Manny Jacinto is nothing like goofy Jason on ‘The Good Place’


Manny Jacinto is in a really good place.

The Filipino-Canadian actor, 33, rose to fame on NBC’s “The Good Place,” starring as Jason Mendoza from 2016 until the show ended in 2020. Jacinto, who currently lives in LA, charmed audiences as a lovably dim-witted DJ from Florida, who was obsessed with his dance crew, Molotov cocktails and former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.

Now, he’s headed to Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers,” a star-studded new miniseries about a mysterious wellness retreat, premiering Aug. 18.

Prior to “The Good Place,” Jacinto had done minor TV appearances on shows such as “Once Upon a Time” and “Supernatural,” but playing Jason “opened a lot of doors,” he said. After the finale, he wanted to take his time considering his next steps. “Instead of just thinking about putting food on the table and trying to have some money in the bank, it allowed me to take a moment to be like, ‘What is the stamp that I want to leave? What is the résumé that I want to have?’”

Manny Jacinto poses for a portrait.
Manny Jacinto
NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

That led him to “Nine Perfect Strangers,” from the team behind “Big Little Lies.” Just like that series, it’s a David E. Kelly adaptation of a Liane Moriarty novel. It follows a group of stressed city-dwellers who have all checked in at a secluded, highly exclusive 10-day resort in northern California called the Tranquillum House, led by the enigmatic wellness guru Masha (Nicole Kidman) and her counselors, Yao (Jacinto) and Delilah (Tiffany Boone). 

Jacinto said he was eager to work with the “inspiring” cast, such Michael Shannon, who plays Napoleon Marconi, a teacher who is a guest at the resort.

“Just watching the man work, he set the bar of what I want to achieve,” he said.

He was also impressed with Kidman’s approach to the role. “Before we even shot our first scene, Nicole would come up to me and start talking, but it wasn’t Nicole, it was [her in character] Masha,” said Jacinto. “It was super cool, getting to do a little acting exercise with Nicole Kidman.”

In the show, Masha, Yao and Delilah give guidance to the grieving Napoleon Marconi, churlish Tony (Bobby Cannavale), cynical Lars (Luke Evans) and frustrated author Francis (Melissa McCarthy), among others. Unlike goofy Jason, Yao is serene, more like Jason’s monk-like persona from early “The Good Place” episodes.

Manny Jacinto as Yao and Melissa McCarthy as Francis, right, jog together in "Nine Perfect Strangers."
Manny Jacinto as Yao and Melissa McCarthy as Francis, right, in “Nine Perfect Strangers.”
HULU

Jacinto said that he’s less like Jason than fans might think. He has a self-deprecating sense of humor, is not a hard partier (“I barely even drink any alcohol, I try to keep it clean”) and approaches his work with thoughtfulness. “I love finding different layers to a character,” he said. “Whether it be stillness or chaos or humor or genuine love. Give me all the things! I’ll play it all — just give me some room.”

He’s also got a passion for photography, which he brought to the set.

“What I like to do on set is take photos and just capture little moments, whether it be Nicole having a conversation with Michael or somebody laughing,” he said. “It helps me to just be in the moment and try not to worry so much about the scenes and let go a little bit. It’s a grounding practice.”

As the show unfolds, it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems in this tranquil setting. The strangers get to know each other and undergo “wellness” exercises that range from innocuous (relaxing in hot springs) to potentially worrisome (drinking smoothies without knowing their ingredients) to downright disturbing (digging their own graves). All the while, the audience is left wondering if Masha is a scammer with more sinister intentions.

Author Liane Moriarty's books: "Nine Perfect Strangers" and "Big Little Lies."
“Nine Perfect Strangers” is based on a book by Liane Moriarty, the author of “Big Little Lies.”

For his part, Jacinto said he doesn’t imbibe special wellness drinks or visit resorts, but he does strive for self-improvement. 

“I am a big sucker for self-help books and all that stuff,” he said. “Whether it be through a podcast or through a book, I’m always trying to figure out how to be a Buddha or something … I’m a big Alan Watts fan. ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’ was a book that I was carrying with me when I was shooting.”

Up next, Jacinto is also joining the “Top Gun” franchise in “Top Gun: Maverick.” Meanwhile, his pop culture legacy lives on with “The Good Place,” streaming on Netflix.

He said that fans sometimes spout Jason’s signature catchphrase (“Bortles!”) to him, but he doesn’t mind: “Whenever it happens, it definitely puts a smile on my face.”