CHICAGO - Wilmer Valderrama spent eight seasons on Fox's "That '70s Show," he hosted MTV's "Yo Momma" for three seasons and, like John Mayer, he has dated a celeb or five. But none of that kept the 29-year-old actor from being overshadowed by a handyman last month.
When Manny Garcia, star of the Disney Channel's "Handy Manny" entered the room, the children at the Great Lakes Community Center applauded and shouted, "Maaanny." Valderrama?
He got a few claps from the parents in the back and some polite kids.
But don't feel too bad for Valderrama, who provides the voice of the bilingual handyman. He knew the costumed character would get all the attention. Plus, he had already had his moment at Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago.
Before screening "Handy Manny Motorcycle Adventure," which airs in prime time tonight, Valderrama spent the morning taking pictures with star-struck sailors. Like the military children in the community center, many of the camouflaged sailors were wide-eyed when meeting their visitor. But instead of shouting, "Manny," they called out "Fez" - the name of Valderrama's character on "That '70s Show."
"I used to see soldiers who just got back from Iraq in airports," said Valderrama, "and they would tell me, 'We would watch "That '70s Show" when we got back from duty. Thank you for the show; you really made a difference.' I decided I would start showing up to their bases and freak them out.
"I've gone to bases in about nine countries. It's one of the most rewarding things I've done in my career."
How did Valderrama go from barking, "This is your show ... yo momma!" at the end of every episode to "Handy Manny," in which he offers a more courteous catchphrase: "Hola, Handy Manny's repair shop, you break it, we fix it"?
"It was because of my little brother," he said of his 9-year-old sibling, Christian. "All the different stuff I did - 'Fast Food Nation,' 'That '70s Show,' 'Party Monster' - it wasn't tailored to his demographic. I wasn't allowing him to watch it. I wanted to do something for him."
The Los Angeles resident will make his return to the R-rated world next year, when he plays a soldier in the indie drama "The Dry Land," which features "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera.
In "Days of Wrath," Valderrama is set to play a gun-toting East L.A. gangbanger.
For those who like their Valderrama a little friendlier, the "CHiPs" movie he has been attached to for a while is to begin filming next year. The film is based on the '70s highway patrol TV series that starred Erik Estrada.
"It's going down next year for sure, probably in Los Angeles," said Valderrama, who believes the film will be "Rush Hour"-like.
"We're hoping to start shooting next spring. The turnaround on this kind of movie is pretty fast, so maybe it will come out in the fall."
'Handy Manny Motorcycle
Airs 7 tonight on Disney Channel.