October 2002
Brown Sugar : Leader of the New School: An Interview with Taye Diggs

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Brown Sugar : Leader of the New School: An Interview with Taye Diggs

Some people are brought into this business with hidden talents. What’s on the outside is not necessary the best feature. When Brad Pitt first came out in “Thelma and Louise” with Oscar winners Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, he was the dude with the body, a cupcake to some. He then later emerged, as one of today’s most respectable and bankable actors. You can make a strong case for Taye Diggs. His first film was as the man with the body in “How Stella Got Her Groove” along with thespians Whoopi Goldberg and Angela Bassett. Who knew that in a few years he would cement his star status in indie films such as “The Wood”, “The Best Man”, “The House on Haunted Hill” and a short stint on “Ally McBeal”? Now he’s back on the big screen along with some of the brightest stars of today in Rick Famuyiwa’s “Brown Sugar”. In an interview with blackfilm.com, Taye talks about his love for the film, his upcoming projects, and his love life.

WM: Was this fun to do?

TD: It was. We needed it. We wanted to film right after Sept. 11. So it was an escape and we are very grateful.

WM: Was it about the story that appealed to you?

TD: It was the fact that it was a romantic comedy with a twist and it’s so rare, that in reading scripts you find something that hadn’t been done before. In this take on hip-hop, especially since it’s very mainstream now, I thought it was time to do something like this now. That’s what excited me about it.

WM: What’s next?

TD: I have a bunch of stuff coming up. We have “Brown Sugar” and then around Christmas time, I’m in the movie “Chicago”. After that, I have a science fiction film called “Equilibrium” with Christian Bale and Emily Watson. Following that is an Army thriller sort of like “The Usual Suspects”, set in the military form with Samuel L. Jackson and John Travoltra. I then have a broad comedy with Jamie Kennedy. I just finished that. Oh, I will also start playing in “Chicago”, the musical, on Broadway. I’m excited about that. I will play Billy Flynn on the show, and more like the narrator in the film.

WM: Which do you prefer, stage or film?

TD: I prefer stage. It’s where I started. For me personally, that’s where the real craft takes place. It’s where theater started. I enjoyed film, but I prefer theater.

WM: How close can a male be with a female friend?

TD: I come from the school of becoming friends first and then taking it from there because I think it’s very important for a person you’re spending time with. You have to just be cool with them, be able to let down your guard and be able to hang out with them as you would with one of your boys. I just let it take its course from the friendship point of view, basically.

WM: How do you stay grounded?

TD: I try to remember the little things and I literally make a conscience effort to stay focus. It really hasn’t been that rough for me as of late. It’s not like I get hounded. I can walk the streets. I still ride the subways, but if that does happen, when it will be difficult to my own thing, I have a close knit of friends and family to surround myself with.

WM: Do you get to keep the clothing?

TD: Yes, we can, at times. A lot of the clothing I wore was mine to begin with. If there’s enough time and things are done properly, you can discuss it with the fashion designer about the wardrobe, and I’m able to give in my two cents. I’ve been fortunate.

WM: What’s it like working with Rick (Famuyiwa, the director)?

TD: He’s great. He’s a director I would work with at any point, at any time, on almost any project. He has good taste. He’s classy. He’s very chill. He sets the tone on the set. I never saw him stress out. I never saw him raise his voice. He never chastised anybody. He’s always very chill and he’s good at what he does. He started out with “The Wood” and they made that movie for 5 dollars and now he got a little more money for this. He really does his thing.

WM: Will you change your role as a sex symbol?

TD: No. It doesn’t bother me. It’s quite flattering. You never see yourself as other people see you and I started out in high school and elementary school not cool. I was skinny and insecure and I didn’t have a lot of confidence. It wasn’t until I went to a Performing Arts high school, that I found my niche and started to be more confident and grow into myself. People perceive me in that way and it’s cool. There are worst things. As far as change, when I began, I told myself I was happy to be working, to be invited to the party, and as I get older and learn more, and open my eyes to what’s around me, you realize the politics that are involved in this business. You realize the best position is that of power. So I gained a little bit more ambition and a little bit of desire to be on top so I can make it a little easier for the ‘cats coming up behind me.

WM: I just saw you in “Just a Kiss” where you had a small role. How tough is it as an African American actor to get a bigger role in a commercial film when you’re one of the leading black actors in the African American communities?

TD: That’s where the politics come in. With Hollywood, it’s all about money. Politically speaking, I have to do certain roles in certain films that make a certain amount of money. When they (the powers that be) see that Taye Diggs is in a movie, “we’ll make this money. Go out and get him”. That isn’t necessary needed for white folks. Hollywood will pick one white ‘cat because he was in an independent film that nobody saw. They’ll select him and say he’s going to be the next. There’s this entire buzz and he’ll literally be in 4 movies that flop. And by his fifth film, he’s making $10 million dollars and still hasn’t put people in the seats and he won’t have to work again for the rest of his life. He hasn’t opened up a movie on his own yet, but his asking price is $10 million dollars. That’s how Hollywood works. That’s why people were tripping on “Barbershop”. It made money that they didn’t expect. With “African American” movies, usually they’ll look at their little charts and think that if they put this money into it, they’ll get this much back. When Barbershop twisted all that up, they said “wait, maybe movies with black faces and if it can make money, they will put out 18 more “Barbershops”. If this film does well, it will prove that it’s not just the black comedies. It’s something else. White Hollywood doesn’t know black people and they don’t know black Hollywood. They try to put us in a box and think they know, but they don’t. Slowly, it will change, but it will take a while.

WM: With “Brown Sugar” being about an ode to hip-hop, do you have a particular artist that you remember from way back?

TD: New Edition’s “Candy Girl”. That was a good one. “Roxanne”, all of them. It was exciting to hear the contest going on. I used to break to “Planet Rock”. I used to like “Let the music play” a lot.

WM: If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?

TD: Probably teaching. The arts, probably dance and theater. I love kids and young people.

WM: Do you have close female friends?

TD: Sure. Amazing, I have never had that problem with my girl. We’re close but I think it’s a matter of respect and not overstepping boundaries and things of that nature.

WM: Any backlash to dating outside the race?

TD: Not that people will tell me to my face. I know that it disappoints some people and I can understand that. I don’t tolerate it but I can understand that. But I think when it comes down to it; people are just much smarter than that. They like who do like.

WM: What can you say about Mos Def?

TD: He’s crazy and he’s unbelievably talented and unbelievably underrated. He’s just what this movie needed. He’s what I needed, someone to play off because he’s raw. He won’t say anything that he doesn’t want to say, but he’s polite. We benefited from him and Queen Latifah. Latifah is hip-hop, she’s not old and neither is hip-hop, but she was there at the forefront. So it was good to have people that are so in the music be in this movie. It gave it some authenticity. I would work with anyone from this movie again but I would specifically love to do something with him and explore that relationship even deeper. There’s a lot going on there.