Manny Jacinto on The Good Place, Top Gun, and Cultural Roots

The Number Five

The number five has played a significant role in the career of Filipino-Canadian engineering student, turned dancer, turned actor, Manny Jacinto. “From engineering, or with dance, it always took about five years for me to really get a grasp on something. ”

About five years after his first credited role, Manny Jacinto stepped onto the red carpet at the 2019 Golden Globes when “The Good Place” was nominated for an award, which he describes as “a weird experience — it was the most inspired and out of place I’ve ever felt.”

Manny Jacinto on the red carpet at the 2019 Golden Globe Awards
Photo: Submitted

The 31-year-old noted a similar feeling in being recognized at Kore Asian Media’s Unforgettable Gala Awards (UNFO) in 2018 as recipient of the “Breakout Star in Television” amongst his Asian peers.

“I looked into the crowd and I saw John Cho, Jon M. Chu, and all these people whose work I truly admire. To be accepting this award in front of them is because I stand on all their shoulders. I wouldn’t be on that stage or here without them fighting for Asian representation and for them to be heard,” said Jacinto.

Manny Jacinto receiving his award for “Breakout Star in Television” at UNFO Gala 2018.
Photo: Submitted

Attributing success to his Filipino roots

Jacinto credits his ability to transition from engineering, to competitive hip hop, to acting, to the work ethic demonstrated by his parents and cultural background.  

“A big part of my work ethic comes from being born in Manila and seeing what my parents have done to give us [he and his sister] this life,” Jacinto explains.

“I say cultural background specifically because I remember being in university, I would study late at night on campus and would be in an empty classroom at night and the janitor would come in and would usually be an Asian or Filipino janitor. Seeing that made me realize I’m pretty lucky to be in my position,” credits Jacinto.

The Good Place

Manny Jacinto and Ted Danson on The Good Place
Photo: Submitted

Jacinto stars in NBC’s “The Good Place” as a silent Taiwanese monk as well as a not-so-silent amateur Filipino EDM deejay from Jacksonville, Florida. Jacinto describes his character as “five year old Manny that just wanted to play and do crazy things, with love and kindness.”

Cold Tea Collective’s “Good Place” would be a world where we aren’t fighting for representation — it would be the norm. “The Good Place” does a good job with not only Asian representation, but in writing and casting dynamic Asian characters and actors.

Throughout the three seasons of the Television Critics Award-winning comedy, we also see Jacinto play alongside Jameela Jamil, fellow Canadian Hayden Szeto, Amy Okuda and Eugene Cordero, which Jacinto posits as an indication as to where mainstream media is going.

“If we take a look at the whole landscape from film to TV, everything is shifting. People are really starting to open up their palettes and wanting and needing these diverse stories,” Jacinto explained.

The actor describes 2019 as “an incredible time to be an artist, whether it be an actor, writer or dancer. It’s changing and I will do everything that I can to keep it going.”

Manny Jacinto as Jason Mendoza in The Good Place
Photo: Submitted

Aiming Sky High

Jacinto’s drive for excellence is not just for his own career — it’s for future generations. He described his disdain for seeing emasculated males and Asian stereotypes he didn’t connect with as major drivers in his career choice.

“Especially in this industry, you need to be excellent to really stand out,” explained Jacinto.

“This same theme is what I’ve seen in my life whether it be in engineering, dance, or acting. Regardless of your cultural identity or colour of your skin, at the end of the day, if you’re excellent at what you do, people are going to recognize that and want to see more — and pay to see more.”

On his upcoming role in “Top Gun: Maverick”, working alongside Tom Cruise, Jacinto admits, “I play a pilot, but other than that I can’t say too much. I’ve been able to meet a lot of Navy pilots for the film and a lot of them mentioned that the reason that they joined the Navy or became a pilot was because of the first Top Gun. I think to be a part of that second wave of inspired kids is pretty cool to think about.”

Finding a reason for being

When Jacinto isn’t working or working out, he’s reading. “A friend of mine gave me a book called Ikigai, which is the Japanese concept of ‘a reason for being’. It’s a mix between your passion, mission in life and what you do — finding why you exist and what you want to do with this time you have.”

“For me, the reason why I exist is constantly changing,” said Jacinto. “One of the big things I’ve been coming to grips with is the idea of impermanence. I know I’ll be acting for a while, but I can venture into different things like maybe directing, producing and hopefully writing something. Who knows what can happen in five years.”

Photo: Instagram – @alexbstoddard

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Cover photo by @AlexBStoddard

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