I was hoping Manny Jacinto would be a himbo. I soothed myself with this thought: Maybe he’d be just like Jason Mendoza, the handsome airhead he’s played to such great effect on The Good Place for four years. Or maybe, considering his face, he’d at least be vain. That way, I might dislike him enough to interview him in peace, without succumbing to the kind of nerves that kick in when you’re at a tiny table, across from someone who looks like Manny Jacinto.
But in person, over breakfast at the Lotte New York Palace hotel, Jacinto seems more like your friend’s hot big brother: He stands up to greet you. He makes jokes and laughs at yours. He’s a soft-spoken but physical talker, a polite apologizer, and has the kind of big grin that splits his face in half. Also, he looks even better in person.
Not that any of this was surprising. This is the man thirsty fans have credited with inventing bone structure, and the subject of many tweets of the run-me-over variety (“crush my head,” “light birthday candles in my asshole,” etc.) Recently, he appeared (alongside Jane Fonda) at a climate-change protest wearing Harry Potter eyeglasses, and subsequent headlines focused more on his jawline and cheekbones than his civic engagement. Face-to-face with the man himself, I fully understood what Lin-Manuel Miranda meant when he tweeted that upon seeing a photo of Jacinto, he said out loud to himself, That can’t be right.
“It’s very complimentary and kind and nice,” Jacinto says, pouring himself some tea from a massive porcelain pot. “Maybe it’s the Asian mentality: Keep your head down, have humility, and all that stuff. The whole thirstiness of it all, I try not to dwell on it too much.” Even so, he admits that he welcomes the attention to an extent. “In the past, [Asian men] have always been considered effeminate, and not like ‘the Asian male lead.’ So I try not to shy away from it too much.”
He’s excited about his next role, alongside Tom Cruise, in Top Gun: Maverick, out sometime next year. But he’s wary of being typecast as just “the hot guy or the sexy guy dancing.” Dance was his first love, which he discovered by taking a college class on a whim; he likened hitting his first move to taking ecstasy. “It’s what I wanted to do at first, dance backup for an artist,” he says. I ask him for whom, and Jacinto barely pauses before saying, “Justin Timberlake was probably the No. 1. But then you’re like, Hey, why be in the back when I could possibly be in the front, you know?”
The Justin Timberlake admission makes me greedy for secrets; I ask him for something he hasn’t said in an interview before. He pauses, as if gauging me, the situation, then: “I sneeze six times in a row whenever I sneeze,” he says. He says it slowly, with emphasis, locking eyes with me as if it’s crucial I don’t think this is a joke.
He continues, “This is where it gets weirder. This is a form of torture. But a friend of mine told me that if you sneeze 10 times in a row, that is the equivalent to an orgasm.”
“Yes, like a single sneeze is one-eighth of an orgasm or something, right?” I say, having first heard this as a scandalized sixth-grader.
“Yes,” he nods again, “one-eighth or one-tenth. So it’s like I almost get there, but I don’t.”
We’re well over our interview time, but Jacinto continues to assure me there’s no rush. He keeps pouring tea from his bottomless pot and answering my questions about movies and Italian food until it really is time to go. In the lobby, he leans in to give me a friendly parting hug. From over his shoulder, I catch a teenage girl — mouth fully open — staring at him.