Saved by the Bell?
DH: My favorite episode is when my brother, Rod Belding — not my brother, Mr. Belding's brother — came to school. When Rod came to school, he became the fan of all the kids, and Mr. Belding was a little jealous. Rod was going to take the kids on a rafting trip, and then he abandoned them. And Mr. Belding, away from everybody else, said, "Get out of my school." Because even his brother was not allowed to abuse or mistreat his kids. He didn't know Zack was listening in the hallway, so Mr. Belding goes in and covers for Rod and says, "Look, I don't know about rafting, but I'll take you." That was the real bonding of Mr. Belding and those students.
PS: Which Saved by the Bell character would you say you were the most like in high school?
DH: In real life? All of our students were the pinnacle of each role. Zack was the best con but also very smart and also had a heart. Slater was the biggest athlete but also a hunk and a romantic lead. I think I would've been just below the cool kids but occasionally get to hang out with them, you know?
PS: And which cast member is most like their character in real life?
DH: Wow, that's a really good question. I would say that Mario is probably closest to his character. And the writers, as they learned more about each actor, they would add things that were them. Like his wrestling.
PS: And the dancing and everything?
DH: Yeah, Mario was on Kids Incorporated. He had all this musicality to him. And whatever Mario did, he did 110 percent. He gave everything he had to it. There's no idol in Mario's gear system, you know what I'm saying? Mario's the hardest-working guy I've ever met. He does Extra all week, he does a radio show, and on the weekends, he goes and does appearances. It's unbelievable.
Keep reading for the rest of our interview with Dennis Haskins.
PS: So do you keep in touch with some of the cast?
DH: Mario mostly. I've been pulling for Elizabeth, and we've exchanged some texts with her on Dancing With the Stars, and she's doing really well. Haven't really been in touch with Dustin. Lark and I occasionally stay in touch. I got to surprise Tiffani on the Today show. It was wonderful. You know, it's so funny, with this generation and with people looking for stuff that's not right. The idea was to surprise her, and she was surprised. And people were all, "Oh, she was surprised." Well, yeah. And then we had a great time. Afterward, Tiffani and I had a great catching-up time on the set there. It was wonderful.
PS: Mark-Paul Gosselaar recently gave a hilarious interview where he joked about what Zack Morris would be like in 2013. What do you think Zack Morris would have ended up doing?
DH: I think he would've been running a corporation somewhere, and I think that he would have a family. I know Mark-Paul does have a family, and he was wonderful with kids around the set, especially his nephew. I loved watching him with his nephew, because you could tell he really cared, and I think he brought that into the character.
PS: Mr. Belding and Zack have a sort of love-hate relationship on the show. Did you and Mark-Paul Gosselaar have fun playing that up?
DH: On the very first episode, Zack was in Mr. Belding's office, and the director stopped for a minute to go make some notes, and I looked at Mark-Paul and I said, "What do you think about this scene?" In other words, we're not just going to do it my way. I want to know what you think. And he told me, and he had good ideas. From that moment forward, the Mr. Belding-Zack relationship was born. If you watch the opening credits of Saved by the Bell, Mr. Belding has long hair and a mustache and he's a big bopper. I think he was Zack when he was growing up, don't you?
DH: I think that's why he knew what to look for when Zack was pulling his cons. And wasn't it fun, the chase? Is he going to catch him? Is he going to get to go to Hawaii? Figure out that it's not really his dad wearing the beard that's falling off? All of those wonderful things. We had a lot of fun.
PS: Obviously the show has always been popular, but there's been a new resurgence with all the '90s nostalgia lately. Any thoughts on why the show has such staying power?
DH: It really spoke to the audience watching it. Our kids were the ages they were playing, and they were going through the same things that kids in school were going through. Not life-or-death issues, but holy cow, you get your heart broken, and it feels like life and death, right? Or if you can't go to the prom because your dad lost his job, that's horrible, you know? Kids really identified, and to this day, those simple, direct stories hold true.
PS: There's always talk of a Saved by the Bell reunion. Any thoughts on that?
DH: Our cast, across the board, has gone on to do so many wonderfully successful things. The Jimmy Fallon thing was our opportunity. The reaction was so unbelievable. And then Mark-Paul came on as Zack. I would hope that the audience can embrace that as a bit of a reunion. But you know, it was just hard to get everybody together.
PS: Is there a behind-the-scenes moment that sticks out to you from all those years?
DH: We as a group would go do things after the show. We would go to Jerry's Deli — parents, kids, me, producers — and we would hang out. And I really believe that hanging out and bonding translated on screen and really brought together the love and energy the audience identified with.
PS: Obviously Zack was kind of the class clown on screen, but who was the class clown off screen?
DH: I'll be honest with you, they didn't have time to be clowns. They were busy; it was a job for them. I did a thing a couple of years ago where we commented on some stuff, and I was sitting with Lark, and there was a dance scene, and she said, "That was my prom." They didn't have proms, they didn't get to go be on football teams, because they couldn't. The show got so successful that they couldn't really go do regular school. The one thing we did one time — maybe this will explain stuff about Dustin. You'd put him in the locker, he'd come out and surprise people. One day we were rehearsing, and so we load Dustin in the locker, we're getting ready to rehearse the scene, and our director put his finger to his lips and motioned for everybody to quietly walk away. So they left Dustin. I mean, this may explain some of Dustin's behavior, but we all kind of waited and waited and waited, and then we heard, "(Knock, knock, knock.) Guys? Guys? Oh, very funny, guys. Very funny." That's as crazy as it got; they didn't have time for anything else.
PS: So do you ever watch some of the reruns and relive some of the memories?
DH: I get to relive the days through doing personal appearances. And I've just gotten the DVD collection that's coming out, and it just reminds me of a lot of great things. We do some commentary on this collection, so there's some brand-new stuff in the featurettes and things that I think people will really enjoy. You know, we started 25 years ago, and it's wonderful that people still embrace our show. Any time I get a chance to go out and say hi to people, I love doing that. I'm also acting in a movie with Charlize Theron and Seth MacFarlane that's coming out in May, and I did How I Met Your Mother and Mad Men, so I'm continuing to do those things, but I'll always be blessed to have been cast in the role of Mr. Belding, and I'm proud to be Mr. Belding to everybody who loved Saved by the Bell.