Taye Diggs Talks Black Hollywood Renaissance [INTERVIEW]

Taye Diggs Talks Black Hollywood Renaissance [INTERVIEW]

From the center of ‘Baggage Claim’ and ‘Best Man Holiday,’ the heartthrob actor discusses Tinseltown’s blackest year ever

by Kelley L. Carter, September 12, 2013

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Taye Diggs Talks Black Hollywood Renaissance [INTERVIEW]

Taye Diggs laughs a bit before responding to the question of the moment. “Suffice it to say, I’m just happy to be working,” he finally answers rather humbly. “I think it was just the luck of the draw that these two movies came through for me back to back.” In case you’ve somehow missed the news: Diggs is singlehandedly bringing back the Black romantic comedy.

Sure, it’s an overstatement. But Diggs is happy, as well he should be. This month he’ll costar as a Paula Patton love interest in Baggage Claim, and come November 15, he’ll be back as Harper Stewart in Best Man Holiday, the much-anticipated sequel starring the rest of the gang (Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard and Sanaa Lathan).

In Baggage Claim, Diggs plays opposite how we normally see him. He’s kind of a… well, you’ll see. (Spoiler alert: he won’t exactly fulfill your Ideal Black Man fantasy this go-around.) And in The Best Man sequel, he’s bringing back all of the post-college sexiness we all fell in love with back in 1999. EBONY.com chats with Taye Diggs.

EBONY: At this point in your career, what does it take for you to say yes?

Taye Diggs: Now that I have a 4-year-old boy, location is always a factor, because I want to be as close to my family as possible. But after that, I look at if it’s a role that I haven’t played before, like with Ro in Baggage Claim—that was a type of role I hadn’t played in a long time. People are used to seeing me kind of playing the straight man, right down the middle; the character that gets the girl in the end or that everybody likes. Very rarely do I get to play guys outside that realm. And this character, he was written to jump right off the page. I was laughing out loud when I read it.

EBONY: We rarely hear men talk about taking or not taking roles because of their kids at home. That said, being the dad of a 4-year-old, does that change what you pick as far as subject matter?

TD: It does, but it’s probably not as obvious or literal as you would think. I’ve changed as a person, so [being a father] has changed my outlook on everything. I know that the older you get, the more excited you are to do a project that you would either want to see or be proud of. But as far as how or why I would choose a role based on my own standards, that hasn’t really changed. There’s so much out there that children aren’t able to see. I know there’s tons of parents that will sign up to do a kid’s project or an animated series for kids specifically so that their child can see something of value that they’re kind of participating in.

EBONY: After Baggage Claim comes The Best Man sequel. People are rabid about that. Do you understand the appetite for this film, and have you been able to wrap your brain around that?

TD: When you’re in this business, you take the good along with the bad. I try not to figure out why something is happening or sit too long on any positive occurrence, because anything can happen at any point in time. Just as we were pretty ecstatic the first time the first movie came out with the response, we’re really excited right now. We’re hoping that people show up and we’ll take it from there.

EBONY: Oh, they’re going to show up…

TD: [Laughs] I’m a bit superstitious. I don’t want to count my eggs before anything’s been hatched.

EBONY: People have been praying for a sequel to this film for the last 14 years. Is that something you guys took to set with you and talked about? Did being armed with that make you approach scenes differently or with more scrutiny?

TD: Yeah. There was definitely tension and stress that was brought to us on the set from higher-ups. But we as a cast, we got together and said, “we’re just gonna do what we do.” Because not many actors or athletes or musicians perform well under crazy amounts of negative pressure. We knew how we did it the first time. We’ve all matured, we’re all better actors and better human beings. And we knew we just had to do what we do and for the second time. The writing was there, and we had the same director at the helm. We had a studio that was supporting us, so we just did what we do best. We tried to keep those outside forces away from us.

EBONY: This is such an important quarter for Black male actors. Baggage Claim and The Best Man 2 coming out. Fruitvale Station, 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, and the Nelson Mandela biopic. Does the diversity of projects mean that things are getting easier for Black men in Hollywood?

TD: It’s a two-edged sword, and people are talking about another renaissance. It’s always wonderful to go to the theater and turn on the TV and see a bunch of faces that look like yours, and to kind of rejoice and celebrate that. But at the same time, it would be really great if we didn’t have to celebrate that, if this were the case just on a regular basis and that this was status quo. And it isn’t. I dare to say it won’t be for a while, but you know, it is getting better.

EBONY: But are you encouraged?

TD: We come from a world where we’ll take what we can get. So I’m all right with it.

EBONY: Since we were first introduced to you in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, you’ve been one of our go-to chocolate heartthrobs. There’s a different kind of pressure for male actors, but does that hinder what you’d like to do as an actor?

TD: I don’t know. You’d probably have to ask some casting directors! I’m sure that that has weighed in with some directors with certain studios. I know I’ve heard other actors complain that casting directors or studios say they’re too good looking for a role or too leading man. I don’t know if that has happened to me. I haven’t heard of it. I’m sure it has. But for me, I started out really nerdy, skinny, insecure—

EBONY: So what changed?

TD: I started out humble. I will always hopefully remain as such, just because it still trips me out to hear it. So I’ll never get tired of it; I’m always thankful.

EBONY: So it doesn’t bother you that women drool over you a little bit?

TD: The thing is, I still don’t consider myself as such! I remember the day before Stella came out—literally the day before—I was out at some party and I looked exactly the same, nobody knew who I was. I’ve been out with Boris Kodjoe and Tyson Beckford and these cats. It’s like they walk into a room and the whole sh#t stops! So I know what it’s like to be with someone who is a God. I was out at this spot and nobody paid me any mind. And then the day after, when the movie opened, it was like all of a sudden a switch was flipped. So there’s also a little bit of you-see-somebody-on-the-big-screen thing, and that always makes you a little better looking. But I try not to take any of it too seriously.

EBONY: I know you guys have to be tight-lipped about The Best Man sequel, but what can you give us?

TD: There’s some drama. You’re going to see some similarities to the first one. You’re also going to see an emotional side to Harper. And transitions. He’s getting older and… you’ll get to see everyone else in a different light.

EBONY: Very rarely do actors get to revisit a role like this. Did the filmmakers get it right for your character? Did he go where you’d hoped he’d go?

TD: I think it was a symbiotic type of relationship where we took his blueprint and then we just kind of ran with it. I can’t stand outside myself and watch myself, but… It was great to just watch the other actors and how they handled their characters. We all have to deal with the fact that they’re matured and a certain amount of time has passed. It was really wonderful just watching them step into these shoes and walk this walk. Because obviously they’re playing the same characters, but to see how they were transformed by age, and by their kids, and by whatever life I had kind of given them. I pulled a lot around me.

 
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