He got his start on Broadway in Rent, and then helped Stella get her groove back on the big screen. Now Taye Diggs stars in ABC’s new series Day Break, in which he lives the same day over and over again: It’s like Groundhog Day mixed with Memento — and a dash of 24 for good measure — a perfect serialized-series substitute for fans of the now-on-hiatus Lost.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s it like coming back to TV on a show like this, and in an environment like this, where serialized shows are getting canceled left and right?
TAYE DIGGS: Well, this time, because I’m with a more established network [Diggs was previously on the UPN’s family man/lawyer series Kevin Hill] and the subject matter — i.e. the character and premise and storyline are a little bit more outside my ”comfort zone” — I’m a little bit more anxious. I’m doing something different, I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked before, so now I’m just anxiously awaiting peoples’ responses. It’s all gonna be about those numbers in the first few episodes. I don’t necessarily feel the pressure, I just want to see if people are as excited about the show as we are.
I work near Times Square and for the past week there’s been this ginormous Day Break ad that spans an entire street, where your head is as big as a medium-size house. Is that satisfying to you in some basic way?
That’s one of those dreams, those wishes that you have, when you first move to the city, to stroll down to Times Square, and it sounds corny, but you whisper to yourself, ”One of these days, one of these days, it’s gonna be my face.” I’m pretty happy about that.
Well, you’re the man, you’re carrying the show now. And it’s a different sort of role for you. You’re usually a good-humored guy. Is it fun to finally be this tough guy doing all these badass things — shooting two guns at once and jumping out of windows?
Absolutely. For a person who is very active, and who was very physical as a young person, it’s a dream. Because all you do is play cowboys and Indians. And I also believe that actors are kids that don’t want to grow up anyway, because we’re just stuck in a world of pretend, but this is the type of pretend that goes straight to the core.
Could you talk a little bit about the stuff you’ve done in the past that people know you for and how you think this role differs?
My first big break was with How Stella Got Her Groove Back and I was the smooth, young, Jamaican boy toy for Angela Bassett. It was a huge break, and I feel very thankful, but then the roles, generally speaking, that followed that were [similar]. And it was fun for me, it’s a little closer to my actual character than the character I’m playing now. I consider myself sometimes overly sensitive, a little overly analytical. I’ve been told that I’m laid back and relaxed. So all of those characters as far as acting is concerned, not that they weren’t difficult, but they were just closer to who I am as a person.
This character, he’s a guy who’s a little bit more on his toes, he’s a lot more aggressive, he does before he thinks. It sounds cheesy, but I put my voice in a different place. I carried myself a little differently. It was a trip because I realized how kind of soft and gentle I was as a person, and it embarrassed me a little bit.
What are some of the difficulties of playing the same day for an entire season, wearing the same clothes every day and going to the same places?
As far as that’s concerned, our show isn’t that different from any other show, where they’re wearing the same wardrobe, talking about the same things. With Kevin Hill, the series that I did before, it was the same type of things. We had the same three sets: it was either the bedroom, the law office, or the courtroom. On this show I have more sets than that. If you look at the cast of Friends, they were in that damn coffee shop for 80 percent of the show, but nobody really cared because the characters were interesting and what they were saying was interesting.
For at least the first few hours of the show, your character is getting his ass kicked on a regular basis. He’s getting shot and kicked and tied up and needles jabbed into his neck. It’s very physical acting. Is this different from your physicality as a dancer?
Absolutely. That was tough. It’s the most physical of the shows that I’ve had to do as of late, all in one sitting. I always had to stretch beforehand because I almost pulled a hamstring. I’m running for the entire first episode. For the pilot, I wake up at six in the morning, throw on these tight-ass jeans and boots, and run a city block five times. And it’s a pilot, so you want to do a good job, you don’t want people to think that you’re phoning it in, so you give a hundred percent. Now I’m realizing that I have to save myself for the rest of the series. You have to pace yourself and not kill yourself every time.
What do you think of the popularity of serialized TV shows, like Lost and Heroes and 24? Do you watch those?
I’m a fan, as everybody else is on the planet, of Grey’s Anatomy. With 24, I’ve learned a lot from Jack Bauer for this role. If I win an award, I gotta thank him. Of all the shows that are on the networks, ours is most similar to 24 in that it’s got the most action and is nonstop and time is an issue on that show and he’s just running all the time, the stakes are always high and he’s gotta save the day.
Are you ever planning on returning to Broadway?
Yeah, I’ll do that until I can’t walk anymore. Easily. That’s how I started, those are my roots. I have to say, the musicals, that’s the most fun as far as energy is concerned. I feel most alive when I’m doing musical theater, because it’s all three mediums combined with the energy of the audience. I’m not a surfer, but I can only imagine it has to be along the same lines as surfing, not being in control of the ocean, but just riding that wave. For a while the ocean is allowing you to think you’re in control. That’s what I feel music theater is like, when you’re in front of an audience. You really don’t know what’s going to happen next with live theater. When you’re doing well, you feel like you have it all in the palm of your hand.
Your wife, actress Idina Menzel, has been in the stage production of Wicked and she has a lot of obsessive fans, people that have seen the show thirteen times. Is that fun for her or you? Do you ever wonder who these people are?
I experienced that sort of thing a little earlier than she did, so it tickles me. I love the fact that she’s getting an opportunity to experience it as well. There are always going to be fans that are a little crazy and fans that you are appreciative of. She has them both, but they both end up doing you a lot of good in the long run, because they end up supporting you and buying whatever product you are putting forth.
What has been your experience with that sort of fandom?
It’s not like I’m walking around like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. For the most part people are pretty cool. I’m out here shooting in Los Angeles, and the vibe is a little bit different out here, which is surprising. I feel like in Hollywood, people are a little too cool to bother you out here, where in New York, people don’t really give a damn who you are, they just come right up to you and tell you they dig you. So I actually get bothered less out here.
In hindsight, do you have any second thoughts about the Rent movie?
I love watching it. It’s a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth only because for a minute there we all just got caught up in the studio hoopla. When it started out, we just wanted to do a movie of a moment in time that meant a lot to us. There were a couple of new additions. We all just wanted to have a great time and then we got caught up in the studio and their excitement, so our hopes were really, really high. When it didn’t pan out the way the studio wanted it to, we couldn’t help but feel disappointed. But every time [I see it], I’m still very excited to see us all up there singing those songs we sang when we were kids, at the beginning of our career. I’m still very happy I did it. It was a great time for me and my wife, kinda like we stepped into a time machine, because it was where my wife and I first met.