Manny Jacinto Is Definitely In A Good Place: The Filipino-Born Actor on His Journey to Hollywood

Filipino-born Canadian actor Manny Jacinto takes us through his long and patient journey to Hollywood.

Can a name sound any more Filipino than Manny Jacinto? When the credits of hit comedy NBC series The Good Place revealed the name behind the show’s “Jason Mendoza,” a lead character who wears a barong-inspired outfit in the first few episodes of the comedy series, the viewers are automatically led to assume that this funny actor is Filipino. And they’re right.

“I grew up eating adobo and sinigang and I’d come home, and be welcomed by my favorite smells like Filipino spaghetti,” Manny tells Town&Country Philippines. “I tried making it once but I could never make it as good as my mom’s,” he recalls, laughing. 

Born in the Philippines and raised in Vancouver, Manny has had several small roles on film and TV before landing his biggest break as one of the six lead characters—along with Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, and William Jackson Harper—of The Good Place as the sweet, dimwitted doofus named Jianyu Li/ Jason Mendoza. Jason’s innocence makes him endearing, but his dumbness makes him annoying—which is perhaps the ultimate challenge of the fun-loving character.


“Playing Jason is super fun,” assures Manny. “I mean he is very much a pretty far departure from who I am. I’m more reserved, a bit more introverted and laidback, while Jason is a lot more out there and oblivious, and just wants to have a good time. He is basically like me as a kid, you know, wanting to play. It’s fun to play crazy things I wouldn’t do in real life.”

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Kristen Bell, Manny Jacinto, and Jameela Jamil

The thing about The Good Place is that it also brings viewers to a good place. It’s a smart, fun, philosophical show under the guise of a fantasy-comedy that makes you think—and more important, makes you understand ethics and philosophy without shoving Kant, Locke, or Socrates down your throat. Created by Michael Schur, the same genius behind other shows like The Office and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place is aired locally on Netflix, and has been enjoying quite a good run with recent news of another season and two Golden Globe nominations in 2018.

Being a part of a show that’s become as huge as this is, of course, a feat for Manny not just as a Filipino but as an Asian actor in Hollywood. As with any success, it took a lot of hard work, determination, and patience. He tells us more about his journey in this exclusive interview with Town&Country.

How did you get the role of Jason in The Good Place?

It was just like any other audition process. I drove down from Vancouver to LA and I managed to rent out a room in the middle of nowhere in the valley. It took me about an hour to get to LA. Fortunately enough I was able to meet with a few managers to get me an audition with Mike [Schur] and the casting director of the show, and it went on from there.

Tell me about the day you got the call. 


It was all kind of a blur getting it, you know. We were waiting for a few days and I remember I got a call and my manager who told me we got it. I remember just screaming and running outside. It felt like this huge weight on my shoulders was just being lifted off. There was that feeling of ecstasy and happiness.

I kind of kept it to myself for a while, because in this industry, you know, things can be taken away from you just like that. Even when people may say you got something, it can go the opposite way and turn 180 degrees and you end up back to the grind again. But after a week or so, I finally told my parents.

Did you expect the show to get this big?

No, but I knew we were in good hands because Mike Schur did The Office and Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and we knew he knew what he was doing. But with my personality, I just kept no expectations, and I was like 'let’s just do the best work that we can.' I believed in this show, I honestly laughed throughout the whole process, through the first season... I could only hope everyone enjoyed as much as we enjoyed that season.

Is there any episode that's special for you?

I guess whenever I get to interact and act with one of my co-stars Eugene Cordero, who is a fellow Filipino and who plays Pillboi on the show. Whenever I get to act with him is always a really good time. The first time I got to meet Eugene was in the fourth episode of the first season.  When we got to play together in the scenes, we were very much just like brothers. We got great chemistry together and the producer would usually joke that we could be together in some sort of sitcom. 

Other than Jason, who is your favorite character?

My favorite, and I think everyone’s favorite too, is Janet, played by the best person in the world D’Arcy Carden. She just kills it in that role and I’m always in awe by what she is able to do with whatever the producers or the writers give her. There’s an episode in the third season called "Janet," and it’s like an award-winning episode in my eyes in terms of her performance. 


What's a remarkable moment on set for you with the rest of the cast?

The reveal at the end of Season 1 stands out for me, where we're all in the room and that's really where we kind of felt the energy of this show. That scene kind of summed up all of our efforts; there was just this crazy energy in the room and we were able to experience that particular moment. The big reveal.

You've always talked about your parents and how much you love them. Can you tell me more about them and the best lessons you've learned from them?

Well, you know what it’s like with Filipino parents, and well, parents in general--the lessons they instill in their kids are very much through their actions, through the example that they lead. They may not be very vocal about their love, but you know that they care for you.

With my parents, especially with my dad, I definitely got his work ethic. We all immigrated from the Philippines when I was a kid and it was tough. My dad had to find work in a new kind of world or place that he wasn’t too familiar with, and kind of just did the work, whether it be a part-time job or a full-time job, and even though it wasn’t necessarily in his field or what he studied in engineering, he sucked it up and did it. He did it for his family and his kids and I think I definitely learned that work ethic from him, you put your head down and do the work and try to be excellent at what you do.

You took up engineering and ended up finishing Applied Science at the University of British Columbia. How did acting come up?

Yeah, I think that kind of sums it all up, like I was supposed to become a pharmacist but I failed chemistry, so after that, I looked at the different subjects and I thought hey, if my dad can be an engineer, why can’t I? I figured I’d just go in that same direction.

There were lots of risks or jumps, but a lot of it came through a series of steps, cause if you told me eight years ago that I would be an actor, I would laugh. I wouldn’t believe you. It’s crazy, the 1800-degree flip that I was able to take with just numerous steps. It started when I got to watch American Dance Crew on TV, and I saw these Filipinos and Asians performing onscreen. Dance and music were things I really resonated with so I was like, hey, I think that’s super cool, maybe let’s try it out, and fortunately, I was able to get myself to take a dance class in downtown Vancouver. From there I just fell in love with performing, fell in love with the art. From dancing, I went on to acting and from there it just kind of snowballed.


Your parents must be very proud of you.

They don’t say much, I don’t think they’d ever admit it if I asked, but I think I’ve made them proud. I think whenever I talk about what I do and what’s going on in my career, the best that I get is “Oh, that’s good.” It’s very minimal, but I know that they do talk about it, because whenever I go back home to Vancouver, I hear from my relatives about how my parents talk to them about how I’m doing so I feel like they wouldn’t be doing that if they weren’t proud. I do hope that I’ve been able to make them somewhat proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. 

Have you ever been back to the Philippines since immigrating to Canada?

Yes, I did go back! I think the last time I’ve been back was around 2011, so it’s really been awhile. I’d definitely love to come back though. My whole family is over there in Bulacan and Davao. I’ve also never been able to visit the beaches. I’d definitely love to make a visit down there where everything’s calmed down a little bit.

How did The Good Place change your life?

It changed my life in so many aspects! I mean I moved to Los Angeles because of the show when Vancouver was my home, so that was a huge change.

It’s also still a bit weird for me being recognized every once in a while like when I'm out on the street. I guess popularity is still is a weird thing to experience.

Being able to move out is a big thing for me. Also to be able to take care of myself and take care of my parents and my family. I mean, it’s not like they’re in deep crisis, but now with this kind of success and the success of the show, I know I'd be able to reach out and help financially if my parents ever needed it.


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About The Author
Nicole Limos Morales
Nicole is the former managing editor of Town & Country Philippines. After working as features editor and beauty editor of the title’s print edition for 6 years, she helped launch in 2016, creating new concepts and story formats, analyzing data, and mastering digital audiences—establishing the title to become the Philippines’ leading luxury lifestyle website. She left her full-time position in 2019 to focus on family life, while carrying on writing beauty content for T&C as a contributing editor. “I think what’s amazing about beauty is that in its arena, you can really only be a skeptic for so long,” she says. “There will always be a product that will make you believe.”
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