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Manny Jacinto Is A Hyper-Calm Agent Of Chaos In Hulu's 'Nine Perfect Strangers'

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

All is not well at the wellness center. That's the premise of "Nine Perfect Strangers," a new show on Hulu. There are nine guests at Tranquillum House ready to embark on a journey of healing and self-discovery. They're watched over by their elegant and cryptic host, Masha, played by Nicole Kidman. And helping Masha's vision come to life is wellness consultant Yao, played by actor Manny Jacinto. He's a calming welcome presence for the somewhat confused guests.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NINE PERFECT STRANGERS")

MELISSA MCCARTHY: (As Frances Welty) Wow. This is heaven.

MANNY JACITO: (As Yao) Welcome to Tranquillum. Your wellness journey has begun, Frances.

DAVIS: But things aren't as tranquil as the Tranquillum team lets on, and Yao has a lot to do with that. Manny Jacinto joins us now. Welcome to the program.

JACITO: Thanks, Susan. Thanks for having me.

DAVIS: So I assume you were sent a script before signing on to play Yao. Was it a particular line or scene or the idea of this character - this wellness consultant - that made you want to play him?

JACITO: I think the biggest trait that Yao had was just this unwavering devotion in regards to, like, whoever was leading Tranquillum. And I just so happened to find out that it was Nicole Kidman that was leading Tranquillum. So when I obviously found that out, you know, you kind of take it a lot more seriously than other auditions that come your way.

DAVIS: I think you just say yes when they say Nicole Kidman's going to be in it.

(LAUGHTER)

JACITO: Absolutely, yeah. Do you need me to be background? Yes. Yeah. Do you need me to cater for you? Absolutely.

DAVIS: You mentioned other roles. I'm sure a lot of our listeners got to know you as Jason Mendoza on NBC's "The Good Place," which was a really funny, funny show. And yet "Nine Perfect Strangers" is really more of a drama, maybe darkly comedic at some times, but you play a dramatic role. Does drama have more appeal to you than comedy? I think that you're more rooted in dramatic acting.

JACITO: Yeah. I mean, I guess - my, I guess, credits or resume before "The Good Place" was the drama or action sort of credits. But whatever resonates with me at the time, whatever I feel passionate about always comes down to the story, whether it be drama or comedy, and - or how I'm feeling at the time, which is, yeah, the weird thing about acting.

DAVIS: There's something darkly funny to me about "Nine Perfect Strangers." It's a bit of a take-down of wellness culture, and wellness culture itself, I think, thrives a lot in celebrity culture, as well. And I wonder if that was something that y'all thought about as you were making this show.

JACITO: Yeah. I mean, there have been comparisons to, like, the company Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow's company, and the crazy things that they do. Who am I to judge or say? I'm a big sucker for wellness and health. But, yeah, for the most part, I think we had a general idea. I - in the beginning, I had a general idea of what Tranquillum would be like. And with the help of Jonathan, our director, and with Nicole, we were able to really specify things in terms of what we really wanted to nail down.

DAVIS: The production of this series also seems worth noting because it happened during COVID and under pretty strict COVID protocols. Do you think that helped or improved how you related to each other as actors? Because it's such a unique circumstance.

JACITO: Absolutely. I mean, we had to do our 14-day quarantine in Sydney, Australia, first. And for me, it helped me to not procrastinate. You don't - you know, when you're in a - locked in a room for 14 days, you can't - you know, you don't have any excuses. You have to put in the work and...

DAVIS: Learn your lines.

JACITO: ...Yeah, exactly.

DAVIS: You've spoken out before about being mindful of being an Asian actor and not being caught in any kind of trap of stereotypical roles. And you seem to have escaped falling into any of those traps so far. How conscious of you are that when you're making these decisions as an actor?

JACITO: I think what it comes down to at the end of the day is I just want to bring forward characters that haven't necessarily been seen before, whether or not my ethnic background comes into play. In the beginnings of my career, I definitely had to go for stereotypical roles to get, you know, a credit or two here just to build that resume, get that SAG card. But...

DAVIS: Yeah.

JACITO: ...You know, luckily, I'm in a position where I can say no to certain things. And not everybody has that, so I am very grateful for it.

DAVIS: Were you concerned about becoming cast as Jason Mendoza over and over and over again because you played that role too well?

JACITO: Thanks. Yeah, I mean, once Hollywood sees that something works, they like to capitalize on it. And it's why we're at "Fast And Furious 10" in outer space.

DAVIS: Great franchise, though.

JACITO: Yeah.

DAVIS: Huge fan over here.

JACITO: Yeah. No, it's - no, there...

DAVIS: You might be in "Fast And Furious 11" if Vin Diesel calls you. I think that there's a theme here that we're catching onto.

JACITO: Yeah. Yeah, I'll - yeah, I'll look out for the call. We'll see.

DAVIS: I don't think this is a spoiler, but one of the ways that these guests are treated in Tranquillum House is they do micro-dosing of LSD, a psychedelic drug. You said that you sort of embrace wellness culture, that you like - I'm not going to ask you if you've micro-dosed on LSD...

JACITO: Yeah.

DAVIS: ...But I do wonder, as a person, what you would embrace as sort of your own wellness culture. What do you do to center yourself? What's your personal Tranquillum?

JACITO: I see. I mean - I don't know, I mean, I wish I could say that I do all these crazy things like ayahuasca and, you know, micro-dose on mushrooms. But I'm boring. I - for me, like, my idea of wellness, self-betterment is getting, like, you know, almost nine hours of sleep. That's, like, my - that's my, like, drug or, like, my reset. Meditation is huge. Just getting away from social media or, like, devices. They're not any massive Tranquillum-like steps towards health and wellness but just, like, small little steps.

DAVIS: Manny Jacinto stars in "Nine Perfect Strangers," now streaming on Hulu. Manny, thanks so much for being with us.

JACITO: Thank you so much, Susan. This was fun. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.