Visual Tales: We can't believe the last time we chatted with you was back in September of 2015, at the height of the Broadway phenomenal success of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, in which you won your Tony Award for best supporting actor. How has life evolved for you since that magical time? How do you view that period of time now that you can have some time to reflect?
Daveed Diggs: Man, my life is very different since then. The main difference is that I have a bit more agency, I think. Hamilton gave me a kind of access to creators in the film and television industry in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. So now I’m in a position where I, for the moment, can be selective about what projects I work on. That is for sure a good thing, but the burden of that is that now, me saying yes to a project means something. I chose this at the expense of other things. So that choice says something about me. And a byproduct of being more well known is that there is an added value to my choosing something, at least in terms of visibility. So, I have found myself being a lot more careful about what I say yes to and trying to be more mindful of what the piece of art is promoting, what kind of discussions it is encouraging, etc.
VT: You have since returned back to the stage in 2019 with the successful run in the play by Suzan-Lori Parks’ White Noise at The Public Theater. VT was fortunate enough to have seen you perform live in this amazing play portraying the character, Leo. The performance was such an emotional rollercoaster ride. How did that particular experience differ from performing on stage at the Public Theater with Hamilton?
DD: White Noise is a brilliant piece about a group of friends, 2 black, 2 white, who have known each other since college. The character I played, Leo, is roughed up by the police while out on a walk late one night (Leo is an insomniac). In an attempt to become more safe, he asks his wealthy white best friend, Ralph to enslave him so that he can enjoy the protections that America has in place for the property of white men. It’s a brilliant play that only feels more relevant every day. It can feel very confrontational for everybody involved. It forces everybody in the room to have a very honest conversation about race. Oskar Eustice brilliantly kept the house lights on for most of the show so that the audience had to have this conversation with each other as well. Where Hamilton was a sort of rallying cry for the America we think we should have, achieved by granting ownership of the founding of America to people who historically have never owned any part of it, White Noise is a much more real and honest look at the America we actually live in. And Suzan-Lori manages to do it with so much love and compassion for every character in the story. It’s really one of the best things I’ve ever worked on.
VT: Additionally, you have branched out into television and film in multi-faceted projects such as Black-ish, The Get Down, animated film, Ferdinand, Wonder, Velvet Buzzsaw, and of course, your own critical praised (co-written with Rafael Casal) passion project, Blindspotting. They were all incredible and diverse performances that were carefully chosen/curated to send specific messages to the world. Is there a thought process that makes you go, “I want to do this and this.” Specifically, what was the journey like to realize a dream come true on a project such as Blindspotting?
DD: Blindspotting took us 10 years to make. We started in 2009. We had the great fortune to be asked by Snoot Entertainment founders Jess Wu Calder and Keith Calder to write a film. It was amazing because in terms of artist development, this kind of long-term relationship is super rare in Hollywood. These guys thought we could write a good movie, even though we never had before, and then they stuck with us for the long haul of us learning how to write a movie. By the time we actually shot the film, we were so well versed in the world and knew so specifically what we wanted that we were able to, in 25 days, make the exact film we wanted to make. That is an experience that I will be chasing my whole life. But it is also the rubric I use for choosing projects. I try to find out about who is behind the creation of it, how much do they really care about this, what is the vibe of the creative team. Those things are almost more important to me than the project itself. And then if all that check out, the big question for me is: Can I bring something to this that somebody else can’t.
VT: There’s been talk about Blindspotting 2 in the near future (Update: Now a major hit series from Starz, heading into the second season). When can we look forward to seeing the continuation of the story?
DD: We are developing a Blindspotting television series. Can’t say too much about it, but it focuses on Ashley, the character played brilliantly by Jasmine Cephas Jones. And it is going to be really good.
VT: Back in the summer of 2019 while you were in NYC doing the play, White Noise, you have graciously allocated some time to work on this shoot for VT (Thank-you!). Looking back at these beautiful photographs taken by Sophie Elgort, we appreciate the fact we can go freely, where we want and work on a shoot. At the time, it seems like a typical norm. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting our realities, all over the world, it makes you wonder about the probability of doing something as simple as going to the park. Which lead us to our chat about what we are facing during these unprecedented times. Where were you when you first learn about this pandemic and how has life changed for u and your world? How have you been spending your time and how do you foresee our future going forward?
DD: When the cities started locking down, I was in London. I had been on this crazy work circuit between Vancouver, London, and Los Angeles. I managed to get home to LA and have been here ever since. 99 days as I write this. It’s been a total 180 in terms of how my life has been structured, but fortunately for me, a lot of the creative work can still be done. Writing and development work is just as easy, if not easier when done remotely. And I’ve got to actually spend time with my partner, Emmy Raver-Lampman, in our house together, which we have almost never had the opportunity to do. So that’s been the best part of the whole situation. In terms of the future, who knows? The whole industry is trying to figure out how to shoot again. More importantly I think, in light of the new attention brought on by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others, the industry is, I hope, trying to figure out how to comeback with a greater sense of accountability for how it has perpetuated and supported a fundamentally racist system. I hope we are all working to change that. The pandemic was a good focusing agent for a lot of issues because people do not have the luxury of business as usual.
VT: In some respect, this pandemic really hit close to theme of your forthcoming television series, TNT’s Snowpiercer (Premiered May 17) (Co-starring with Jennifer Connelly), tell us about your character, Layton Well.
DD: Andre Layton was a detective before the apocalypse and now he’s part of a class of stowaways on Snowpiercer, the only place left on earth where humans can survive, a giant train circling the planet. He’s pulled out of “The Tail” in order to help the governing body of the train solve a murder. But Layton uses the opportunity to further his people’s plans for revolution.
VT: Snowpiercer was originally a South Korean/Czech sci-fi action movie (Stars Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton). Co-written and directed by Academy Award winning director of Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho in 2013. This tv-series has been a long time coming and this is the first time you have taken on starring in a tv series. How’s the journey been so far? How does it differ from any of the work you have previously done?
DD: It’s exhausting. Haha. But it’s been a great journey. I’ve learned so much about how to really develop a character over time and live with a character and a world for a very long time. The cast and crew are all phenomenal, so going to work is a blast. But TV is a marathon for sure.
VT: The show covers a wide gamut of thoughts and processes: Classism, Modernity, Diversity, Reality vs. Fantasy, Humanity. Even though the story is fictitious, with the current events that are unfolding, you cannot help but wonder what the future holds for all. What’s your take on all of this? From a personal point of view, what would be Daveed’s personal version of the future you wish will be like?
DD: Wow. That’s a tough one. I am actually not a great big picture thinker. I’m much better at the small stuff. So the future I want to see really has to do with communities being places where difference is acknowledged and celebrated and protected. Where cultural sharing doesn’t equal cultural whitewashing or diluting, but actually equals a real investigation into the specifics. That’s all pretty vague. All I know is, I don’t need to be on a train anymore. If my future could be on a beach I would much prefer that.
VT: CLIPPING @CLPPNG—Your other passion project. You and your band members, producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes released new music in October 2019 entitled There Existed an Addiction to Blood, the music covers a very eclectic mix of inspiration: from rap, horror genre, and science fiction. How did this interesting mix come about? Due to the pandemic, again, the music/theatrical industries are all affected in a huge way since live performing has always been most effective with a large audience in concert venues or theaters. CLIPPING was planning t go on tour to support the new music, how do you envision the future of touring?
DD: TEAATB we think of a collection of horror short stories. It was a way of taking our love of Horror as a genre, and our belief that horror films, either directly or indirectly, always reflect the politics of the era they are made. So we made a bunch of stories where cops are werewolves and Black Panthers are coming back to life as Vampires, and Thousand-year-old witches hunting cabins in the woods are here to ride the world of douchey frat boys. Things like that. In terms of touring, man, I have no idea. I know it will come back eventually but I don’t know how it will look. But we will find out. And we’ll be back on the road at some point. I think there is something fundamentally human about creating a space to listen to music. We will figure out a way to do that safely.