Manny Jacinto

On exploring more than a galaxy far, far away


Talent: Manny Jacinto @mannyjacinto

Photos: Raul Romo @raulromo

Fashion: Ilaria Urbinati @ilariaurbinati

Grooming: Kimberly Bragalone @kimberlybragalone for Exclusive Artists using Shiseido and Obayaty

It’s hard to deny that Manny Jacinto has become a household name in Hollywood.

From his breakout role in 2016 as the lovable yet dim-witted Jason Mendoza in the NBC Emmy-nominated comedy The Good Place, Jacinto's rise to stardom has been nothing short of meteoric. The show, spanning four seasons, not only became a cultural phenomenon but also thrust Jacinto into the limelight with his portrayal of an Asian himbo from Jacksonville, Florida, and his humorous references to former Jaguars football player Blake Bortles. His popularity soared, earning him a place on Hollywood’s most attractive men lists, including People’s Sexiest Men in 2020.

Yet, if you mention his success or status as a household name, he immediately shrinks away, dismissing his notoriety with a humble smile.

“Oh geez!” Jacinto coyly tells Timid over Zoom. “I don’t know about that.”

Jacinto still has a hard time accepting his fame and the idea of himself as a celebrity. He still gets anxious when fans ask him for autographs and pictures—not because he doesn’t want to, but because he may not be able to get to everybody, leaving him with a sense of guilt. But he understands that this is a consequence of being able to do the work he wants to do.

“It’s just weird to me because I’m a very private person,” he shares. “I keep all of my activities super close to heart. I just remind myself that it originated from a good place in the first place.”

While he understands that some actors can balance their celebrityhood, Jacinto prefers to keep his private life separate from his work. “It’s such a curious thing because I want to play different roles. I want to be different people. I feel like if people know more about me, they won’t be interested in anything else. I want to protect my profession in my ability to take on other characters.”

However, Jacinto’s next project may prove difficult to avoid the oncoming attention as he joins the Star Wars universe in Disney+’s latest series, The Acolyte. The series premiered this week with two episodes. Set during the High Republic era, a century before The Phantom Menace, Jacinto plays the mysterious former smuggler-turned-trader Qimir, who shares a connection with Mae (Amandla Stenberg), a Force-user who is hunting down Jedi.

“[I can tell you] nothing,” Jacinto laughs. “I can tell you very little. [Qimir] is a good time, but he’s also the type of guy who will leave you behind if you run into a bear. He’s very much about himself. He’s selfish.”

When Qimir is introduced in the series, Mae finds him hungover in a trader's shop, where he supplies Mae with the materials she needs to complete her missions. He seems to distrust the Jedi institution, but Jacinto says that Qimir is on neither side. “He’s creating his own path in this world. He’s not part of the Jedi. He’s not part of the Sith. He’s not on the dark side or the light side. He’s on his own side. He’s just weaseling his way through trying to survive in this galaxy.”


But one can’t help but notice how dark the character becomes when he realizes he’s being tricked by the Jedi in one scene. The silly persona that Qimir carried throughout the episode drops, thickening the air around the room.

“It comes from the fact that when you get put into a corner and into a situation when somebody’s playing a trick on you or trying to take advantage of you, what are the demons that end up coming out,” Jacinto explains. “Qimir is very happy-go-lucky. He likes to drink. He probably sleeps a little too much, but if you’re trying to pull a fast one on him, he’s one step ahead. He’s not one to be messed with. He makes it known in [that scene]. For him, it’s all about survival. He doesn’t have a Jedi weapon. He doesn’t have a community. It comes down to survival.”

Survival is important in the Star World universe—and outside of it—especially regarding the fanbase. Jacinto is aware of the massive fandom and its impact on people. He tries not to let it get in the way of his work and focuses on the task at hand.

“You can’t help but feel the immense pressure of what Star Wars is because it’s such a huge entity,” he says. “It’s been around for decades. It holds such a magical place in people’s hearts, so you want to do right by them. You want to make people smile, laugh, and feel all the things when you take on a role in Star Wars. I think with everything that I get offered, [my mind] immediately goes to that kind of Asian work ethic of hoping to do a good job and make people proud. It always comes back down to that.”

Jacinto’s strong work ethic and talent attracted The Acolyte showrunner Leslye Headland to cast him in the series. After a meeting with Headland, which he followed up with an email breakdown of their discussion, she called to offer him the part.

“We thought of Manny early on while I was writing the season,” Headland tells Timid. “His character needed levity and depth which Manny blends well. He takes his work very seriously, which is a blessing for a director working in high fantasy. You need people who find firm ground in an imaginary world. He’s probably the most earnest actor I’ve ever met.”

While Star Wars was on his bucket list of projects, Jacinto isn’t blind to how toxic the fandom can be when it comes to casting people of color in the leading roles. He’s proud that the film is a woman-led story with people of color at the forefront. He credits Headland, who wrote this story and cast beyond color, focusing on what the actors can bring into their roles.

“The fact that you have two Asian leads in the Star Wars universe for this series is an even bigger step,” says Jacinto. “We need more people like Leslye. She sees the struggles that people of color have had and those who aren’t in the door have. It was very apparent.”

He remembers Headland sharing the news of Lee Jung-jae’s casting over Zoom and becoming overwhelmed with emotion. “It definitely affected me emotionally, especially when I heard that Lee Jung-jae was going to be part of Star Wars. I was ecstatic. I got emotional because in what world does this actually happen? It’s crazy to say that, but hopefully, it’ll become the norm. Hopefully, moving past The Acolyte, it won’t be a crazy thing to have so many people of color in such a big IP like Star Wars. It’ll become just a regular thing.”

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With the ever-changing industry, especially for people of color, it’s hard not to be fatigued or affected by it all. But, throughout Jacinto’s journey in Hollywood, he has maintained a sincerity and humility that creatives and fellow castmates love about him.

“Are you sure about that?” Jacinto jokes. “Do I not come off as jaded? I don’t have that jaded energy about myself? Maybe I’m just on the cusp of it. This might be the last trigger.”

Jacinto credits his humble beginnings and grounded parents for his approach to life and work. As a child of immigrants from the Philippines, Jacinto remembers his father working long hours to provide for the family. His work ethic was shaped by his parents and their contributions. “Whenever I feel lazy or I feel unmotivated, I think about my dad working his butt off and not complaining about it. It comes down to being inspired and being led through that example. It’s not wasting what they did and witnessing their work ethic and doing my best to honor that.”

Because of that, Jacinto doesn’t take any of his projects for granted. He maintains that “scarcity mentality” when it comes to obtaining a role. Believing that there’s no second chance if he screws up, Jacinto says it’s worked for him so far in his career—even though he knows it’s not the most healthy way of thinking. He also attributes that mentality to how he’s been able to maintain his career.

“I’ve been lucky,” he explains. “It’s like you receive the energy that you put out. I’ve been really, really lucky in the projects I’ve worked on where the people are incredible. Not only as artists but as human beings. From Michael Schurr to Leslye Headland. These people are beautiful in their craft and are beautiful human beings. They have such beautiful souls. That’s a huge factor in why I’m still okay.”

Though he appreciates every role he has ever received, he fears being boxed into what Hollywood wants to put him and other people of color in. Granted, it’s not a bad thing being labeled “the hot guy” or the “hot himbo,” which Jacinto shyly looks away when mentioned. But now, he’s ready to take on the weird and challenging roles.

“I am always down for the weirder, the better,” he says. “What I look for is a challenge—something where I get a little scared or something I haven’t done before. But, also, as I move forward in my career, I am gearing towards roles that are leading men, or stepping into those roles or that path. I’m really trying to push as hard as I can. Go big or go home. Whenever I take on roles, I think, ‘Is this going to challenge me? Is this going to move things forward? Is this something I’ve never done before?’ When I look into a role, I think the biggest thing is, ‘Am I going to be able to affect people when I take this on?’ If that’s a yes, that’s usually a ‘yes’ for me. If I can get someone to laugh or cry or be angry at me for the role that I take on, then that means I did my job.”

While Jacinto has been fortunate to work on indie and commercial projects, both of which he finds creatively fulfilling, he looks forward to exploring more variety in his work. He’d love to do something like The Farewell or Minari, but he'd also like to continue to work on big franchises like Star Wars, even mentioning the Knives Out sagas, live-action anime, and video game adaptations.

“I just want to do everything,” Jacinto exclaims. “I want to do things that haven’t been explored. I want to do it all, to be honest. There’s so much I still want to do, and it still feels like the beginning.”

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