DA MAN talks with Filipino-born Canadian actor Manny Jacinto about his acting journey and playing in “Top Gun: Maverick” alongside Tom Cruise playing in next summer.
Manny Jacinto is in a good place now. If you’re familiar with hit fantasy comedy TV series “The Good Place,” chances are that you’re quite familiar with the Filipino-born actor. Now that the series is coming to an end, another door has opened up in Jacinto’s career: He is now filming the long-awaited sequel to “Top Gun.” Yes, we’re talking about “Top Gun: Maverick,” which is scheduled to be released in June next year. Jacinto was a dancer before he transitioned into acting. Looking at where he is today, his decision to sign up for acting classes seems quite fateful, as it has opened up new and exciting path for this charismatic guy.
DA MAN: Hi Manny, delighted to have you with us. So, what have you been busy with lately?
Manny Jacinto: Catching up on sleep! [Laughs] I actually don’t have anything in the books yet; I’ve really wanted to take a break, so my girlfriend and I are actually taking a trip to Europe to explore, to relax and to eat a lot of bread.
DA: Let’s start with your latest big involvement. Back in September 2018, you were confirmed to take part in the much-hyped, long-awaited sequel to “Top Gun,” “Top Gun: Maverick.” How do you feel about being in such a huge project?
MJ: I’ve never been a part of a project as big as this one. I’m used to how quick TV is, but with big budget films, scenes that would normally take a few hours to shoot can take a couple days, maybe even the whole week. It really makes you appreciate everyone involved in front and especially behind the camera. We’re all a part of this giant team trying to give people something they can enjoy.
DA: You’ll be playing a pilot named Fritz. Did you go through any kind of special training to prepare you for the role?
MJ: I’m not allowed to get into too much detail, but yes, we did end up flying small four-seater planes for the initial training period.
“Once I took my first acting class I found another means of being able to express myself.”
DA: What do you think is the most exciting thing about being a jet fighter pilot?
MJ: Flying and going really, really, really, really fast. It’s basically as if you have a superpower.
DA: What was it like working with Tom Cruise?
MJ: I grew up watching Tom as a kid. He was and still is one of the biggest action movie stars of my generation. It was unreal getting to see him work both in front and behind the camera. He maintains such a high level work ethic even after so many years in this business and never fails to be genuinely kind to his co stars and crew, its inspiring.
DA: Previously, you also worked on another massive project, “Bad Times at The El Royale,” which was your first feature film. How is your first film gig compared to your current one?
MJ: Every project is different. Everything from the work, to the cast, to the environment and down to the food. Luckily, for both projects I’ve been able to work with people who are excellent at what they do and are also genuinely good people. So, compared to my first film gig, “Top Gun” has been just as exciting and memorable.
DA: Any particularly memorable moments during the shooting of “Bad Times at The El Royale” you can share with us?
MJ: The whole experience itself was one for the books because I was basically in a masterclass getting to watch all these legends and veteran actors work. I took in and learned as much as I could from that shoot.
DA: Do you have any plans on staring in a Filipino movie?
MJ: I’d have to really brush up on my Tagalog! [Laughs] If the role only involved me swearing and cursing in Tagalog, I think I could nail it.
DA: You’re also famously known for your role as Jianyu Li slash Jason Mendoza in NBC’s “The Good Place,” which critically acclaimed for how your role goes against the stereotypes of Asian men as they are often portrayed in Hollywood. What’s your take on this issue?
MJ: It’s been unfortunate and frustrating that Asian men are often depicted as effeminate and not looked at as romantic leading men. Things are slowly changing with the advent of “Crazy Rich Asians,” but there’s still a long way to go. I’ve been very fortunate to play a character that doesn’t carry any tired stereotypes and I hope that seeing a character like Jason Mendoza has helped people see Asian men in a different light.
DA: What’s the biggest challenge in portraying your character in “The Good Place”?
MJ: We have such brilliant writers on our show that I often get lines that I can’t always get through without laughing. Also, I have to remind myself that I need to be truthful in saying these lines and not just saying it to make people laugh. When you push for the laugh, you usually never get the laugh.
DA: “The Good Place” is this highly selective Heaven-like utopia. What’s your idea of heaven like?
MJ: Some of my cast mates have mentioned this and it does sound kind of cheesy but being a part of this special show has been pretty damn heaven-like.
DA: The final season of “The Good Place” has just aired. How would you describe your four years on the show?
MJ: Fun, nerve-racking, exciting, lovely, surprising, unexpected, too fast and all the other good feelings.
DA: On a more personal level, what do you like most about the show?
MJ: The free food! [Laughs] Honestly, it’s the fact that I get to play pretend with a bunch of other weirdos and call it work. It’s a dream getting to do what you love, with people you love.
DA: If we go back a little, you were really into hip hop dancing before transitioning into acting. What was it that made you decide to try and become an actor?
MJ: I loved dance because it let me express, physically, emotions that I couldn’t safely express in the real world. I initially started taking acting classes to improve my performance on stage as a dancer, but once I took my first acting class I found another means of being able to express myself. I followed acting with the same passion I had for dance and never looked back.
DA: And before that, you went to the University of British Colombia to study civil engineering. Can you tell us a bit about this part of your life?
MJ: The arts were something completely foreign to me. I grew up mainly playing sports and studying to be a doctor or engineer. I worked and did internships as a field engineer and after working on the field I quickly learned that it wasn’t for me and that it wasn’t something I would want to do for the rest of my life.
“Projects will come and go, our lives will have ups and downs, but take it all in, enjoy it and live for right now because right now is all you have”
DA: What inspires you to wake up and face each day?
MJ: That’s’ a deep question that I would probably have to write an essay on. The first thing that pops into my head is the fact that life is too short. Go out and play, because it can all go by too quickly.
DA: You grew up playing basketball and baseball as well. Which one’s your personal favorite?
MJ: Basketball is more exciting for me to watch and play nowadays
DA: What are your main goals for the next five years or so?
MJ: I still have a lot to explore as an actor but a goal of mine is to write/create my own projects. I would also love to direct and produce, but for now I’d like to stretch my acting muscles with different characters on film and TV.
DA: You’ve been in plenty of television series as well as two massive feature films. What has your journey taught you so far as an actor and as a person?
MJ: The biggest thing I’ve learned as both an actor and as a person is that we as human beings are always looking ahead, worrying about the future or busy regretting or reminiscing about the past. And because of this we are rarely living in the present. Projects will come and go, our lives will have ups and downs, but take it all in, enjoy it and live for right now because right now is all you have.
PHOTOGRAPHY Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
STYLING Luca Kingston
GROOMING Michael Janda for Starring by Ted Gibson
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