Fast Times, Down Time
Signing on to a multi-year series post Hamilton "felt like a huge decision,” says the busy Daveed Diggs, though ultimately the right one.
In true multihyphenate fashion, Daveed Diggs had a lot of balls in the air when they all came crashing down in March, thanks to Covid-19.
His experimental hip-hop group, Clipping, was about to go on tour in May. He was busy writing a TV adaption of the 2018 Sundance breakout Blindspotting, which he'd penned, produced and toplined. And his new TNT series, Snowpiercer, was days away from wrapping its second season in Vancouver when the cast and crew were sent home.
Now, he's playing the videogame Horizon Zero Dawn and trying not to "self-judge" while riding out the pandemic with his partner, actress Emmy Raver-Lampman, and a French bulldog named Luna in their Los Angeles home. (His labradoodle, Moose, is in the Bay Area with Diggs's father.)
Lest anyone mistake this guy for a slacker, he's already halfway to EGOT status: in 2016, he won the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical in Hamilton, plus a Grammy for the cast album. "I'm not a huge gamer," he insists. "I really forgot I had a PlayStation until about a week ago."
In fact, the Oakland native would gladly hand over his controller to return to the set of Snowpiercer, in which he stars opposite Jennifer Connelly.
When he first read the script back in 2016 and envisioned himself as Andre Layton — the world's last surviving homicide detective, who's been stuck for seven years in the squalid "tail" section of a train circling a post-apocalyptic Earth — he was filled with trepidation.
"I got sent a script for the pilot and I was really nervous. I hadn't done a lead role on a TV show. There were a lot of offers coming around at that time, and I was already to the point of exhaustion," Diggs says of the period after he left Hamilton.
"You start being precious with your time. And so, thinking about signing on to do something for potentially a bunch of years felt like a huge decision."
It turned out that he found the role satisfying, loving its "intensity, action and explosions." He adds, "All of the departments were filled with really good people." And it would offer an eerie parallel to the current crisis.
"The thing I think a lot about is the scarcity of resources on the train and the ways resources are scarce right now, particularly in this country, which is sort of like an international barometer for excess," says Diggs, who graduated from Brown University with a bachelor's degree in theater arts.
"The fact that everybody can't get tested [for the virus] is insane. Just like on the train, the poorest classes are the hardest hit."
Diggs misses the cast's daily camaraderie. He grew particularly close to Mickey Sumner, who plays Bess Till, a cop who partners with Andre to solve a crime.
"Daveed might be one of my favorites. Ever!" Sumner says. "He's so relaxed, so calm and yet so ambitious and driven. It's a very interesting dynamic that he can let things roll off his back and yet is so prolific and has three million projects going at the same time. But you wouldn't ever see any outward signs of pressure. He's so funny and so kind."
The feeling is mutual, especially after Sumner agreed to pack up Diggs's Vancouver apartment and ship his belongings to Los Angeles when travel became impossible.
"That was not an easy task," he says. "I'm a mess, so she definitely walked into a war zone of a house and made sense of everything. She's the sweetest human in the world."
For now, being housebound has its upside. "I have spent more time with my partner in the past three weeks than we have in our [whole] relationship, and it's been great," Diggs says. "And I'm staying busy, mostly to avoid crippling anxiety."
While Clipping won't be hitting the road anytime soon, and it may be months before the Snowpiercer set is bustling again, he can still work on Blindspotting while social distancing. Even if this overachiever needs to take a little break first.
"I played videogames for an hour, and I'm not mad at myself," he says. "Because I'm going to have another 24 hours tomorrow to write the script. The freeing up of the time allows me to remove a little bit of judgment of myself. I think that might be the best part of this lockdown."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2020
See who got nominated for Emmys this year.
Watch the replay and get all the details.
Our continuing series of opinion pieces from industry leaders and professionals, sharing ideas, fostering dialogue, and inspiring change.
A lively panel discussion of African-Americans in the world of post-production.