The Rap-battler-cipher-spitting-America’s-favorite-fighting-Frenchman is back. Yes, Tony Award-winning actor Daveed Diggs is promoting his latest project, Wonder. Wonder is based on the New York Times bestseller, that tells the inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman. Born with facial differences that, up until now, have prevented him from going to a mainstream school; Auggie becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade. As his family, his new classmates, and the larger community all struggle to find their compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s extraordinary journey will unite them all and prove you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out. Daveed plays Auggie’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Brown. We got to chat with Daveed, about a possible Hamilton: The Movie, his first feature as a writer-star, and what it’s like finding the next thing to do post-Hamilton.
BlackGirlNerds: Yeah, so I was just gonna ask you, I know it’s different from when you film it to when you do it but did Wonder bring you to tears, as well?
Daveed Diggs: Oh yeah. I watched it for the first time in a screening room all alone, so I didn’t have to act hard for anybody or anything, so I for real cried. For the whole thing. In a good way. I was happy. I was moved, but not sad. It’s been incredible, and I’m not really the type to openly weep in movies, so it definitely got to me.
BlackGirlNerds: Well I am the type to weep openly, and so I have no qualms about doing it, and this film got me there very quickly, but I want to talk with you, your career obviously spans everything between both acting and music and everything, but with your films, you’re making choices where I feel like you’re specifically trying to represent ‘us’ well in the medium. Doing stuff on Blackish. Doing The Get Down. What do you take as your process for what roles you pick next?
Daveed Diggs: Well I think for me it’s about both trying to do something that I haven’t done before that’s important to me I think, it’s easy in this business to, so all of a sudden you’ll only be allowed to do one thing because you become known for that thing. So it’s pretty intentional that I haven’t done musicals. I don’t need to remind people about Hamilton. People seem not to be forgetting it, so I don’t have to work at that part. So I look for things that are just different, either in a different space, like doing a sitcom like blackish, or doing a film or there are just different kinds of characters that I have just played before but I think from a political standpoint the thing I’m most concerned about is that those pieces are smart. I think that is the most politically left thing an artist can do right now, which is weird, but it’s to be unashamed of being smart. I think there’s a crisis of education right now in that it is being devalued in a way that feels pretty intentional.
So I look for scripts that feel smart, and that feel complicated and where being ignorant isn’t rewarded. I think a byproduct of that is that by nature of being black …playing a complicated black person on screen also feels like a political act. Right? And I’m happy to claim that that is one as well. I think that is actually a byproduct of me looking for smart things to do. And it’s almost sad that that ends up feeling political, right?
BlackGirlNerds: Yeah, it is. Especially at this particular moment right now. We’re sitting the day after the first real election since the ‘election that shall not be named’, and I feel like choosing smart is what people are doing in all things and not just in entertainment but in political things as well. Your character Mr. Brown, this is a character I feel like could have been just very simplistic, it could have been just, we’re gonna have our diversity teacher in the movie, and that’s it, but they rounded out the cast, and they rounded out the characters, and the whole picture is littered with all types of folks. from Mandy Patinkin to the kids, and I just feel like everybody got a chance to shine. So can you just talk about the cast and how it felt to be with that group and work through this really emotional piece?
Daveed Diggs: Yeah, the cast is totally brilliant, and I think what Steven, the director, and what Lionsgate was doing such a wonderful job is really honoring the text of the novel. The book, if you’ve read it, manages to read in a way that is still for kids and it’s still accessible for young readers but also really difficult things from a writing standpoint. It switches perspectives all the time. It allows you to really enter into the world of a bunch of different characters while still telling the story where Augie is the focus of it. And in a pretty short amount of time always you to feel pretty personally connected with a bunch of different child characters and adult characters. You learn so much about who they are as people, and I think in the film there’s a lot less text going into a film, so I think in casting something like that you need actors who can breathe all of the necessary life into a character to allow you to feel like you know this person for real, even if there’s not a ton to be said and I think everyone in the film really shines in that way, particularly all of the kids. I’m so impressed by all of the young actors in the movie.
BlackGirlNerds: Yeah, I was just gonna say, I look at the kids in this and I’m glad that you touched on that because I feel like if somebody asked me about it, it’s a movie that is accessible for kids and I would say it definitely stars kids but I would say it’s really more of a movie about families and that you want to see with families. I spoke to your former castmate, Leslie, while he was promoting Murder on the Orient Express and he told me that you have a film that you’ve been working on for ten years that’s getting close. Is that correct?
Daveed Diggs: Oh yeah. We’re in post. Me and Raphael Cassel who is a lifelong friend and collaborator of mine. We started writing this film ten years ago, and we shot it last June with New Entertainment, produced for us. And he and I are both starring in it, and I’m so excited about it. Hopefully, it will be coming to festivals near you soon. It was another first, right? We’d never done this before. It was our first feature that we had written together and also would be my first starring role in a feature, and I’m really excited about it. I mean, we are still editing now. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I remember the first time sitting down to watch it and finishing and just being like, “Holy Shit. That’s a movie. We made a movie, and I like it.” It’s pretty exciting.
BlackGirlNerds: Okay, can you give me the quick one-liner on what it is, and what can we expect with Blindspotting?
Daveed Diggs: Yeah, so Blindspotting is, we describe it as a buddy comedy until it can’t be anymore and it’s about two lifelong friends growing up in Oakland who are working as movers in the face and wake of gentrification.
BlackGirlNerds: Oh, ticket bought! Don’t even tell me more. I love that. Barry Jenkins’ first film talks and touched on a lot about gentrification – Medicine for Melancholy. I lived in a gentrified city. You’ve got my money.
Daveed Diggs: There we go. It’s an interesting thing to think about these days since we’re all sort of confronted with it all the time.
BlackGirlNerds: Last question I will go ahead and ask, and I asked the same thing to Leslie, and I probably know your answer, but again, they’d kick me out of the club of Black girl nerds if I didn’t ask, Lin is out doing everything he wants to, everybody from the cast, it seems like, has just kept on working in various forms of media, both on stage, screen, film and everything in between. I feel like everybody from the cast has just really broken out, and I love it because I am the biggest Hamilton fangirl, but if you get the call and they say, “Alright. We got the money. We’re shooting Hamilton:The Movie” are you showing up no matter what?
Daveed Diggs: I don’t know if it’s, “no matter what” but it’ll depend on a lot of factors really because I want to do it with that group, you know? I’m definitely not opposed to that. It was an incredible experience. Look, the reality of the situation is if that happens then that creative team is so good that there’s no way it’s gonna happen and not be right. As much as I can say that I would probably just say ‘yes’ I can, but I’m also pretty careful about the parameters of things, so I would have to be sure for myself that it was being done in a way that I thought was right. But Tommy Kail and Lynn and Alex Lacamoire, I think it’s pretty hard for them if they’re all working together, to work on something that isn’t right, you know?
BlackGirlNerds: Yeah, and I kinda don’t think they’d let you say no.
Daveed Diggs: Yeah, probably.
BlackGirlNerds: Well thanks for chatting with us, and best of luck with the film.
Daveed Diggs: No, thank you.
Interview conducted by Jacqueline Coley
Wonder is due for release in theaters Friday, November 17th