Taye Diggs is one of the brightest young actors working today. The 27-year old first came on the scene (to the delight of female audiences) in 1998’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back and followed up his breakthrough role with last summer’s ensemble comedies, Go and The Wood. Currently, he has two major feature film releases in theaters: the hit comedy, The Best Man and the horror remake, House On Haunted Hill.
I spoke with Mr. Diggs, calling in from New York, to discuss his current and future projects as well as how it feels to be a sex symbol and… Robocop.
There are very few roles for people of color in the first place. The roles that are out there mostly traffic in stereotypes. Have you been offered stepnfetchit comedies and gang$ta thug roles?
I wouldn’t even know because I have such good team working for me that they know better than to even step in my direction with trash like that. We’re all on the same page and they know what types of roles I’m after and the kind of message I’m trying to get across to other people.
Before The Best Man, you appeared in The Wood, a sweet little coming-of-age movie about a very different experience in Inglewood than we are used to hearing about in local LA news coverage and rap lyrics. While the film didn’t tank, it didn’t score as gangbusters at the box office as I would have expected. Do you think audiences aren’t ready to accept that kind of experience?
Oh…The Wood? We thought it did pretty well for the amount of money that it cost. Yeah. But, I really have a great feeling about The Best Man, that audiences will respond to it in a positive way. This is a bigger studio (than The Wood) so we had different means of advertising and publicizing and what not. We had a really great campaign as far as touring for press. In a lot of cases, it’s just a matter of getting it out there to the people.
Was there one particular film or performance that made you want to be an actor?
Maybe Denzel Washington in A Soldier’s Story. He made me think that I could be cool and black and smart and confident and secure. He had glasses. At the time, I had glasses. He’s dark-skinned. I’m dark-skinned. That movie came out during a time when light-skinned men were quote unquote “in,” so, you know, I would look at him and he would flesh out my aspirations.
You are definitely perceived as the “next Denzel.”
Well, that’s alright. I ain’t mad at that.
Your photographs are now posted on “Finest Guys” and “Hot Men!” Websites. One fan on the Internet described you as “one sexy chocolate brother with a sexy ass Colgate smile.” Are you prepared for and comfortable with being a sex symbol?
(laughs) That’s… that’s... I guess that’s the type of thing that comes with the job. I’m not gonna pretend that it doesn’t make me smile. I definitely appreciate the attention. But I just try to remain focused on the work.
I’m sure the shower scene in How Stella Got Her Groove Back helped your sexy chocolate brother image. You know, Terry McMillan (Stella’s writer) was my fiction writing professor in college and had we known she needed to get her groove back… well… we weren’t sexy chocolate brothers.
(laughs) Yeah. Yeah.
So what was it like when you found out your first major role was Angela Bassett’s love interest. I mean she played Tina Turner!
It was almost… I mean, words can’t describe the… I was incredulous. I couldn’t believe it until I was on set acting opposite her to actually let it sink in. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to be introduced to the industry. It was like two dreams in one, you know, getting a dream role and playing opposite a dream co-star.
You first came to critical and public acclaim in the original production of Rent, arguably the most exciting thing to happen on Broadway in a decade. Why do you think audiences took to Rent?
I think we were a bit irreverent. I think people were beginning to tire of the traditional musical theatre, cookie-cutter show. We were out there on the edge at the time. We were new. We were young. And we had a really good message: love. That, along with the fact that I thought it was really great music and we just had an amazing energy that was contagious.
Your first professional gig was at Tokyo Disney. What was the freakiest thing that happened there?
Freaky, huh? Freaky? We were doing a children’s show, but what was kind of freaky is that adults would come and wait in line and act like serious, very serious fans. They would buy us gifts -- like very, very expensive gifts -- like watches and sometimes stereos and luggage because they appreciated what we were doing over there to some extent. How appreciative the Japanese public is of American performers. I guess that was kind of freaky in a good way.
What’s on the horizon?
I have a really fun, light-hearted horror picture coming out called House On Haunted Hill. I play a sheriff in a murder-mystery called Mary Jane’s Last Dance. And I just finished a gig with Chris McCory, who wrote The Usual Suspects, called The Way Of The Gun, a smart action thriller.
Okay, what’s your favorite thing to do that has nothing to do with acting?
Choreograph. Whenever I’m in the city. It just calms me. It gets me back in touch with my creative juices. And it just makes me happy.
What was the first movie you ever made out during?
Oh… made out?… My first sexual experience was in my best friend’s living room with Robocop on the VCR. Ha! I didn’t make out to any movies, ever. I enjoy movies too much to waste them on kissing. There’s plenty of time to kiss. But when I’m in the theater, it’s movie time.
Except with Robocop?
Robocop. I had seen it already, and it just provided the vibe, gave us the aura. (laughs)
I don’t know what to think of you, now, Taye.