In 2013, Manny Jacinto took an acting class to improve his stage presence. A lifelong dancer, Jacinto had aspired to perform onstage with musicians like Justin Timberlake or The-Dream. At the time, Jacinto had mastered the art of movement and was hoping to tap into his emotional reserve to take his dance performance to the next level. That class changed his life — and set him on a completely new path. “It was just a little feeling, a little voice in my head,” says Jacinto, over Zoom from his apartment in Los Angeles, about his decision to pursue acting. “If I’m very passionate and really excited about something, I can’t help but dive in and that’s the only thing I can think about. I was like, ‘Oh, let’s see what this can lead to.’ ”
His passion has so far earned him a spot as one of Hollywood’s most interesting emerging talents. Jacinto broke out as the dopey-sweet hunk Jason Mendoza in Mike Schur’s Emmy-winning comedy The Good Place, which wrapped in 2020 after four seasons. After film roles in 2018’s Bad Times at the El Royale and the highly anticipated Top Gun sequel, Jacinto has returned to television with the Hulu miniseries Nine Perfect Strangers, an adaption of the bestselling book by Liane Moriarty (who also penned Big Little Lies) which premiered in August and stars Melissa McCarthy, Nicole Kidman, Michael Shannon, Bobby Cannavale, and Regina Hall.
The show is a dark examination of how far we’ll go to get well. It follows nine stressed-out strangers (get it?) as they embark on a 10-day retreat at a remote health and wellness centre run by a mysterious woman named Masha (Kidman). Jacinto plays Yao, Masha’s obedient employee who believes wholeheartedly in her mission to heal by any means necessary. For the actor, just meeting Kidman was hugely affirming. “We were just talking shop,” he says of their first meeting. “And getting to do that with a legend is like, whoa. I’d say it’s an out-of-body experience. I don’t know how to describe it.”
For an actor appearing in two of the most highly anticipated projects of the year (and another one in the works, Jason Orley’s romcom I Want You Back), Jacinto is preternaturally chill; his relaxed nature tempers his fierce drive. He attributes his willingness to try anything to his West Coast childhood. “[Vancouver] was like a playground,” he says of the freedom he felt to pursue everything from higher education (he has a degree in civil engineering from the University of British Columbia) to the performing arts.
Vancouver is also an ethnically diverse city that many East, South, and Southeast Asian communities call home. For Jacinto, a Filipino–Canadian, exposure to different cultures made for an inclusive environment where different identities were celebrated, not mocked. “I never really felt like an outsider, which is great,” he says. “I never had to, you know, watch my back.” Hollywood, on the other hand, is slowly overcoming its growing pains to support and represent diverse identities — onscreen and off. “I believe the inclusivity, step by step, has been improving,” says Jacinto, noting greater racial representation in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which oversees the Oscars, and more opportunities for creators and writers of colour. “I hope that it isn’t just a moment,” he says. “I hope that it isn’t just a speck in the timeline.”
Since pivoting to acting, Jacinto still reveres the GOATs. But this time, they’re not mythical, untouchable beings; they’re his peers, like Minari’s Steven Yeun (“I just admire his drive and direction and his pursuit for knowing himself as an artist”) and Michael Shannon, his co-star in Nine Perfect Strangers (“He’s the bar that I need to hold my work to”).
For a relative newcomer, Jacinto has already proven himself to be a versatile, charismatic performer who can seamlessly transition from comedy to drama, and from television to film. You can’t teach that in an acting class.
Photography: Benjo Arwas
Styling: Ashley Weston (The Wall Group)
Grooming: Sonia Lee (Exclusive Artists) using La Mer
Photo Assistant: Josh Hammaren
Style Assistant: Neissa Diabate
Lead Image: Sweater and pants by Ermenegildo Zegna. Boots by Tod’s. Necklace and ring by David Yurman. Watch by Tudor. (All Price upon request).