Fil-Canadian Manny Jacinto on being part of ‘The Acolyte’: I was in awe every day

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Fil-Canadian Manny Jacinto on being part of �The Acolyte�: I was in awe every day
Filipino-Canadian actor Manny Jacinto is proud to be part of 'The Acolyte' because it’s a 'Star Wars that shows so many faces of color.'
STAR / File

In Disney’s new story within the “Star Wars” universe, “The Acolyte,” viewers are introduced to more characters and creatures beyond just the Jedi. There are droids, aliens and merchants, and one of them is Qimir, portrayed by Filipino-Canadian Manny Jacinto.

In the eight-episode series, Manny plays Qimir, who owns a shop where he sells medicines and other concoctions. He finds himself right smack in the middle of the mystery surrounding a series of Jedi murders.

Showrunner Leslye Headland thought Manny was perfect for the role of Qimir, saying in the production notes that she might have altered the character if he hadn’t taken the part.

“The Acolyte” is set during The High Republic, an era fans have never seen before in live action. It’s described as the golden age, a time of peace and prosperity in the galaxy, where the Jedi are at their strongest and most powerful. But when Jedi masters start getting murdered, it shakes things up, and a major probe begins, where a Jedi master is pitted against a Force-wielding warrior from the past.

The Force was obviously with “The Acolyte” during its debut week as it recorded 11.1 million views worldwide in just five days, making it the most-watched premiere on Disney+ in 2024.

When The STAR asked Manny during an exclusive virtual interview how he handled the pressure and expectations of being cast in a highly-anticipated series, he said, “Being with friends and family helps. I think rewiring my brain and just reminding myself that, you know, obviously, ‘Star Wars’ is important, and it means a lot to a lot of other people, a lot of people.

In the eight-episode series , Manny plays Qimir, who owns a shop where he sells medicines and other concoctions. He finds himself right smack in the middle of the mystery surrounding a series of Jedi murders.

“But at the end of the day, it’s also a job that I just took on. And there are other important aspects to my life that, you know, mean just as much, if not more. And, yeah, and sharing these moments with my parents, with my wife, with friends, I think that just alleviates things. It gets me in a better mindset, and it takes me away from the pressure of having to appease, I don’t know, fans or other viewers.”

Born in Quezon City before moving his family migrated to Canada when he was a child, Manny figured in smaller roles on TV before his breakthrough as Jason Mendoza in the fantasy-comedy series “The Good Place.” He has since starred in movies like “Bad Times at the El Royale” and “Top Gun: Maverick.”

The actor reflects on his Hollywood acting journey so far: ‘I would describe it as ongoing. I feel like the work is never done. I'm very grateful, very fortunate that I get to be an actor during this time.’

For sure, there are multiple reasons to be proud of as a main cast member of “The Acolyte,” but for Manny he’s proudest because it’s a “Star Wars” production “that shows so many faces of color.”

Below are excerpts from our interview with Manny about being the Filipino in “Star Wars,” representation and his advice to actors still waiting for their big break in the entertainment business.

On being part of a mega production such as “The Acolyte”:

“It means so much. It means the world. I am so proud of not only being a part of ‘Star Wars,’ but being a part of a ‘Star Wars that shows so many faces of color. You know, it’s one thing to be able to work on a big IP (intellectual property), but it’s also one thing to be able to inspire younger kids that look like me, to either tell stories or to play with a little fake lightsaber or just, yeah, to just assure them that there are people that look like them in the world.”

On what fans can expect from Qimir:

“I mean, talking to Leslye (Headland) about the character, I loved it because he was definitely more on the comedic side of things. With ‘Star Wars,’ there’s gonna be a lot of serious themes and serious, dramatic moments. But with my character, Qimir, he definitely brings the levity. He brings that comedy into specific scenes. And that’s what I loved (about him). He was the one that really was kind of, in his own way, opposing the Jedi.

“And I found that very interesting. Obviously, I had lightsaber envy because I couldn’t play around with the lightsabers. But I think the characters that aren’t Jedi or Sith become fan favorites, like if you look at Lando Calrissian or the Mandalorian or Han Solo, they become some pretty iconic characters.”

Photos show the actor during the Hollywood premiere and on the set of the series.

On his first shooting day and other experiences on set:

“It was incredible. So with our show, very much everything was practical. We didn’t do a lot of CGI (computer-generated images) or green screen. All the sets were man-made, and we got to see them built from the scaffolding up until the paint. And it felt I didn’t have to do much work, to be honest, because everything was taken care of. Like I didn’t have to use my imagination as much because I was plopped into this planet, and it made my job so much easier. It was such an incredible feeling. I was in awe every day. I got that feeling as a kid watching ‘The Phantom Menace’ for the first time walking on that set. It was, yeah, it was a day to remember.”

On “The Acolyte” themes and messages he resonated with:

“I think the theme of, you know, how do you handle a world that doesn’t necessarily accept or look like you? How do you deal with that? I think that’s a theme that definitely resonates throughout my childhood and also in my acting career. That’s definitely an important theme of mine.”

On his Hollywood acting journey so far:

“I would describe it as ongoing. I feel like the work is never done. I’m very grateful, very fortunate that I get to be an actor during this time because the landscape was so different just six or eight years ago. But, you know, I purposely… really strategize in my career to take on characters that people haven’t seen before. Those are the characters that I love to play with or take on. Yeah, it’s a challenge, but a challenge that can get also pretty difficult, but a challenge that’s worth it. I think it’s because I think it’ll make a greater impact.”

On seeing increased diversity and more representation in Hollywood:

“Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think what it comes down to is just having more and more creatives, not just in front of the screen, but behind the screen as well. Like I am seeing or keeping an eye on Filipino directors and Filipino writers all the time and, possibly, hopefully, fingers crossed, getting to collaborate with them, because I can only do so much as an actor, but there’s so much potential. It gets frustrating at times because obviously, there’s not a lot out there right now, but that just means that there’s so much more to be told, and it’s exciting. I think now is the time to be able to do that and to tell those stories.”

On advice to aspiring actors from underrepresented backgrounds:

“Create, right? You know, take it upon yourself to do it. Don’t wait for somebody to give you the opportunity. We need more storytellers, we need more writers, we need more directors. We need more actors, we need more producers. I think it’s just a matter of taking action and creating the opportunity for yourself. I think that’s the biggest piece of advice I can give to like, a younger generation, or that I would give to myself when I was younger, like, don’t wait. Like, just make it happen, because it’s possible. Just take the jump.”

(Brand-new episodes of ‘The Acolyte’ will come out in the Philippines every Wednesday until July 17.)

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