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Interview: Manny Jacinto

With over 400 scripted series on television today, it’s hard for a series to stand out and be different. Many shows that dare to do something different, often don’t last long. Well, we are happy to say that one show has beaten the odds so far.

Created by Michael Schur, The Good Place is one of the most unique series to ever air on network television. It’s combination of quirky settings, smart writing and a cast that delivers each andevery week. The series has already become a darling of fans and critics alike. One reason for the success of the series is the work of Manny Jacinto, who plays the lovable Jason Mendoza.

Before The Good Place, Manny may be known best as Wing Lei in the television series The Romeo Section. He’s also made appearances in series such as Supernatural, The 100, iZombie and The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story.

We sit down with the talented young actor to talk about the genesis of his character, Jason’s relationships with Tahani and Janet and the importance of not being a stereotypical character on television.

Pop Culture Principle – The Good Place pulled off a great twist at the end of Season 1. What did you think about the twist when you read the script for the finale?

Manny Jacinto – The thing is they sat us down at first when they dropped the bomb on us. We were all on set and Michael Schur sat us down at the end of the day in the cafeteria or the lunch room and he said he had some news for us. My first instinct was that I was getting fired or that it was some bad news. Kristen had a camera on recording us while Mike is telling us this news, which I thought was a bit strange. Michael then proceeded to drop the bomb on us about the twist and right when he said that the Good Place was actually the Bad Place, all of us were in shock and just couldn’t believe it. At the end of the day, what it did was really secure in our mind that Mike is a genius because none of us saw that twist coming.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you have any concern heading into the second season after such a critically acclaimed and successful first season?

Manny Jacinto – I think it’s kind of like when a sports team wins a championship. You start to think about how you are going to do it again and how will you live up to the expectations. I think that was one of the first things that Mike assured us that we weren’t going to try and produce a huge twist at the end of this season like the first season, but we would still do amazing work and have great storytelling. So, once he told us that from the beginning, it gave us a lot more assurance and comfort.

Pop Culture Principle – Jason Mendoza is such an interesting and wonderful character. Did you base him on anyone or he’s just what you envisioned him to be?

Manny Jacinto – When I did the audition, it just came pretty naturally to me. 😊 In the first audition, there was very much an element of a “bro” in Jason. I grew up in an all guys high school, so I knew who that kind of guy was in a sense. So, it wasn’t necessarily a particular person from my past, but I can pick out traits from other people that I’ve met from high school or from previous experiences.

As the auditions kept going, we had to tweak things because it just wasn’t about Jason being a “bro”, we had to add his sweetness and his innocence. We had to add those layers because if we didn’t, he would just be this flat character. I think Jason is an amalgamation of different experiences, but I can’t say who it is, but when I try and get into Jason Mendoza, I anchor myself through this video on YouTube. I can’t say what it is, but maybe if/when the series end, I’ll share it with people. The character definitely encapsulates this guy in this video. But for me, Jason is definitely a mix of different people and different experiences.

Pop Culture Principle – Was it important to you that Jason not be the typical Asian stereotype that we see in film and television?

Manny Jacinto – At the end of the day, it’s something I was very conscious of when I started this journey. I was going to try and steer away from the generalities and the stereotypes. I wanted to steer away from the Asian nerd or the non-sexual Asian male. It was definitely something that was incredibly enticing and it’s something that I am very proud and happy to be a part of. It’s one of the reasons why I really get into the character because he is portraying something that the masses don’t see every day.

Pop Culture Principle – Although the cast of The Good Place is very diverse, their ethnicity doesn’t define their characters. Would you agree with that?

Manny Jacinto – Yes, absolutely. Filipinos, in general, aren’t seen very much on television these days. In one of Jason’s flashbacks in the fourth episode, you have a scene where it is one Filipino and another Filipino talking to each other, but their ethnicity or their culture has nothing to do with the conversation.

They aren’t related, they aren’t talking about being Filipino and they aren’t speaking in their language. A lot of these characters aren’t based off their culture or their skin color, they are just regular people that we see every single day when we go out in the world. It’s what I appreciate very much about the show as well.

Pop Culture Principle – The writing for The Good Place is some of the smartest and funniest on television today. As an actor, what’s it like bringing those words on the page to life?

Manny Jacinto – It’s incredible! I can’t help but crack up with some of the stuff the writers come up with, especially Joe Mandy. I have to give a shout out to Joe because he’s the brains behind Jason Mendoza. Of course, it isn’t just Joe, because all of our writers are genius level writers and creators.

They also work very well together and I think that’s a huge part why the show works so well. They always team up and work together. Whenever we read a script, sometimes it’s hard for us to get through it because of the craziness and the nonsense that these guys come up with. I am so appreciative of all the writers and creators of The Good Place.

Pop Culture Principle – Do the actors stick strictly to the script or are you allowed to improvise from time to time?

Manny Jacinto – We try and stay true to the script at first, but once we have the initial choice down, we will start to play around to keep ourselves on our toes and see what we can come up with. They fine-tune our scripts very specifically so they know what they are doing. The writers also have backup jokes as well for the scripts. We try and stay true to what has been given to us, but the writers and directors do make us feel comfortable to play around with the script when the time calls for it.

Pop Culture Principle – We now see Jason and Tahani are involved with each other. Will we see this relationship continue to evolve this season and will this relationship complicate things?

Manny Jacinto – I know that the fans really loved Janet and Jason together. It would be so easy for the writers to keep them together this season which would be so obvious. But what I like about Mike and the writes, they are kind of playing with the characters and what the audience wants. I think regardless of who Jason is with, he legitimately cares about who he is with. You’ll see in the next three episodes that the dynamic between those two characters will develop somewhat, but I can’t say whether or not Jason and Tahani stay together this season. You’ll have to tune in and find out!

Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the rest of Season 2 of The Good Place?

Manny Jacinto – In one of the episodes, there is going to be more action. There is going to be a lot more weirdness and to be honest, it’s going to be a fun ride. Other than that, I’ll spoil too much and you won’t get the full effect from the show. I hope everyone enjoys what’s coming up and thank you to the fans for supporting The Good Place.

We'd like to thank Manny Jacinto for sitting down and talking with us. If you'd like to keep up with all of Manny's latest news and projects, you can follow his official Instagram and Twitter accounts @mjacint0.

**Main photo courtesy of Dianne Doan**

**The Good Place photos courtesy of Colleen Hayes/Vivian Zink/NBC**

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