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‘The Good Place’ Star Manny Jacinto Hits Movie Jackpot with ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

The actor behind the good-natured Jason Mendoza lands his biggest feature film role to date.
By  · Published on September 28th, 2018

Nothing raises an actor’s profile like a Tom Cruise movie. This is particularly true now that we live in a post-Mission: Impossible – Fallout era. Cruise is kind of experiencing a renaissance as a hot commodity after the slick sixth installment of his flagship franchise took the world by storm over the summer, grossing more than $780 million at the box office globally.

It certainly feels like Cruise’s flop of a year in 2017 — which occurred in spite of him trying the absolute most to make bad movies work — has a chance to be rewritten. There couldn’t be a more ideal moment to further capitalize on the success of Mission: Impossible – Fallout and bring Cruise’s long-gestating Top Gun sequel to the masses.

Over several months, the cast of Top Gun: Maverick has steadily built up to include a selection of acting veterans as well as a noticeable number of relative newcomers. First, Val Kilmer committed to returning as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. Then, the search was on for the perfect actor to play Nick “Goose” Bradshaw’s son. I was gunning for Glen Powell (Set It Up) to get the part, but Miles Teller (Whiplash) ultimately nabbed the role. No one should be too mad about that either since Teller has demonstrated leading man potential. Any disappointment about Powell would soon dissipate anyway. He ended up getting cast in an undisclosed role in Maverick.

Others of note who have boarded the movie include the indomitable Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), who is up to portray the film’s female lead: a single mother and bar owner who works near the Navy airbase where the story is set. Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Ed Harris (Westworld), and Lewis Pullman (Battle of the Sexeswere cast a month later in secret roles. A diverse array of supporting actors has joined the slate too, namely Thomasin McKenzie (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies), Charles Parnell (All My Children), Jay Ellis (Insecure), Bashir Salahuddin (GLOW), Danny Ramirez (The Gifted), and Monica Barbaro (UnREAL).

Manny Jacinto is yet another relative newcomer to join the bunch, and maybe he shall get a career boost in the process. As reported by Deadline, The Good Place star will take on the role of a pilot named Fritz in Maverick. Frankly, so much of the movie is kept under wraps — we don’t have a proper synopsis yet — that I’m surprised his character reportedly has a name at all. For the time being, perhaps what’s sustaining Maverick curiosity (apart from the original’s legacy and the fascinating Cruise renaissance) is a good set photo leak.

For Jacinto, this is a huge gig regardless; Maverick is arguably his biggest break to date. When his career began, Jacinto curated a resume of guest spots on popular shows like Once Upon a Time, Supernatural, and iZombie, although his roles were definitely minuscule in each of them (they really had him be a dead body in the last, huh?) Sadly, at times, he doesn’t even get to be a named person, and I’m thinking about his stints on The 100, Bates Motel, and Cameron Crowe’s Roadies here.

Of Jacinto’s more regular jobs, though, he has at least gone for variety. He appeared in the first season of the Canadian spy thriller The Romeo Section several years ago, depicting a steely Triad member and heroin dealer. This leaves a much more serious onscreen impression than the one we’re used to seeing from the actor today.

Because to the general public, Jacinto’s work in The Good Place as the incredibly ignorant Jason Mendoza stands out above anything else. In fact, news about Maverick couldn’t have come at a better time, especially when the show has just returned for its third season. Best of all, The Good Place is still maintaining its status as one of the most earnest comedies currently on air.

Jacinto’s turn as Jason could probably be construed as a considerably flat performance to some, because the upbeat character doesn’t exactly call for much emotional range. In The Good Place, he is infuriatingly hilarious due to a distinct lack of awareness. Still, Jason isn’t just a dimwitted slacker with no impulse control. The empathy he extends to the other characters on the show makes him come across as contradictorily pure, despite his more selfish and ignorant qualities.

There’s a subtlety to be found in Jason that could only really shine through in a deeply humane and surprisingly complex series like The Good Place. This certainly plays out in a diametrically opposite fashion against something like The Romeo Section, and I’m all for it.

Jacinto’s existing filmography could further contrast with his burgeoning feature film slate, too. His prospects on the big screen have never looked brighter, as his recent endeavors sound very propitious. Before taking a ride into the danger zone, Jacinto is due to appear in Drew Goddard’s sophomore directorial feature Bad Times at the El Royale, which would undoubtedly garner him even more of a cult following.

If Jacinto keeps playing his cards right and continues to pick an eclectic mix of promising projects both big and small, he’s primed to be a sensation in years to come. On the back of Cruise’s Maverick, he is already on the right track.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)