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The Real Reason Manny Jacinto Loved Playing Jason On The Good Place

For a time, it was the biggest twist "The Good Place" had to offer fans. At the start of the NBC comedy "The Good Place," Jianyu (Manny Jacinto) is introduced as a mild-mannered Buddhist monk who plans to honor his vow of silence even in the afterlife. Early in Season 1, Jianyu reveals to series protagonist Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) that he is actually Jason Mendoza, an amateur EDM DJ and part-time drug dealer from Jacksonville, Florida. Like Eleanor, Jason is a fraud with a personality completely unlike the contemplative spiritual figure he's impersonating in the so-called Good Place.

Following Season 1, Jacinto recalled in a 2018 Vulture interview how his castmates were blown away when they got a glimpse of the real Jason. The actor singled out co-stars Jameela Jamil and D'Arcy Carden, saying that during the first table read in which the character spoke, they were unable to contain their laughter. Jacinto explained, "Obviously, I'd like to think that I talk as a 'normal person' in real life, and when they heard me talk as Jason Mendoza, they just could not believe it. So that was a really sweet moment when I saw their reactions."

But, as Jacinto went on to share with Vulture, the real reason he loved playing Jason went deeper than using a surprising voice performance to pull off a twist where he's revealed to be a dim-witted Florida Man rather than a monk.

Manny Jacinto loved how Jason Mendoza subverted stereotypes about Asian characters

Jacinto told Vulture that thwarting expectations about the kinds of characters Asian actors play onscreen was the real reason for taking the role. He shared, "I think when they were coming up with Jason/Jianyu, they were trying to figure out something different and one of the things that popped up was that you don't really see a lot of dumb Asian guys on mainstream television."

Before "The Good Place," Jacinto recalled that most of the parts he was offered as an Asian actor were what he called "model minority" roles: smart characters, nerdy characters, even "an IT tech guy." The actor explained, "It's tough sometimes, especially when you're starting out, because they make these roles sound as if they won't be a typical nerd. [...] It was almost like they were trying to trick you to do this."

In a way, the Jianyu persona is a spin on this trope. Who could be more of a morally upstanding person than a monk? By revealing that Jianyu is really Jason, Jacinto and the show's creative team got several episodes to build their own version of the stereotype up before pulling the rug out from under the audience (obviously, subsequent events on "The Good Place" show that Jason's probably right where he belongs, but put yourself in Season 1 mode here).

If he really was as much of a model citizen as he was initially thought to be, Jianyu would likely have been a narrative dead-end for the show. Unlike his Buddhist monk alter ego, Season 1-era Jason had a lot to learn about what it meant to be a good person, and he was ultimately willing to put the work in to do that.