NBC “Good Girls” Exclusive with Actor, Manny Montana

After one conversation with Manny Montana it’s not hard to understand why a woman would risk it all to be in his presence.

On the hit NBC series, “Good Girls” Montana plays “Rio”, an elusive crime boss who keeps a group of suburban housewives on their toes after they rob a grocery store with good intentions yet unwittingly begin a life of crime as money launders. Despite the danger, Rio continues to raise the stakes making ringleader Beth (actress Christina Hendricks), offers she can’t refuse. Eventually, what began as a plan to get Ruby’s (actress Retta) daughter medical attention their family couldn’t afford becomes a group of greedy women obsessed with their new alluring yet devious lifestyle.

Montana aptly embodies Rio—the same charisma that he exudes on screen is very apparent in real life but add a dash of humility. The Long Beach, CA native is a captivating conversationist with his raspy voice, it’s no surprise that he has a previous career in radio.

Before becoming the breakout star of “Good Girls” Montana built his acting credits with a string of guest starring roles on series such as “Rosewood”, “Conviction”, “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Power” but was most known for his recurring role as agent Joe ‘Johnny’ Tuturro on “Graceland”. While many thespians dream of being in entertainment their whole life, acting was a second calling for Montana who grew up playing football. A collegiate athlete at Cal State University Sacramento, an injury became an unexpected blessing that made Montana explore what else could provide him with similar fulfillment off the field.

Ahead of a much anticipated season 3 of “Good Girls”, I had the exclusive opportunity to speak with Manny at an NBC Press Brunch where he shares how his upbringing influences his character and his goals for continuing to push past stereotypical archetypes for Latin actors.

Manny Montana NBC Good Girls Interview with Zon DAmourZon D’Amour I’ve watched several of your interviews and you seem very consistently extroverted. Is that a fair assessment?
Manny Montana: I’m an extroverted introvert. Similar to my character Rio, he’s pretty still and pretty quiet, always a lot going on in his head. If I’m talking to someone and I’m having fun and I like their vibe, I’ll want to talk to them and get to know them. It just depends on the situation.

ZD: I read that you used to play football…?
MM: Yea, my whole life.

ZD:I know a lot of athletes only think, NFL and rarely beyond that…
MM: Shit, I was one of those [athletes].

ZD: Can you talk about that transition? Many young men who play sports at such a young age are usually playing with the goal of going pro, so when you realize that’s not in the cards for you, was there, not necessarily a depression but…
MM: That’s right, there was a level of depression. I got injured in college so I wasn’t going to go pro, I knew that. I could have been in alright college player but when you spend your whole life doing something, then it’s like, ‘what do I do now?’

I happened to take an an acting class and said, ‘oh that’s kind of fun’ but I left it alone for maybe six months. Then I met this girl who was a USC film student and she asked me if I wanted to be in her film. I did it and it was a terrible film but it really gave me this bug and it was reminiscent of the way football made me feel.

In football, you work all week long for what, a two or three hour game? In acting, you have to work so hard for like one minute of dialogue and one page on a script. Acting reminds me of football because I lock myself in my room, work so hard, shoot my scenes and you hope it comes out good but you just never know. The same with football, you never know if you’re going to win or lose no matter how hard you work. So acting is the perfect thing for someone who was an athlete their whole life.

ZD: Ironically, I was speaking to my mentee who recently moved to LA and I asked her what was she aspiring to do here and she said, ‘I don’t know the title but I know the feeling…’
MM: That’s it! That’s a great way to put it too.

ZD: My father is in the military, prior to that he was in the medical field. He’s a firm believer in a 9-to-5. How do you tell someone who’s very traditional and a “realist” as opposed to a creative, ‘I don’t know the title, I just know the feeling?’
MM: [Laughs] That’s a good question and they’ll never understand it because they don’t understand the feeling…I like not knowing where my next check is coming from. Don’t get me wrong, I save like crazy, I save every dollar! But I don’t mind the feeling because for me, a 9-to-5 with the same routine everyday would be torture. I enjoy the freedom of acting; constantly meeting new people, being in new states, with new [production] crews, that always keeps me going. There are some people who will never understand the ebbs and flows when you choose to be an actor, or in entertainment in general but hopefully one day, they’ll accept it. If you raise a creative kid, God bless you. That should be a good thing; don’t worry about them, they’ll figure it out.

ZD: What other projects are you working on?
MM:
During the show’s hiatus, I had a small part in Clint Eastwood’s film “The Mule” which also starred Bradley Cooper, Lawrence Fishburne, Michael Peña, an all-star cast. I have a small role but it was an honor to work with and be around all of those actors. You can’t pass up an opportunity to work with Clint Eastwood. He’s in his 80s, sharp as a tack and funny. I think that’s what happens when you do something you love for the rest of your life as opposed to a job that you aren’t passionate about and you’re just waiting to retire. I want to do this forever in some capacity. If not acting then producing or even as a Casting Director—anything that I can do to help people.

ZD: Your offscreen personality in many ways mirrors your character, Rio, who just so happens to be a gangster. When you’re reading for various characters and going out for auditions as a Latin actor, do you ever feel typecast? Are you striving to play any particular roles that broaden your range or are you okay in this particular lane?
MM: There’s such a big difference between my character of Rio on “Good Girls” and any other regular street dude that’s just tough, serious and always about the money. What I bring to Rio is what I saw growing up. You saw “Moonlight” right? You know why people flipped out about it so much? It’s because they saw how Mahershala Ali’s character, Juan was a father figure that took care of this kid, he was great with his girlfriend, he had an open heart and it was like, ‘Oh my God, this drug dealer is so caring and so real and honest!’ That’s all I knew growing up. I’m from north side Long Beach and it’s kind of a hood place. Every street dude that I knew and every hood dude around my way always looked out for me, always took care of me, was as nice to me and was always encouraging me. So whenever I see the way writers stereotypically portray criminals, I’m like, that’s not it that’s not how they are. Why would anyone who has that much money always be serious? The point of having a lot of money is to have fun.
So what I bring to Rio isn’t stereotypical. There’s a lot of charm and humor, theres a lot of levels to it. I like parts like this and if I could continue down this path, so be it. And hopefully, pray to God never have to do something that doesn’t ring true to me or takes minorities a step back. I want to continue pushing us forward. I have my college degree, I want to push the narrative forward. We should have the same access and opportunities as minorities as white actors. There shouldn’t be this divide where someone says, ‘Oh he can’t play a lawyer, I couldn’t see him as a lawyer.’ Why not?
North side Long Beach is predominately black, Samoan, Asian and Latin so I get along with everyone. Whenever I feel some type of racism or prejudice, I’m like, ‘Really? Why?’ I don’t know why it exists. We have to continue knocking down doors and fighting the good fight. When “Empire” and “Black Panther” were hits, people were shocked by it. We go to the movies too! We watch TV too! The people that speak to me on the streets, they’re usually Latin, Black and Asian, they show me love and its great.

“Good Girls” Season 3 premieres Sunday, February 16th on NBC.

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