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Diggs, Taye

Taye Diggs

1972—

Actor

A Broadway veteran who came to popular attention with his role as the handsome young Jamaican in the successful 1998 film How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Taye Diggs became part of a new generation of African-American leading men to enjoy impressive Hollywood success while steering clear of negative typecasting. Diggs, along with actors such as Larenz Tate and Djimon Hounsou, benefited from a spate of popular films in the late 1990s and early 2000s, like Stella, whose themes rested upon color-blind hopes, dreams, and sorrows, but just happened to feature a cast of color. Though Diggs's film debut made him a household name, he was already well known to New York theatergoers, especially after appearing in the original cast of the acclaimed Broadway musical Rent in 1996. His popularity continued over the next decade as he appeared in films and even started a contemporary dance company. His 2007 casting in Private Practice, a spin-off of ABC's Grey's Anatomy, signaled that his star continued to rise.

Bestowed with the first name of "Scott" when he was born in Rochester, New York, in 1972, Diggs was the oldest of five children in his family. "Taye" supplanted his real name following the habit of one of his uncles, who used to call him "Scot-tay." As a teenager, he was thin, awkward, and on the short side. "I was a large geek," Ebony magazine reported him as saying. "I remember going home and praying to God and saying, ‘I want to be good-looking. I want to have a girlfriend. I want girls to like me.’" To improve his physique, Diggs took modern dance classes and lifted weights. His mother convinced him to attend the local performing arts high school, where, he said, "I came into my own," the Ebony article quoted him as saying. "If you wore glasses or tight pants, you were still accepted. It was pleasant. It was not only the jocks who got the girls."

Acted on Broadway

After earning a degree in theater from Syracuse University in 1993, Diggs moved to New York City, where he was fortunate to land an understudy role in a major Broadway production. As an understudy, an inexperienced actor shadows a colleague, learning the lines and stage cues of the role, in the event that an emergency replacement is necessary. Diggs then took the unusual step of moving to Japan, where he found work as a performer at Tokyo Disneyland in its "Caribbeanland" shows. When he returned to the United States, he landed a role in a planned Broadway rock opera called Rent.

Rent debuted in early 1996 and won immediate, enthusiastic reviews for its musical portrayal of life, love, and death among a group of modern-day bohemians in New York's hip East Village neighborhood. Based in part on the Puccini opera La Bohème, Rent also achieved a certain tragic notoriety due to the sudden death of its creator, Jonathan Larson, just weeks before it opened. Centered around a group of struggling artists, Rent touched upon heroin addiction and the specter of AIDS, and won the Tony Award for best Broadway musical that year.

In Rent, Diggs was cast as Benjamin, once a denizen of the East Village scene himself. Benny, however, turned on his friends when he achieved some measure of financial success, and is now the despised landlord of the building where many of the characters live. At one point he padlocks the building, while also trying to eject a group of homeless people squatting in the building next door. "Sparked by a young, intensely vibrant cast…and sustained by a glittering, inventive score, the work finds a transfixing brightness in characters living in the shadow of AIDS," asserted critic Ben Brantley of the New York Times.

Film Brought Fame

Diggs's career trajectory climbed steadily after the success of Rent. He appeared in guest spots on Law and Order and New York Undercover, and in 1997 was cast as Adrian "Sugar" Hill in the CBS daytime drama The Guiding Light. But the actor was still appearing in Rent when he auditioned for and won his first-ever film role: the screen adaptation of the 1996 Terry McMillan novel, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. The upcoming project came close on the heels of Waiting to Exhale, the successful film version of another of McMillan's acclaimed novels. Stella's plot revolved around an overworked single professional woman whose vacation romance with a much younger man evolves into something more serious. As producer of Stella, McMillan reportedly wanted Ralph Lauren model Tyson Beckford for the male lead, but Diggs's combination of looks and professional stage experience won him the role instead.

As Stella opens, Bassett's character is lured to Jamaica by a friend for a much-needed vacation. A hardworking San Francisco stockbroker, Stella is also the divorced mother of an 11-year-old boy and thoroughly dejected by the dating scene. At the luxury resort she meets Diggs's character, the handsome, charming Winston Shakespeare. Just 20 years old, Winston is a native of the island and has vague plans to enter medical school soon. A romance develops, despite the age difference. When the vacation ends, the relationship continues, and Diggs soon moves into Stella's posh Marin County home. It becomes apparent, however, that in some ways he has more in common with Stella's son, who enjoys having a new friend to play video games with him.

"Diggs imbues Winston with an easy grace and dignity," opined Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But his performance is too soft-spoken and embellished with too many vacant smiles for his character to emerge as anything more than a misty romantic fantasy. Even when he loses his temper, Winston is impossibly, reassuringly nice." Despite the flaws in the on-screen character, Diggs won notoriety for his role in the film because of a particularly revealing shower scene. "I didn't know what was going to be shown in the nude and I really didn't care," he told Newsweek reporter Allison Samuels. "I wanted the role so bad it didn't matter what I had to do to get it."

Honed Skills with Various Character Studies

In 1999, Diggs appeared in a number of other well-received films. He was part of the ensemble cast of Go, a comic and violent Pulp Fiction-style film. In it, he played Marcus, whom several of the characters meet on a Las Vegas jaunt that is one of three interrelated plots in the movie. The work follows the adventures of a hapless supermarket cashier who becomes involved in a drug deal; her best friend is then held hostage, and her English co-worker from the supermarket finds himself in Las Vegas, "in which the smoothly appealing Taye Diggs plays a major role," wrote New York Times film critic Janet Maslin, who called the film "a jaundiced comedy of manners that toys with who may or may not be gay, and has a white character tell a black one that ‘color's just a state of mind.’"

At a Glance …

Born Scott Diggs on January 2, 1972, in Rochester, NY; married Idina Menzel, 2003. Education: Syracuse University, BFA, 1993.

Career: Actor, 1990s-; Tokyo Disneyland, performer, 1990s; dre.dance, co-founder and artistic director, 2004-.

Addresses: Web—www.dredance.com.

The Wood, which opened in the summer of 1999, offered Diggs another appealing big-screen character study. The film's title is the nickname for a middle-class African-American suburb of Los Angeles, Inglewood, and its plot follows the 13-year friendship of three men who meet as teens there in the mid-1980s. Told in flashback, The Wood opens as Diggs's character, Roland, is suffering from a case of pre-wedding jitters so severe that he flees to the home of an ex-girlfriend and becomes quite drunk. His longtime friends, played by Omar Epps and Richard T. Jones, track him down and attempt to get him to the altar.

Roland, however, becomes sick in the car, and they return to the ex-girlfriend's home to wash themselves off with a garden hose. "The desperate last-minute cleanup resonates with the threesome's adolescent adventures, none especially harrowing," wrote the New York Times's Holden. "They include being stopped by the police in a car in which one person is carrying a gun, finding themselves in the back of a grocery store while it's being robbed and of course, pitching inept lines at girls who adamantly stand their ground."

Later in 1999, Diggs appeared in the title role of The Best Man, another African-American-themed comedy, and a film produced by Spike Lee. Diggs was cast as Harper Stewart, a Chicago writer whose debut novel, Unfinished Business, is about to be published. Terrific sales and celebrity status are assured for the book and its author, because Oprah Winfrey has selected it as one of her book-club titles. Prior to this, however, Harper must first endure the New York City wedding of his friend, a former college athlete (Morris Chestnut) and notorious womanizer now coming to terms with the permanence of his upcoming wedding vows. In the pre-nuptial festivities, Harper rekindles a flirtation with bridesmaid Jordan, played by actress Nia Long, who was the inspiration for one of the characters in Unfinished Business.

Adding to this drama, Diggs's character is also trying to keep the groom from discovering that he once had a fling with the bride-to-be—also recounted in the forthcoming novel—and struggles to remain faithful to his girlfriend back in Chicago, despite Jordan's lure. Maslin, giving The Best Man a positive review in her New York Times column, called it "another demonstration that current movies about upscale black characters have much more traditional values than ones about catty white teen-agers."

Retained Footing on Stage

Diggs returned to Broadway in the spring of 2000 when cast in The Wild Party. Set in the 1920s, the musical revolves around a group of vaudeville performers living it up during an economic boom. Toni Collette, Mandy Patinkin, and Eartha Kitt were also in Virginia Theater production. "He thus returns to the New York stage something of an established heartthrob, and audiences may be surprised to discover (again) what a beautiful voice he has, what a natural, un-Hollywood presence," wrote Jesse Green in the New York Times Magazine. Diggs's girlfriend at the time, Idina Menzel, also appeared in the musical. The two met as cast members of Rent—at one point, Menzel's spirited character, a performance artist, moons the hated landlord Benjamin. Diggs married Menzel in 2003.

Diggs assured his feet would remain on stage by forming a contemporary dance company in 2004 with high school friend and professional choreographer Andrew Palermo. "Nobody knows that between singing, acting and dancing, I enjoy dance the most," Diggs told Lola Ogunnaike of the New York Times, explaining that he had fallen in love with dance in high school and continued to take lessons over the years. From its premiere performance at the Joffrey Ballet School's annual gala, the company, known as dre.dance, has garnered praise from dance critics. The company has offered seasons of contemporary dance as well as classes and workshops. Reviewing the company's show "pre.view" in 2006 for the New York Times, Roslyn Sulcas noted how unusual it was for an actor of some renown like Diggs to open a dance company. But she concluded after seeing his choreography that "he has every right to be taken seriously in his new venture." After offering two full seasons of new, contemporary work with dances that blended modern aesthetics and vigorous athleticism, the company had developed what Joy Goodwin of the New York Sun called its "own discernible style," which intimated that it would have "an intriguing future." As his own company thrived, Diggs helped highlight the richness of African-American modern dance history as the host of the PBS program Dancing in the Light, a part of the Great Performances series in 2007 which featured works by such choreographers as Asadata Dafora, Katherine Dunham, and Donald McKayle.

As Diggs sought out more stage opportunities—he landed his first dramatic role on stage in 2005 in Charles Fuller's Pulitzer-prize-winning A Soldier's Play—he maintained steady work on screen. Notably he starred in Drum, a film about South African journalists working for Drum magazine during apartheid, which won Africa's top film prize in 2005. Along with a slew of films, including Brown Sugar, Chicago, Basic, Cake, Slow Burn, and the film adaptation of Rent, Diggs continued to make a name for himself as a television actor. He quickly graduated from parts on various series to starring roles. He starred in two short-lived television series: Kevin Hill, about a playboy who takes on the responsibility of raising an infant, and Daybreak, in which he starred as a detective who is trying to solve a crime as he keeps reliving the same day. Though these series ended quickly due to poor ratings, Diggs landed a part in Private Practice, the ABC spin-off of the popular Grey's Anatomy show that viewers and critics eagerly awaited for the fall 2007 season. In it Diggs featured prominently as Dr. Sam Bennett in an ensemble cast including Kate Walsh playing Addison Montgomery from Grey's Anatomy. No matter the medium, Diggs possessed a unique versatility, giving him myriad career options. His appeal stemmed from "What Diggs does best," explained critic Ken Parish Perkins for the Chicago Defender. "Whether he's on stage, in TV or in a film," Diggs makes "nearly every word he delivers count, as though he really, truly, cross-his-heart-hope-to-die means it." His appeal enabled Diggs to remain, after a more than a decade of work, a rising star.

Selected works

Films

How Stella Got Her Groove Back, 1998.

The Wood, 1999.

The Best Man, 1999.

House on Haunted Hill, 1999.

The Way of the Gun, 2000.

Brown Sugar, 2002.

Chicago, 2002.

Basic, 2003.

Drum, 2004.

Cake, 2005.

Slow Burn, 2005.

Rent, 2005.

Plays

Carousel, Broadway, 1994.

Chicago, 1996.

Rent, Broadway, 1996.

A Soldier's Play, 2005.

Television

Guiding Light, 1996-97.

Ally McBeal, 2001.

Kevin Hill, 2004.

Will & Grace, 2006.

Day Break, 2007.

Grey's Anatomy, 2007.

Private Practice, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Chicago Defender, November 17-19, 2007, p. 12.

Ebony, December 1998, pp. 108-114; January 2000, p. 100.

Entertainment Weekly, April 16, 1999, p. 36.

Essence, October 1999, p. 70.

New York Times, February 14, 1996; August 14, 1998, p. B9; April 9, 1999; July 16, 1999; October 22, 1999, p. B26; March 19, 2000, p. AR13.

New York Times Magazine, February 13, 2000; February 6, 2006, p. E5.

Newsweek, August 24, 1998, pp. 58-59.

People, September 7, 1998, p. 40; May 10, 1999, p. 125.

Sacramento Observer, June 14-20, 2007, p. E7.

On-line

"Diggstown—An Afternoon with Rising Star Taye Diggs," Filmcritic.com,www.filmcritic.com/misc/emporium.nsf/reviews/Diggstown —An-afternoon-with-rising-star-Taye-Diggs (August 27, 2007).

dre.dance,www.dredance.com (August 29, 2007).

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"Diggs, Taye." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Diggs, Taye." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/diggs-taye

Diggs, Taye 1972–

Taye Diggs 1972

Actor

A Stint in Tokyo

A Rising Star

Made Sizzling Film Debut

Offered Challenging Roles

Another Broadway Hit

Sources

A Broadway veteran best known for his role as the handsome young Jamaican in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Taye Diggs is part of a new generation of African American leading men who are enjoying impressive Hollywood successwhile steering clear of negative typecasting. Diggs, along with actors such as Larenz Tate and Djimon Houn-sou, have benefitted from a recent spate of popular films, like Stella, whose themes seem to rest upon color-blind hopes, dreams, and sorrows, but just happen to feature a cast of color. Though Diggss film debut made him a household name, he was already well-known to New York theatergoers, especially after appearing in the original cast of the acclaimed Broadway musical Rent in 1996. An accomplished stage actor, singer, and dancer, he has been hailed as the successor to Sidney Poitier, the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Bestowed with the first name of Scott when he was born in Rochester, New York, in 1972, Diggs was the oldest of five children in his family. Taye supplanted his real name following the habit of one of his uncles, who used to call him Scot-tay. As a teenager, he was thin, awkward, and on the short side. I was a large geek, Ebony magazine reported him as saying. I remember going home and praying to God and saying,I want to be good-looking. I want to have a girlfriend. I want girls to like me. To improve his physique, Diggs took modern dance classes and lifted weights. His mother convinced him to attend the local performing-arts high school, where, he said, I came into my own, the Ebony article stated. If you wore glasses or tight pants, you were still accepted. It was pleasant. It was not only the jocks who got the girls.

A Stint in Tokyo

After earning a degree in theater from Syracuse University, Diggs moved to New York City, where he was fortunate to land an understudy role in a major Broadway production. As an understudy, an inexperienced actor shadows a colleague, learning the lines and stage cues of the role, in the event that an emergency replacement is necessary. Diggs then took the unusual step of moving to Japan, where he found work as a performer at Tokyo Disneyland in its Caribbeanland shows. When he returned to the United States, he

At a Glance

Born Scott Diggs, 1972, in Rochester, NY. Education: Earned B.F.A. from Syracuse University.

Career: Began professional stage career as understudy for Broadway play, early 1990s;worked as performer at Tokyo Disneyland; cast in episodes of Law and Order and New York Undercover, both 1996; appeared in original cast of Rent, 1996; cast inregular role on CBS daytime drama Guiding Light, 199697; appeared in the films How Stella Cot Her Groove Back. 1998; The Wood, 1999; and The BestMan, 1999.

Addresses: Office -c\o Virginia Theater, 245 W. 52nd St. New York, NY 10019.

landed a role in a planned Broadway rock opera called Rent

Rent debuted in early 1996, and won immediate, enthusiastic reviews for its musical portrayal of life, love, and death among a group of modern-day bohe-mians in New Yorks hip East Village neighborhood. Based in part on the Puccini opera La Boheme, Rent also achieved a certain tragic notoriety due to the sudden death of its creator, Jonathan Larson, just weeks before it opened. Centered around a group of struggling artists, Rent touched upon heroin addiction and the specter of AIDS, and won the Tony Award for best Broadway musical that year.

A Rising Star

In Rent, Diggs was cast as Benjamin, once a denizen of the East Village scene himself. Benny, however, turned on his friends when he achieved some measure of financial success, and is now the despised landlord of the building where many of the characters live. At one point he padlocks the building, while also trying to eject a group of homeless people squatting in the building next door. Sparked by a young, intensely vibrant cast[00fe]and sustained by a glittering, inventive score, the work finds a transfixing brightness in characters living in the shadow of AIDS, asserted critic Ben Brantley of the New York Times.

Diggss career trajectory climbed steadily after the success of Rent. He appeared in guest spots on Law and Order and New York Undercover, and in 1997 was cast as Adrian Sugar Hill in the CBS daytime drama The Guiding Light. But the actor was still appearing in Rent when he auditioned for and won his first-ever film role: the screen adaptation of the 1996 Terry McMillan novel, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. The upcoming project came close on the heels of Waiting to Exhale, the successful film version of another of McMillans acclaimed novels. Stellas plot revolved around an overworked single professional woman whose vacation romance with a much younger man evolves into something more serious. As producer of Stella, McMillan reportedly wanted Ralph Lauren model Tyson Beckford for the male lead, but Diggss combination of looks and professional stage experience won him the role instead.

Made Sizzling Film Debut

As Stella opens, Bassetts character is lured to Jamaica by a friend for a much-needed vacation. A hardworking San Francisco stockbroker, Stella is also the divorced mother of an 11-year-old boy and thoroughly dejected by the dating scene. At the luxury resort she meets Diggss character, the handsome, charming Winston Shakespeare. Just 20 years old, Winston is a native of the island and has vague plans to enter medical school soon. A romance develops, despite the age difference. When the vacation ends, the relationship continues, and Diggs soon moves into Stellas posh Marin County home. It becomes apparent, however, that in some ways he has more in common with Stellas son, who enjoys having a new friend to play video games with him.

Diggs imbues Winston with an easy grace and dignity, opined Stephen Holden in the New York Times. But his performance is too soft-spoken and embellished with too many vacant smiles for his character to emerge as anything more than a misty romantic fantasy. Even when he loses his temper, Winston is impossibly, reassuringly nice. Despite the flaws in the on-screen character, Diggs won notoriety for his role in the film because of a particularly revealing shower scene. I didnt know what was going to be shown in the nude and I really didnt care, he told Newsweek reporter Allison Samuels. I wanted the role so bad it didnt matter what I had to do to get it.

Offered Challenging Roles

In 1999, Diggs appeared in a number of other well-received films. He was part of the ensemble cast of Go, a comic and violent Pulp Fiction-style film. In it, he played Marcus, whom several of the characters meet on a Las Vegas jaunt that is one of three interrelated plots in the movie. The work follows the adventures of a hapless supermarket cashier who becomes involved in a drug deal; her best friend is then held hostage, and her English co-worker from the supermarket finds himself in Las Vegas, in which the smoothly appealing Taye Diggs plays a major role, wrote New York Times film critic Janet Maslin, who called the film a jaundiced comedy of manners that toys with who may or may not be gay, and has a white character tell a black one thatcolors just a state of mind.

The Wood, which opened in the summer of 1999, offered Diggs another appealing big-screen character study. The films title is the nickname for a middle-class African American suburb of Los Angeles, Inglewood, and its plot follows the 13-year friendship of three men who meet as teens there in the mid-1980s. Told in flashback, The Wood opens as Diggss character, Roland, is suffering from a case of pre-wedding jitters so severe that he flees to the home of an ex-girlfriend and becomes quite drunk. His longtime friends, played by Omar Epps and Richard T. Jones, track him down and attempt to get him to the altar.

Roland, however, becomes sick in the car, and they return to the ex-girlfriends home to wash themselves off with a garden hose. The desperate last-minute cleanup resonates with the threesomes adolescent adventures, none especially harrowing, wrote the New York Timess Holden. They include being stopped by the police in a car in which one person is carrying a gun, finding themselves in the back of a grocery store while its being robbed and of course, pitching inept lines at girls who adamantly stand their ground.

Later in 1999, Diggs appeared in the title role of The Best Man, another African American-themed comedy, and a film produced by Spike Lee. Diggs was cast as Harper Stewart, a Chicago writer whose debut novel, Unfinished Business, is about to be published. Terrific sales and celebrity status are assured for the book and its author, because Oprah Winfrey has selected it as one of her book-club titles. Prior to this, however, Harper must first endure the New York City wedding of his friend, a former college athlete (Morris Chestnut) and notorious womanizer now coming to terms with the permanence of his upcoming wedding vows. In the pre-nuptial festivities, Harper rekindles a flirtation with bridesmaid Jordan, played by actress Nia Long, who was the inspiration for one of the characters in Unfinished Business.

Adding to this drama, Diggss character is also trying to keep the groom from discovering that he once had a fling with the bride-to-bealso recounted in the forthcoming noveland struggles to remain faithful to his girlfriend back in Chicago, despite Jordans lure. Mas-lin, giving The Best Man a positive review in her New York Times column, called it another demonstration that current movies about upscale black characters have much more traditional values than ones about catty white teen-agers.

Another Broadway Hit

Diggs returned to Broadway in the spring of 2000 when cast in The Wild Parti;. Set in the 1920s, the musical revolves around a group of vaudeville performers living it up during an economic boom. Toni Collette, Mandy Patinkin, and Eartha Kitt were also in Virginia Theater production. He thus returns to the New York stage something of an established heartthrob, and audiences may be surprised to discover (again) what a beautiful voice he has, what a natural, un-Hollywood presence, wrote Jesse Green in the New York Times Magazine. Diggss girlfriend, Idina Menzel, also appeared in the musical. The two met as cast members of Rent at one point, Menzels spirited character, a performance artist, moons the hated landlord Benjamin.

Diggs is scheduled to appear in several other films during the first year of the new century, including Mary Janes Last Dance and The Way of the Gun. He rejects any form of typecasting. They all say Im a sex symbol. Just what the world needs, another sex symbol, the Ebony article quoted him as saying. In the larger scheme of things, sex symbols come and go . I dont want to get the big head. Id be more honored if someone said I was very intelligent or very deep, very thoughtful.

Sources

Ebony, December 1998, pp. 108114; January 2000, p. 100.

Entertainment Weekly, April 16, 1999, p. 36.

Essence, October 1999, p. 70.

New York Times, February 14, 1996; August 14, 1998, p. B9; April 9, 1999; July 16, 1999; October 22, 1999, p. B26; March 19, 2000, p. AR13.

New York Times Magazine, February 13, 2000.

Newsweek, August 24, 1998, pp. 5859.

People, September 7, 1998, p. 40; May 10, 1999, p. 125.

Carol Brennan

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
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"Diggs, Taye 1972–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Diggs, Taye 1972–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/diggs-taye-1972

"Diggs, Taye 1972–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/diggs-taye-1972