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The Transformation Of Manny Jacinto From Childhood To The Good Place

Anchored by veteran TV stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, "The Good Place" was all but destined to succeed upon premiering in 2016. Helping matters was the series' seasoned creator Michael Schur, the comedic mind behind "The Office," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," and "Parks and Recreation." With such acclaimed talent at the helm, Schur and company rounded out the cast of "The Good Place" with newcomers William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D'Arcy Carden, and Manny Jacinto, a group Harper coined "the Four Babies" (via GQ).

For a show with as many convolutions and mind-boggling reveals as "The Good Place," it's easy to forget that Jacinto was at the center of the series' first big twist. When we first see Jacinto, it's as Jianyu, a placid Buddhist monk who has taken a vow of silence. Early in Season 1, however, Jianyu reveals that he's actually Jason Mendoza, a Jacksonville DJ and drug dealer whose love for Blake Bortles knows no bounds. While most audiences know Jacinto as the dim-witted yet lovable Jason, "The Good Place" marked the actor's first major comedic role. Here's Jacinto's transformation from Vancouverite to Jianyu to Jason, and everything in between.

Manny Jacinto studied engineering in British Columbia

Manuel Jacinto was born in Manila in 1987 to a Filipino-Chinese family. In 1990, he, his parents, and his older sister emigrated to Canada, where they settled in Richmond, British Columbia, in the Vancouver metropolitan area. His Filipino background has remained a source of pride for Jacinto, and the actor has visited Manila since he left. He only wishes, however, that he had kept up with his Tagalog. "I used to be fluent, but I've lost most of my Tagalog because I didn't practice growing up," he told Inquirer.net. "It's something I regret. But at least, I can still say the bad words."

While Jacinto grew up in a hockey town and would later play a football nut in "The Good Place," as a kid, he gravitated towards baseball and basketball. "When I was really young I wanted to either be a baseball player, superhero, or civil engineer," the actor told Richmond Review in 2014. He eventually settled on the latter, studying civil engineering at the University of British Columbia.

Though Jacinto never built any bridges, he revealed the ways in which he has continued to apply his engineering background to acting. "I have a very [strong] right and left brain because of my engineering background," he told Backstage. "I approach [auditioning] from a very analytical point of view."

Jacinto's dance background led him to acting

In an interview with GQ, Manny Jacinto admitted that he didn't always want to be an actor. Rather, hip-hop dancing was his first love, and he credits the Jabbawockeez dance crew with igniting the spark. "The only reason I really got into dance was because I saw the Jabbawockeez on 'America's Next Dance Crew'," Jacinto said of the San Diego-based crew. "It was the first time I saw that Asian people could actually do that, and look cool, and possibly even do it for a living."

As a 19-year-old student at the University of British Columbia, Jacinto began taking dance classes under the tutelage of Stewart Iguidez and joined the Richmond-based studio Fresh Groove Productions (via Richmond Review). He would go on to compete at the Las Vegas World Hip-Hop Championships. According to Jacinto, his group completed the tournament in the top 11 of 51 competing countries (via GQ). Jacinto initially joined The Actor's Foundry in Vancouver to improve his stage presence as a dancer, but it was there that he caught the acting bug (via Asians On Film).

Upon exploring the world of the arts in college, Jacinto took a long hard look at his potential future as an engineer. "I [could] see my whole life in front of me, and that really sucked, knowing what was going to happen and not being excited about it. I was dancing at the time, and it was this new thing that made me feel something different and I had no idea what it would bring me. I listened to that voice" (via Backstage).

The first role that Jacinto booked was Once Upon a Time

After a year or two spent auditioning for commercials and indie projects, Manny Jacinto booked his first role on "Once Upon a Time" in 2013. Initially, the young actor was intimidated. Jacinto said, "When you have ... these roles where you come in for a week or a couple of days, it's hard because ... you're not really a part of the family, so you feel like an outsider" (via Asians On Film). Luckily, Jacinto found an on-set mentor in Eion Bailey, an actor who had previously appeared in "Band of Brothers." "Everything he did, he was trying to connect with me," Jacinto told Backstage. "It was a master class getting to work on that set. He took me under his wing and guided me through it."

In "Once Upon A Time" Season 2, Episode 18 ("Selfless, Brave and True"), Jacinto played Quon, a minor character who lives in Hong Kong, where he is a scene partner to Bailey's August. Notably, the episode also features Dianne Doan, Jacinto's future fiancée. After years of dating, Jacinto and Doan got engaged in 2019 (via People).

Following his appearance on "Once Upon a Time," Jacinto booked a number of roles on series like "Supernatural," "Untold Stories of the ER," and "The 100," as well as "The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story" and "Dead Rising: Watchtower" (via IMDb).

Jacinto was nominated for a Leo Award for The Romeo Section

After a few years spent grinding out day player roles, Manny Jacinto was cast in the Canadian drama "The Romeo Section" in 2015. The espionage series follows Wolfgang McGee (Andrew Airlie), a professor who handles a secret ring of assets called Romeo or Juliet spies who are willing to seduce intel in exchange for secrets. In Season 1, Jacinto played Wing Lei, the young leader of the Red Mountain Triad in Vancouver and the ascendant brain behind the city's heroin market (via IMDb).

For his ten-episode arc in "The Romeo Section," Jacinto earned a Leo Award nomination for Best Supporting Performance by a Male in a Dramatic Series (via IMDb). The role also showcased the actor's ability to play a menacing, complicated antagonist. One year later, Jacinto would prove that he could play for laughs just as easily in "The Good Place." "It's a complete 180 for me, which is amazing," Jacinto told Asians On Film at the time. "I get to stretch muscles that I've never used before." With Jacinto now appearing in rom coms and action movies like "Top Gun: Maverick," it's clear that the actor is just beginning to show his versatility.