If you’re not watching Good Girls, you’re missing out on Manny Montana as Rio, the dangerously smooth money launderer who sets three suburban moms on a life of crime. On a recent episode of Thirst Aid Kit, Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins discussed what makes Montana’s performance so irresistible. This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Nichole Perkins: Now we need to move on to Manny Montana.
Bim Adewunmi: OK, Nichole. I am ready.
Perkins: Manny has been doing stuff since about 2008, popping into procedurals or other small roles, but it wasn’t until I saw him on Good Girls, that’s currently on its third season at NBC, that I was like, “Who the fuck is this?”
Adewunmi: Listen. Listen.
Perkins: Wow, just—swagger. And that word has been used so much in the past 10 years or so. But when we talk about swagger, we are talking about Manny Montana as Rio on Good Girls.
Adewunmi: Oh, my God. Rio, bloody Rio.
Perkins: Yes. I’m sure many of our listeners read romance novels and erotica, and there’s always a hero who is described as walking with a catlike feel to his walk or something like that. And that is Rio. Just rolling shoulders and rolling hips, and he’s just moving through the air like, “I belong here. What are you doing here? You explain yourself to me.”
Adewunmi: I want to linger on when you said “rolling”—that is precisely the word. He looks like he’s on the smoothest wheels, like permanently oiled joints. There is never a squeaky wheel in any part of the motor. It is perfectly—and I use this word knowing what it carries, but it is perfectly lubricated. There is nothing that jars. There’s no rust. It’s just gleaming, bitch. It’s gleaming.
Perkins: He is smooth.
Adewunmi: And the way he moves! Oh, smooth. Like water, just flowing. Oh, my gosh. Rio, what are you doing?
Perkins: There is no way you see him in a room and you don’t feel him in the room. Do you know what I mean?
Adewunmi: I do know what you mean, Nichole. Go on.
Perkins: His character on Good Girls, Rio, has this big-ass neck tattoo.
Adewunmi: So disgusting in regular life, but I want to lick it. I want to lean in, and I want to lick it!
Perkins: This beautiful, wide mouth of incredibly white teeth. And he’s always dressed in black, all black. He’s just so fucking smooth—and, like a cat, he just pops up! You never know where he’s going to be, where he’s going to find you. You were just standing there, and all of a sudden you turn around and he’s there, like, “Where’s my money?”
Adewunmi: The thing that is so great about him, besides his catlike ability to pop up wherever, is the quietness with which he occupies space. He’s not yelling. He barely raises his voice in the whole of the series so far. He’s not a yeller. He’s not a shouter. Years ago someone told me that a real power move amongst the dickhead capitalists of the world is to speak in a low voice because that way you have to lean in to catch everything. It’s a quiet move of dominance to be like, “That’s right, you lean in to me.” However, when it comes to Rio, and he speaks softly, there’s a message in there of “I don’t need to menace you by yelling. I don’t need to windmill my arms. I don’t have to raise my voice. I don’t have to wave a gun in your face. My presence is enough. I need for you to understand that I’m a serious man and I do serious things, and I don’t have to shout in order to tell you that.” And you’re watching at home like, “That’s right, sir. You do not need to yell.”
Perkins: Yes, and he always has that smile on his face. Like “We’re just having a regular conversation. Let’s just act like we’re talking about peanut butter and jelly because that’s what this is to me.” He is just so smooth with it, so that when he’s stopped smiling, that’s when you know shit is real.
Adewunmi: Yes. The first time I watched Good Girls, I was like, “Ah, I’m watching this really for Retta, to be honest.”
Perkins: Yes, same.
Adewunmi: Because the story is not necessarily something that felt like it was going to reinvent anything. Basically there are these three women, these three mothers in Detroit, who are in financial need, and they come up with this idea. Christina Hendricks and Mae Whitman play sisters, and Retta plays the third of this trio. She’s their friend, they’re all childhood friends, they came up together. They are all in dire need for various reasons. Ruby, who is the Retta character, requires money because her daughter has a kidney disease. Mae’s character is essentially a stereotypical “I’m fucked up.” She’s the one who had a teen pregnancy, has a little kid with her ex, who is played by—shoutout to fans of Friday Night Lights—Matt Saracen.
And of course the Christina Hendricks character is a frazzled mother of four. She has a terminally useless husband, played by Matthew Lillard so well, and it’s just a mess. They decided together, one evening, “What if we robbed the grocery store?” Mae Whitman’s character is like, “You know, I know when the money truck comes and blah blah blah. We can just hit the safe. It’s blameless. There’ll be no problem.” But of course, famous last words—it gets super fucking complex, and the show is basically about how this guy Rio comes in and says, “Funny story, that money belonged to me, bitch.” And then it begins a whole enterprise of crime, and it is so, so good, and it’s doing the work.
Perkins: Right. The way that the show was sold to me when it was first coming on is that it was Breaking Bad with women, and I was like, “I don’t want that. I didn’t watch Breaking Bad. I don’t want to watch that.” But I love Retta so much, so I started watching it, and I was like, “This show is amazing.” And Rio—oh, my God. If Beth, Christina Hendricks’ character, does not fuck this man, I am not watching this show anymore.
Adewunmi: That’s your moralistic objection to it. “You know what? That’s just not realistic. I’m sorry, guys, but who can I write to?” And I think it’s also very important to note that it’s a show run by a woman, and I think often about the importance of having all sorts of women and people generally in the room because you can really see sometimes. Sometimes you can see it because showrunners essentially are the bible of the show. They are the fonts from which everything else flows. And I think often about how Rio came to be, and I wonder how much shaping came from the initial idea. Because, like you said, you’re watching it and you have instant plans for Rio. You’re like, “Yep, he’s gonna do this, he’s gonna do that, he’s gonna sleep with Beth, he’s gonna do that”—which is, to be honest, the key order of my thoughts. I was like, “So he’s gonna sleep with Beth, sure, OK,” and then I began thinking about other things. But their chemistry is so apparent from the get-go. He does that thing where he gets in your space. So Rio is in Beth’s space early, and not in a sleazy way. At this point it’s menacing because he’s there to menace them to get the money. And then slowly but surely you see the body language begin to shift.
Perkins: It really makes you drunk. It makes you drunk to watch him roll up on Beth. And then they have this dance back-and-forth where Beth is finally trying to come into herself. She’s finally realizing that she is more than just a housewife. She is more than just a mother.
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