It may be more than six years since Daveed Diggs made his entrance in the first performance of the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, but the Oakland-born artist is still collecting praise for it today. The production took him from substitute teaching to pursuing his twin passions of acting and rapping full-time, and now, the film version of Hamilton is just one of the productions Diggs was in this past year—alongside Snowpiercer, The Good Lord Bird, Central Park, and Soul. His Hamilton Emmy nomination is for him, an affirmation of the impact that can be created when working with friends.
DEADLINE: How has your relationship to Hamilton changed since you first walked down those stairs as Thomas Jefferson?
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DAVEED DIGGS: I feel the same way, just blown away that it keeps having these different lives. As a person who grew up doing theater, it’s so uncommon for a play to have that. And so, everything about the show was unexpected to me. But I think the fact that it’s not only stayed relevant to people, but relevant to new generations of people and to the world at large, in a different time. It’s just a fundamentally different world than we lived in, in 2016, when we recorded this production. That’s a performance of mine from 2016. It’s an odd time capsule for a theater practitioner. But it’s nice.
DEADLINE: You were rapping and acting before you joined the cast, but what place does it hold for you in your career?
DIGGS: Well, it was in one way, a continuation of the way I’ve always worked, which is just to make things with my friends, for the most part. I feel I have very talented people around me, and I always have. And by the time we made Hamilton, I’d known Lin (Manuel Miranda, creator) and Tommy (Kail, director) and most of the creative team for almost a decade through Freestyle Love Supreme. So, my friend asked me to come do something, and I said yes. And it was the most successful thing I’ve ever done. But that way of working was how I worked before. Fortunately, because it was so successful, it allowed me to continue to work like that since then. If there’s such a thing as a big break, Hamilton is that for me.
DEADLINE: What impact did the initial success of Hamilton have on your other projects, Clipping and Freestyle Love Supreme?
DIGGS: The first time my band Clipping went on tour, after Hamilton had existed, we were still playing relatively small venues and pretty grimy, grungy places. And our audiences tended to be kids or young adults who sort of felt themselves outcasts and Clipping was like this mode of release for them. And I remember just looking out at the audience and seeing it start to change, the demographics of the audience getting way different. Just like, these kids didn’t have enough piercings to be the same kinds of kids who came to the shows. And I remember at first for the band, it was a little like, “If they are here expecting Hamilton, this ain’t it.” But that wasn’t what happened at all. It turns out this music was also for these kids who happen to be from a different community, who came to it in a different way. But if they’re coming to the show, they’re as obsessed with the crazy intricate lyricism and the noise production and everything else, all the off-putting scary shit that we do as anyone else. And so, I got to look out at the audience and watch the demographics get more mixed than they were before, but in kind of a good way, and with all people who were really genuinely fans of the project. And that was pretty eye-opening to me.
DEADLINE: One of the best gifts of Hamilton is that it’s a gateway to explore the work you and the other cast members had made before.
DIGGS: It was nice also to be around those artists too: I still get to make music with Jasmine (Cephas-Jones), or write a TV show for Jasmine, or be in the studio with Anthony (Ramos), or with Leslie (Odom Jr). And we all have projects together. We’re working on things together all the time. Were it not for this show, I’m not sure our lives would have collided like that to the point where we’d be collaborators.
DEADLINE: What did you learn from being in Hamilton that’s helped your career now?
DIGGS: The secret sauce with Hamilton was allowing everybody to be their full selves onstage. The bonus that comes along with it is all of that person’s collaborators too. Now you know them also. And so, getting to work in the TV space, which was new to me as a creator, I’m taking a lot of advice all the time about how this is done and what it is to run a writers’ room and what’s the budget of a show mean? All of these things, I don’t know. But what I do know is that making art in this way, where you lean on your collaborators and try to design moments for them to shine, I know that works. And so, when I get pushback from somebody who has maybe been doing it longer for me, I can say, “Yeah, yeah. You’re right about everything, except this. And here are the 10 to 20 examples I can show you why I know this is going to work.” So, I also get to be an expert in a couple of things, in a field that I’m totally a novice in.
DEADLINE: Hamilton brought comfort to many during the pandemic. Did you watch any shows/films that got you through last year?
DIGGS: I mean, nothing zeitgeist-y. I am obsessed with British detective shows, so I got to discover a bunch that I didn’t know yet. I watched all of Rosemary & Thyme, that was really good in getting me through for a while. I’m still watching Vera, which is a great show, which I somehow had not seen before, despite it being exactly the kind of show I like. So yeah, things like that are what got me through.
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