Star Wars: The Acolyte Actor Manny Jacinto Is Making Leading Man Moves

Canadian actor Manny Jacinto is on a career high. After his turn in A Good Place and Nine Perfect Strangers, he landed a key role in Star Wars: The Acolyte. Showrunner Leslye Headland wrote the character of Qimir with Manny in mind. She even said that, had he passed on the project, she would have rewritten the character. It’s perhaps the best compliment an actor could ask for.

Manny is grateful to be acknowledged for his work. He tells me he’s crafted a career playing goofy or weird characters — sometimes to pay the bills, but now, he’s now looking for more meaningful roles that challenge him, but also steering away from supporting roles and “towards that leading man path,” he tells me in an interview in Toronto last week.

Manny Jacinto
Photo by Ramona Rosales. © 2024 Ramona Rosales. 

Star Wars: The Acolyte, which premieres today on Disney+, follows an investigation into a shocking crime spree that pits a respected Jedi Master (Lee Jung-jae) against a dangerous warrior from his past (Amandla Stenberg). As more clues emerge, they travel down a dark path where sinister forces reveal all is not what it seems.

Playing Jedi Qimir was gratifying because he could just play the role, without any ticks of sorts, which was an emotional moment for Manny as he received the feedback from Leslye.

When I ask about Qimir’s style — for which there’s certainly something to be said — Manny pulls out his phone to show me the picture Leslye texted him as inspiration for his character. It’s Robert Pattinson wearing a Dior coat at a January 2019 fashion show. It was a viral meme titled ‘absolute potion seller energy.’ The resemblance is uncanny, I kid you not.

robert pattinson for dior

During our interview, Manny tells me more about his role, the pinch-me moment being in this iconic franchise, his career goals and describes his own sense of style.

One of the biggest and best compliments I read was that Leslye [Headland, showrunner] wrote this character with you in mind and said that, if you hadn’t done this, she would have re-written the character. Did she tell you why she saw you as Qimir?

Honestly, it’s such a huge compliment from Leslye, because as an actor, you go through your career, and then it’s like audition after audition. And then lo and behold, there’s actually people actually thinking about you when you do some good work. I think it was because Leslye saw me in A Good Place, she saw that I could bring a comedic and light side to the character, but also she saw me in Nine Perfect Strangers. She saw that I could bring something dynamic to certain characters, and she really appreciated it. And she just set up a meeting, called me up and next thing you know, I was in Star Wars.

What’s the difference between your first impression of Qimir and who he turned out to be?

Leslye comes from the theatre, and she is very much rooted in that background. She likes to rehearse and almost.. not recreate the scenes, but really just workshop the scenes. I was very much able to do that with Amandla [Stenberg] and Leslye before we shot the actual scene.

So, [there was] a good amount of change. Because she is such a great collaborator, she would ask for our opinion and ask: ‘What would this character say at this time, or do at this time?’ There were moments where I was like, ‘I feel like I’m really contributing to the scenes with this character,’ because she very much was open to listening to us. There was a good amount that changed from initially seeing the first episode’s script to when we actually shot it because of our rehearsals.

Manny Jacinto
Photo by ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd.

If every character is a little bit of the actor who plays them, how much of yourself do you see in Qimir?

I mean, I will say this. It was the first time where Leslye told me, ‘I just want you to be you.’ It was a very emotional experience to hear that because a lot of times I’ve been… I’ve crafted a career playing these kinds of goofy or just weird characters. And, you know, there were moments where she was like, ‘You can move past that. I just want you to be yourself.’ Her allowing me to do that was really freeing. Because a lot of the times again, I need to do a certain tick, or I need to walk a certain way. But she’s like, ‘No, I don’t want any of that. I just want you to be yourself.’ It was very gratifying.

You said, you’ve crafted your career playing these certain roles. Has that been intentional?

Absolutely. Most of the time, it’s just because I needed a job. I needed to put food on the table. But as my career moved past, like, The Good Place, it was really a concerted effort to pick varying roles; roles that were challenging roles that I haven’t seen people like me take on. And yeah, it was very much a choice.

With this being your first foray in this universe, what surprised you about this world that Disney studios put together?

I think so many things — like, the love for Star Wars. I mean, when we got to Star Wars Celebration, we debuted our trailer and you immediately felt just incredible energy from the fans. You’re immediately a part of the fanbase. There’s nothing like it to be in the Star Wars fandom. And then, on top of that, the level of secrecy. The bobbing and weaving, the making sure that I don’t say this and don’t say that, but it’s all in an effort to like deliver the audience an incredible story because we want people to experience these jaw dropping moments. There’s so many fans out there with their own theories and their own ideas. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna go to them to figure out ideas if we do a season two, but yeah, the secrecy behind it is massive. But it’s well worth it.

Manny Jacinto
Photo by StillMoving.Net for Disney.

There’s a line on the show where a character says, ‘Don’t let fear affect your judgement.’ Was there ever a moment where you felt a little fear of stepping into this universe and how did you get over it?

I mean, through my co stars, to be honest. I think there is a lot of fear, there’s a lot of pressure but we all kind of share in this experience. I remember very early on that Amandla and I were constantly saying things like, ‘We’re doing it, we’re in Star Wars’ like, ‘Did you try your costume? What does it look like?’ Just by sharing it with my co-stars, there was just this sense of relief we were able to take the pressure off and enjoy it together. Yeah, it was really through the other cast mates that we were able to find joy.

Every actor who joins this universe, has a pinch-me moment — what was that for you?

The Star Wars poster because the Star Wars posters are so iconic. They have like this mix of characters. Again, with the backdrop and like just being on one of these posters is definitely a pinch-me moment.

How would you describe Qimir’s style and how would you describe your own sense of style?

So this is so funny, because Leslye texted me a photo of Robert Pattinson at a red carpet and was described as a local potion maker on Twitter. Can I show you the photo?

Of course.

Showing the photo. Maybe Robert Pattinson, unknowingly became the spokesperson for Qimir’s wardrobe. That was his style. I think kind of just comfortable but also that minimal dirty vibe.

That’s hilarious.

I think my own sense of style is a bit more, I think a bit more classic with more clean. I mean, I just hired a new stylist that I’m working with and she’s been pushing me towards more colours. I think there’s just like a classic vibe with a sense of youthfulness.

Manny Jacinto
Photo by StillMoving.Net for Disney.

Having done this, what are the goals you’ve now set for yourself as an actor?

Retirement! Laughs. I don’t know how else to top this. It’s also a dark hole if you try and compare this project to other projects. But moving forward, again, like I said, I’ve been able to craft a career that has a lot of characters that tend to support the lead and moving forward, it’s hopefully finding the projects where I can lead the way right, as opposed to just supporting.

The first two episodes of Star Wars: The Acolyte are streaming on Disney+. New episodes weekly.

Feature photo by Ramona Rosales. © 2024 Ramona Rosales.