To play Spivey, the 1960s mental institution patient in the TV series American Horror Story: Asylum, Mark Consuelos did something he’s never done before. He made himself look ugly.
“I said, ‘Yes! Thank you. I’ve been waiting to do something like that,” Consuelos says on a recent morning, sitting at the desk of his production company in downtown New York. “I was ready to shave my head and do something crazy.”
He envisioned himself wearing some kind of prosthetic mask. But once he got to the Paramount lot in Los Angeles, a team of makeup gurus took one look at that face and said, no—let’s start with the teeth. They transformed his smile into a rotting grimace, with a specialized mold. “If anyone has ever had an Invisalign, it’s the same thing,” Consuelos says. “They stick a bunch of goo in your mouth.” They drew dark circles under his eyes, messed up his hair and put him in “institution pajamas with a really high waistline." Then he crawled into his dark, tiny cell, where he hurled feces—made of peanut butter—at a female character in the season’s premiere episode. “I had to sit in one of the cells for a really long time,” he says. “It was so scary, and made me so claustrophobic.”
The role is out of character for Consuelos, 41, for another reason. He’s not one to lounge around. “I have career ADD,” he says. “I have career dissatisfaction. Even as a young kid, I’d have that. I’d get really passionate about something and then I’d realize, ‘I don’t want to do that!’”
Growing up in Florida, he thought about pursuing a law degree (or becoming a professional soccer player), before he stumbled into acting, and All My Children. In 1996, he secretly eloped with his on-screen girlfriend, Kelly Ripa, after they got buzzed one Manhattan night on wine with their pizza. When he proposed, “She goes, OK, let’s get married tomorrow,” he recalls. “I made a reservation to Vegas, and we did it.”
Now, 16 years later, he’s juggling a family with three kids—Michael, 15, Lola, 11, and Joaquin, 9—and a schizophrenic work schedule. He’s currently filming two different TV pilots: one for ABC (about a hunky single dad who becomes the house manager for a woman on the Upper West Side, a la Who’s the Boss) and one for Comedy Central (called Broad City, where he’s playing another hunky single dad next door.)
When he’s not acting, Consuelos works from his SoHo production office, MILOJO, which made the CMT reality series Cheer. He regularly fills in as a co-host on ABC’s Live! With Kelly and Michael, and he keeps turning down offers from Dancing With the Stars—because he claims to be ballroom-challenged. “I just suck,” he says. “People that are horrible dancers on that show never really get that good.”
Despite a full plate, he’s not sure if people are aware of what he does for a living. When Consuelos made the decision to start producing five years ago “people construed me not working as sitting home playing video games,” he says. “I had a chip on my shoulder, like I had to explain myself. I don’t know if that was the perception, or just going on in my head. What are you doing? Are you working? In the past year and a half, I really wanted to focus on working more as an actor.”
His pal Andy Cohen, host of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live!, insists that Consuelos is “very much the head of that household. I call them Lucy and Desi. He is always pitching, producing, coming up with new ideas for their production company.”
Consuelos says one of his best ideas is a scripted series about male strippers. If this sounds vaguely familiar, he isn’t stealing from Channing Tatum’s life story. Back when he was in college, Consuelos was a male dancer. This is the first time he’s talked about it publicly, and he’s reluctant at first. “I think it was male burlesque,” he says. After a brief pause, he breaks down and tells me the whole story. “All right fine; this is how it started. I worked in a gym while going through college and they were these guys”—local dancers—“who would come through.” They liked his sense of humor and asked him to join the act, but not as a performer at first. “Just a driver. That’s all I thought I was going to do.”
“My first trip,” he says, “was to work in Tampa with these guys and then we had to go on a Canadian tour. They were starting from Florida and driving all the way up the eastern seaboard, stopping in almost every other state to do a show. It was like Almost Famous. My dad dropped me off. The trailer had a guy with a G-string on it, a 17-passenger bus with a hitch that said Suncoast Calendar Men.”
He eventually ended up onstage, kind of like Alex Pettfyer’s Magic Mike character, although he doesn’t use that comparison. “I can’t watch Magic Mike,” he says. “That’s my story! I can’t do it. Listen, I know Magic Mike. I don’t know if it’s based on the Magic Mike I know. I’m from Tampa, and Channing is from Tampa. Maybe I should have a discussion with him and see if it’s the same guy.”
After college, Consuelos would come up to New York for acting meetings. When he auditioned for All My Children, he thought he was trying out for a remake of All In the Family. After his first cold read, he told the casting director, “I have a 5 o’clock flight unless I get the job. So should I stay?” They told him to find a hotel room and come back the next morning. He landed the job and a wife in Ripa, his co-star. “When I first met her, I thought she was super cool,” he says. “I remember, she was the sexiest smoker I’d ever seen in my life. Usually, watching women smoke repulses me. She was like some French movie star.”
She played coy, and that only made him want her more. “She would reel me in. She’d throw the bait out, then catch me and release me,” he says. They dated for a year before they eloped in Vegas, “but we both had significant others throughout that year. I had a girlfriend. She had a boyfriend. It was ridiculous. I was pining after her. It was all a very crazy, passionate kind of courtship.”
Consuelos left All My Children in 2002, and his résumé includes TV roles on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Hope & Faith, and Friends, where he played a character named Officer Handsome, who lets Rachel out of a ticket when she flirts with him. “I’m horrible at auditioning,” he says. “I wish I could just go in and say I’m really good at this. Just give me the job, please.” Beat. “They’d probably call security.”
Aaron Kaplan, the producer of the new ABC sitcom and a former agent at William Morris, says he was surprised to learn about Conseulos’s comedic timing. “When I first met him, I wasn’t aware of his versatility,” he says. “I believe Mark Consuelos is a big star.”
Like his wife, Consuelos is also a natural storyteller. He says he enjoys filling in on Live! from time to time, though he wouldn’t want the job full time. “I’m not typically that bubbly.” After Regis Philbin left the show last year, Consuelos would tune in and weigh in on all the replacement co-hosts. He’d say, “That guy is all wrong for us,” and Ripa would shoot back with, “I’m sorry, are you Bob Iger?” Fortunately, he gave the thumbs-up to her new co-host, Michael Strahan.
He tries to watch the show whenever he can. On the morning we met, Ripa talked about Conseulos on air (which she frequently does), telling America about a previously unknown talent of his—his ability to grow hair as a pre-pubescent. When Conseulos hears about this, he expresses mock outrage. “OK, first of all, she rewrites history,” he says. “And she embellishes. That picture she’s referring to is me in the eighth grade. Yes, I did look like Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite. I had a cheesy mustache. I needed to shave. But I’m not hairy. Do I look hairy!?”
Find out on the next episode of Magic Mark.