Actor, rapper, singer, songwriter, Daveed Diggs is a very busy man – so busy in fact that he came to the TV Critics Association tour twice this January.
His first visit was to promote his new sci fi series Snowpiercer on TNT. Based on the graphic novel and movie of the same name, the show is set seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland. It spotlights the remainders of humanity, who inhabit a perpetually moving train, with 1001 cars, that circles the globe. Daveed portrays Andre Layton, a prisoner located in the tail of the train, barely enduring the cruel circumstances surrounding him. The series premieres on May 31st, 2020.
Daveed returned to the TCAs a week later to talk about his work voicing the female character of Helen in the Apple+ animated musical series Central Park. The show highlights a family of caretakers who live in the park and must save it from an evil heiress who is trying to buy it. It premieres this summer.
Since winning the Tony Award in 1916 for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for his portrayal as the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the phenomenonally successful Hamilton, Daveed’s career hasn’t stopped. On TV he has had recurring roles in Black-ish, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and played Fredrick Douglass in The Good Lord Bird. He appeared in the movie Wonder with Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. He co-starred in the film Blindspotting, for which he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Lead Actor. He is currently doing the voice of Sebastian the crab in the live action version of The Little Mermaid. And it was just announced by Disney that the movie version of Hamilton, uniquely filmed on stage at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway with the original cast, will be finally released on October 16, 2021.
Daveed, in Snowpiercer you are stuck in a moving train. Can you talk about working in a confined space? Does it inform your acting in any way?
I think you spend a lot of time as an actor thinking about what your character’s secrets are. I spent so much time in the tail (of the train), which is very, very confined because of the amount of people in there. You realize that having a secret is impossible in that situation. So that was interesting — I think it informed a lot of my choices, this idea that privacy didn’t exist.
Did you ever get motion sickness?
That first (take).
Could you talk a little bit about the special effects? Obviously you have these beautiful practical sets, but how much will we see the special effects?
For a show with so many effects, I almost never saw a green screen, which is a tribute to how well designed (it was). As an actor I almost never interacted with it, I didn’t have to go outside.
You worked on the original version of this series, which never made it to air. What are the parallels between this and the original version? This was a very long time to be committed to something. What was it about this new version of Snowpiercer that made you want to stick with the project?
Contractual obligation, I don’t think we could’ve left if we wanted to. However, I love this group of people. We haven’t seen each other for a few weeks, and I’m so just giddy to be around these guys again that that’s really the thing for me in a day-to-day way. It keeps me coming back.
But also, I’m from a theatre world. Five years is not long to develop a new piece of theatre if you want it to be any good. So I don’t know. It’s like, oh my God, it took five years — it’s just five years, guys.
I like your reference to five years isn’t long in theatre. Is it right that you first heard the first version of Hamilton three years before it finally got to Broadway?
We were taking bets on when the Hamilton question would come up. That one was sneaky, though. Lin (Manuel Miranda) had already been working on it for three years at that point.
Were you confident during that whole time that it was going to work and it’d be on Broadway?
I knew it was really good from (the start), but a (show) being good and being successful are two different things.
With your new animated series on Apple+, Central Park, do you have less inhibition when you sing for an animated character compared to singing on stage?
I’m terrified of singing. Singing stresses me out so much.
I never sang in front of people until Hamilton, but I grew up a rapper. So I’m very comfortable in studios. I can figure out my way in a studio. But singing in front of people is the most terrifying thing I ever do. And people make me do it more and more.
What is your experience with musical theater? When you were a little kid did you see something that inspired you?
I had very little connection with musicals as a kid. I didn’t know much about them. My mom really liked Fiddler on the Roof, so we listened to that record. She ran lights for the first European tour of Fiddler. So, we have this weird connection to that musical.
I didn’t grow up listening to musicals. I didn’t like them. I had nothing to do with them, and then Lin put me in one. Then I got to meet all of these other people and actually connect with the community who makes them. I started to understand the ‘why’ of it in a way. And the space for joy that is different in a musical than it is anywhere else. So I’ve grown to really love them but it’s a very recent development for me.
Daveed Diggs Soundbyte
I caught up exclusively with Daveed after the Snowpiercer panel to ask him about his trip to England to work on the music of The Little Mermaid with his friend Lin-Manuel Miranda, and their visit to the London production of Hamilton.
Spoke with Daveed again when he returned for the Central Park press conference, and asked him a little more about his experience going to Hamilton in London.
The film version is a cinematic stage performance that is a wholly new way to experience Hamilton. It will be released by The Walt Disney Studios in the United States and Canada on October 15th, 2021.