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‘Star Wars’ Star Manny Jacinto Talks Acolyte Spinoff

‘Star Wars’ Star Manny Jacinto Talks Acolyte Spinoff

Fandoms have been a large part of Manny Jacinto’s career. His big break happened in 2016 on NBC’s The Good Place, a quirky comedy about the afterlife that quickly hit cult status (the cast even appeared at 2019’s Comic-Con, a rarity for a sitcom) and ran for four seasons to a highly dedicated audience. In 2021, he played opposite the internet’s queen mother Nicole Kidman in Nine Perfect Strangers.

This month, he stars in The Acolyte, Disney’s latest (and extremely secretive) addition to the Star Wars canon about the final days of the High Republic era. But this time, the fandom feels more present — and anxiety-inducing — than it’s ever been for the actor. “There’s such a responsibility with this franchise; there are so many eyes on us wondering what we’re going to bring to the table,” Jacinto says via Zoom from his L.A. home. “I’m trying my best to separate myself from the pressure of appeasing people.”

The 36-year-old actor — who was born in the Philippines and grew up in suburban Vancouver — certainly earned his seat at this galaxy’s table. Several years ago, he scored a meeting with showrunner Leslye Headland to talk about the burgeoning series and felt so inspired by their conversation that he decided to write what he calls a two-page “essay” about how to tackle one of the characters they had discussed. After some deliberation, he emailed it to Headland — and didn’t hear back for weeks. She thanked him for his passion, and that was it.

“Then, like four months later, I was in Todos Santos, Mexico, for another project and was wandering the streets of this dreamy place when I checked my phone,” he says. “And I had a voicemail saying she’d love to have me. Now that it’s finally coming out, I’m excited to see what doors it opens — or what doors it will close, because you never know.”

Manny Jacinto

Photographed by Daniel Dorsa

How do you deal with stress or pressure in this business?

When I was working on Star Wars, it was a stressful time, emotionally, and the shoot took a lot out of us. I was away from my family for eight months, and I tend to get seasonal depression, so the winter in London was hard. I’d take salt baths at night because it would force me to relax. But I remember on Nine Perfect Strangers, what helped me was playing Mario Kart. I’d just throw it on my Nintendo Switch and play endlessly, and I got pretty damn good — not to pat myself on the back. So if there are any challengers out there, bring it. Also, if I’m able to work in L.A., I have my wife and our dog — she’s a Frenchie/pitbull mix and looks like a tiny little hippo — so that’s really helpful.

Do you feel comfortable doing press, especially for a big project like this?

Doing press is almost another character that I play — I’m not really one to talk about myself a lot. Or one to talk in general, to be honest. I feel rusty. It’s interesting, it’s part of the industry that doesn’t really get talked about, and definitely not when you’re learning how to act or trying to get your first gig. What I’ve learned is not to take it so seriously and just enjoy the process and hopefully what I say in this interview isn’t going to hurt me forever. (Laughs.)

How does the experience of The Acolyte compare to the pressure, if any, that you felt during The Good Place, especially in that final season?

That was very much an ignorance-is-bliss type of thing. It was the first big thing I did. In the last seasons, we were in a bubble. I also had a youthful ignorance about my career and about my acting, so for lack of a better word, I felt I could just be dumb about it. There was a lightness to the character, so I just tried to have a good time.

Do you miss that purely comedic style of acting?

As I get into these more serious and grounded dramatic roles, there are times that I’m like, “Man, can I just do a simple fart joke?” But I also realize now that we had it so easy on that show. I could bike to work. Production ran like a machine, we had 10-hour days. There was a sense of play, and we could ad-lib and collaborate with writers.

Manny Jacinto

Photographed by Daniel Dorsa

It feels like you got in at the end of the network sitcom heyday.

Exactly. Especially after the pandemic and strike, it’s just a different playing field now. Job security is something I really think about as I get older and think about having a family. There’s a constant struggle of, do I want to be an artist, to do indie roles and get accolades, or do I just need an acting job that pays well and is secure? Maybe you can do both, and I’m trying to do both. I’d love to be like Robert Pattinson. But I also think about being a Steve Carell or John Krasinski during their time on The Office.

Do you keep a list of actors or directors you want to work with, or who you really watch from a strategic standpoint?

The one person I try to model my career toward is Steven Yeun. What he was able to do after The Walking Dead, what he’s doing now with Beef. Or Kumail Nanjiani, what he did after The Big Sick and his ability to be in big movies. To be completely transparent here, I notice that with a lot of actors of color, they don’t necessarily have the opportunities given to them — they have to buckle down and collaborate with other people to create something for themselves.

Speaking of Steven, we’re now seeing director Lee Isaac Chung go from Minari to Twisters.

Yeah, that is so interesting. I’m in the midst of trying to figure out what the next job is, and there’s a good commercial one that is a departure from both indies and Star Wars. I think as long as I’m creatively fulfilled, I’ll be OK. It’s a constant effort not to worry about what other people think about my choices.

How quickly did the level of secrecy on The Acolyte become apparent?

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It was incredibly high instantly. I do remember I was debating between Star Wars and another offer that had come in, and so Leslye did reach out to give me an outline of what the character was doing — because before that I didn’t know much about who I would be playing. Once we got to set, I had to sign all these NDAs, and we weren’t allowed to print the scripts. I normally like to take photos on set with my film camera but I couldn’t even do that. I get it now, though, considering the sheer number of people who have been reacting just to the trailer.

Jacinto in a scene from The Acolyte, which premieres June 4 on Disney+.

Christian Black/Disney+/2024 Lucasfilm Ltd.

I’m curious how you find living in L.A., especially versus where you grew up in Vancouver, and given what you’ve said about not having a strong proclivity for some of the public-facing elements of this business.

Here, you can’t help but feel that need to work. There’s an energy that everybody is hustling, everybody’s got a script going, they’re producing something, they’re on a podcast, they’re selling something out of their trunk, they’re buying real estate. Whereas when I’m back in Vancouver, I can just relax. I can watch TV for a whole day and not feel guilty about it. When I’m here it’s like, “What’s the next thing, who do I have to connect with, what should I promote?” That can be exhausting.

What was the first tangible thing that made you notice your own success?

Simple: Going to a restaurant and not looking at the bill. Just paying for it. Same with the grocery store — buying whatever I needed without looking at the price. Once I no longer felt anxiety about how I was going to be able to afford food, I realized my life had changed.

What’s a luxury you allow yourself as you get more success?

I’m a big self-care person, so it’s at-home massages. I have someone — Laura — who comes to our place, and that is such a luxury.   

This story first appeared in the May 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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