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November 2005
Rent: An Interview with Taye Diggs and Anthony Rapp

Rent: Taye Diggs and Anthony Rapp, continued

By Wilson Morales

With the film do you now end a chapter in your life?

Rapp: Yeah, the movie's forever. We've said it before, but it's a miracle we got asked to do it, and to do in the circumstances we got to do it with so many of our friends and with a director who passionately cared about it. There's nothing calculated about any of the decisions that went into making this movie. It was I think on Chris's part an act of courage. I know people will be skeptical, we were skeptical, with Chris's track record would this be material that he could tackle. From moment one of meeting with him he said, "This is going to be the most important film I'm ever going to make" and I'm like hmmm. I don't think people just go around saying that kind of thing.

Why do you think the film will resonate for contemporary audiences in the same way that the play did?

Rapp: I just think that the themes are timeless, and that any time when you're dealing with the larger questions of what it means to be alive and what it means to be a part of a community and what you do in the face of struggle and loss and love, I think those are questions that anyone can relate to. In today's very divided political climate I think any piece that presents a real tapestry of human experience in the way that "Rent" does can only forward the conversation instead of splitting people apart.

Diggs: And simply put, you know, good is good. Why are people today still buying Ray Charles, not to compare us to these amazing singers, but something can be timeless, and if it's quality it stands up throughout time, and I think this is definitely, to say the least, quality.

Was there any concern when the first one of you was cast that this might end your marriage?

Diggs: (laughs) Noooo. I remember thinking, it was weird, but before I knew what Chris was going to do with it it was a issue of.....I didn't want to sign on unless I knew that this piece was going to be in the right hands, and he gave me some indication by agreeing to use all of us. But then I read the script. I couldn't imagine speaking some of the songs that we had sung, so that freaked me out, so for a while I didn't know whether or not I was going to do it, but we had agreed that regardless it would just be good for her career because I had done a few more films and she had not. We kind of had made that agreement that it was something she should do regardless of whether I was in it or whether it was going to be good or not. But luckily,we both did it, we both stayed together.

Has she done a couple of movies?

Diggs: Yeah, she's done a couple. One is called "Ask the Dust," that's Colin Farrell.

When's your next one?

Diggs: My next one coming out is a movie called "Rent." I'm doing a play now and we're developing a TV show for ABC. I dipped my toes in it (TV) and the water was nice and now I'm going to come on as an executive producer and have more to say.

Do you still get death threats because of your inter-racial marriage?

Diggs: Do I STILL get them? We got one. You really shouldn't believe what you read in the press.

Do you think people will go see the film given that there are gay relationships in it?

Rapp: I think some people might stay away. The show has played all over the country, and it's pretty much sold out everywhere including small towns, so you never know. A friend of mine lives in Nashville, and "Rent" was there, it was a subscription series and they sent out a letter to their subscribers saying this play has this, this and this, and you can turn in your ticket and get a refund, and there were people who took them up on that offer, but then other people bought those tickets. There were kids in my high school who needed to see our lives mirrored to us and we did not have much opportunity. One of the first opportunities we had was Alternative Nation on MTV. That was like a little lifeline for us, frankly. I believe in my heart that there are all kinds of those people in all of these towns. I know this anecdotally, because I read the Internet and check out what people are saying. They're literally from all over the country, and all over the world people have experienced this play.

Do you feel fewer people are coming out now?

Rapp: No, they are. They never were before. There are still some high-profile people who are in the closet and they may always be, and sometimes it's a matter that their grandmother doesn't know and so they're dealing with that as much as they are anything else. If you're in the public eye you have an opportunity to make a difference. It's an opportunity that borders on responsibility. I think there's a difference between lying and keeping quiet. I do take issue with people who actively cultivate another version of their lives that's not true, but I also feel bad for them. I can't imagine that it's a very pleasant way for them to live. I know Ian McKellen talks about how much freer he feels as an actor in the years since he's come out. What you have available to yourself is yourself. If there's parts of yourself that you're hiding and you're not dealing with in yourself, to me you're bound to express things in the character. Part of the reason I always did it, I worked with Larry Kramer, and he's a very galvanizing person as you can imagine. I came out in a bio of a playbill, it wasn't like there were lots of spotlights shining on me. When "Rent"happened it was just part of my life anyway, and it was a way to do some work that I always wanted to do which was to reach out directly to young, gay people and give them some opportunity to have a mirror held up. I know that's something that's made a difference in their lives because they've told me. There have been people since - Ellen and Rosie and Nathan Lane and many, many more. I wasn't the first, but I was in the vanguard.

What do you think of outing?

Rapp: I think outing is an invasion of privacy. But I do believe that if you're a political figure who's actively campaigning for the dissolution of gay rights and you're gay, I do believe that there's a possible place then to be outed as a hypocrite.

What's the interaction with "Rent" fans like?

Diggs: It's exciting when someone says something. Tracy has an interesting story where she was a "Rent" head herself, and that's just been an amazing success story in itself. She auditioned for the show a bunch of times, loved the show, saw it a bunch of times, stood in a line that wrapped around the building, lost her voice and then got called back. Now she's got her face on the "Rent" movie posters. It's very exciting. What we all have to remind ourselves is that we were there once and how important and amazing it was to see people that we once looked up to. When I first met Denzel Washington or whoever it was very impressive and it really gave me a newfound energy to keep pursuing my dream, as corny as it sounds. I think it's important for all of us to remember that.

Rapp: I always used to say back in the day when there was so much hype and attention that when people came up to us they came up to us because we really touched them and had been important in their lives. It's a little different than if we had been a Spice Girl, not that there's anything wrong with being a Spice Girl, but it's different. That's more about the flash and excitement of it. Not that they weren't excited, but they were mostly coming up to say thank you for inspiring or moving them. It makes it sweeter.


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