Heyaveed diggs is done talking about Hamilton. The American actor, rapper, writer and musician earned fame, a Grammy and a Tony Award for his role in the global music phenomenon. But that was seven years ago now, and he’s not looking back. “I don’t think so,” he tells me. “I don’t think about it very often unless someone else brings it up. But, like, I just saw my friends… I just went and saw Oak in a great new production of his A dollhouse.” Oak, of course, is Okieriete Onaodowan, who co-starred in the show. “I met some of my best friends there. And so it’s been great to have that community around us and see all the things they’re doing now.”
Even the musical’s diverse cast couldn’t save it entirely from controversy, given the slaveholding pasts of some of the historical figures it portrayed. Meanwhile, Disney’s live-action remake The little Mermaid, in which Diggs plays Sebastian the Crab, has drawn a mixed reaction after the studio decided to update the blue-eyed, red-haired cartoon Ariel with black actress Halle Bailey. The world of entertainment has never been more tightly controlled. Right now, though, Diggs has his thoughts on something that could spell global disaster.
We’re in a hotel room in London and Diggs is wearing a chocolate brown jumpsuit, navy trousers and a gold locket. It gives him the air of someone who just laid down a track in a recording studio. He exudes a relaxed West Coast feel, at least until he starts talking. Like anyone who saw Hamilton he knows, this man can talk – fast. At times, his rhymes saw him spit out six words per second.
Diggs also met his partner on the show. Lives in Los Angeles with ex Hamilton co-stars Emmy Raver-Lampman, but there’s something about California that’s on his mind. For Diggs, the changing climate there has become impossible to ignore. “The kinds of weather we’re experiencing now are different than at any point in my life,” he says. “And you realize that means something.”
It’s relevant, because Diggs is starring in a drama about climate collapse. His new Apple TV Plus show is Extrapolations, an anthology series also starring Meryl Streep, Sienna Miller and Tobey Maguire. The creator is Scott Z Burns, the writer-director who previously wrote the work for Steven Soderbergh Transmission, the 2011 drama that charted the course of a devastating pandemic – and became a belated hit when Covid struck. Now it has turned its attention to climate change, with each episode set in a different year. The first episode is in 2037, with the world facing a dangerous ecological crisis. For Diggs, this isn’t the first time he’s explored the theme, having starred in a post-apocalyptic TV show Snowpiercer.
The future of the world? “It’s what I think,” he shrugs. “I think we’re at a very critical moment in terms of talking about where we’re going with the way we treat the planet. And so the future presented itself [in Extrapolations] is a possible. But [the] What I really like about the show is that it basically starts us from where we are now. And we start to see some decisions that could have been made differently that might have made a big difference. We could start by prioritizing the climate and maybe that will help us have a different future. We don’t know what that is. I think there is no way to predict how far we are already. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Diggs was born in 1982 in Oakland, California and went to high school in Berkeley. “We’re a big recycling city,” he nods. Caring for the environment has been ingrained in him since childhood. “I’ve been quite concerned about this,” he adds. “It’s hard not to be.”
He is the first to admit that it is very easy to ignore one’s actions. “I travel a lot. That’s something I don’t think about: the necessity of travel and what it does,” he admits. He is not going to claim that he had an awakening Extrapolations, but he felt a change within him. “I think I realized how insensitive I am about a lot of things. And how hard it is to change your behavior.” He shows for a second sheep. “I’m still flying a plane here. But I knew what that meant. And that was the biggest difference for me… being a little more aware. Which helps me at times to say, “Oh, maybe I don’t need to do that right now.”
Its executive producer ExtrapolationsMichael Ellenberg, felt the Diggs recruitment was necessary. “Daveed’s intelligence, warmth and sophistication [means] that an audience can almost immediately engage with and identify with,” he says. Intriguingly, Diggs plays Marshall, a rabbi who deals with his own family issues as the world is in turmoil. “He doesn’t think much about climate change,” says Diggs. “But it’s still the world everyone lives in. And that’s what I think was so powerful about these stories. Of about this, without only it’s about that.”
Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a free 30-day trial
Playing Marshall also felt deeply personal. “I’m Jewish,” Diggs explains, “and I grew up a more practicing Jew than I am now. But still, [it was] this particular brand of Berkeley Judaism is pretty loose!” His Jewish side comes from his mother Barbara, a social worker. His father, Dudes, who worked as a bus driver, is African-American. When their son was born, they named him ‘Daveed’, the Hebrew pronunciation of ‘David’.
Meeting with rabbis for the show helped him reacquaint himself with his Judaism. “It’s easy to imagine religion as being at odds with science, working in opposite directions from science. But that wasn’t the case for any of the rabbis I talked to, was it? All of them were overly concerned about climate change. Pandemic times too. It was [involved in] vaccine campaigns and reading all the science about Covid and finding out how to keep their communities united based on science. It was very interesting, reconnecting with religion in a different way than I did when I was young. But the same religion I claim I practice, because I occasionally light a candle!’
After high school, Diggs won a place at Brown University, studying theater – although he was also a star athlete. In the 110-meter hurdles, he broke Brown’s record of 14.21 seconds. However, sports always came second to his love of the arts. A passionate spoken word poet, he began performing on the underground hip-hop circuit both in and around the university. Money was never a priority. “You end up making sacrifices,” he recalls. “Where you live may not be where you wanted to live.” After graduation, he worked as a substitute teacher, a job that coincidentally led him to meet creator extraordinaire Lin-Manuel Miranda. A fellow teacher, who was a member of Miranda’s hip-hop improv group Freestyle Love Supreme, introduced them.
Diggs was present at his very first readings Hamilton, Miranda’s hip-hop musical about America’s struggle to establish its independence. He would go on to portray the roles of French-American Revolutionary officer Marquis de Lafayette and founding father Thomas Jefferson in the 2015 production at the Public Theater in New York. When the show moved to Broadway, he went too, watching in disbelief as it became the hottest ticket in town. The Obamas reportedly attended twice, though, as Diggs once said, “the most impressive” he’d had was meeting childhood hero and rap icon MC Hammer.
Perhaps this reluctance to look back – apart from a desire to continue pushing his career forward – was simply his fear of being defined by one thing. The rumor felt unsettling for someone who had been on the sidelines for years. “Everything seems fleeting,” he mused in 2016 New York Times interview, shortly after he left the show. “I feel like the reason people want me is based on nothing.” When another reporter asked where he kept his Tony, he demurred: “I don’t know… it’s where the glasses are! When we run out of glasses, someone uses Tony.”
Arguably, Diggs has been making the right moves since then Hamilton. He became a staple on American television, landing a variety of shows. He brought his rap skills to Baz Luhrmann’s 1970s-Bronx-set show Download itand a burning passion for the defunct Frederick Douglass in the miniseries The Good Lord Bird. He also became a screenwriter. He and longtime friend/collaborator Rafael Casal spent a decade developing the 2018 film Blind spots, in which Diggs played a criminal on probation – a role that earned him a Best Actor nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards. Beat the lockdown by adapting it for TV.
Alongside this, he continues to release music with Clipping, the experimental hip-hop group he formed with his old friends William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. From a Black Lives Matter protest anthem to a Hanukkah rap about puppies, his musical output is as diverse and eclectic as you could wish for. These days, though, you’re more likely to hear him voicing a Hollywood cartoon. He was a patron of Paul the Barber at Pixar’s Soul (as well as a behind-the-scenes cultural consultant). It will be heard later The little Mermaid.
The project reunites him with Miranda, who co-wrote the songs but was more involved in representation. As he said The Hollywood Reporter, “I never thought about being in these Disney remakes, and if I’m honest, Sebastian comes with a lot of responsibility. For a lot of people my age who are from the Caribbean, Sebastian was the first time they really saw themselves in an American film, and I’m not Caribbean.” He prepares for the reaction. whatever will be, will be. Relaxed, positive, open… “I’m quite optimistic,” he smiles. “Yes, generally.”
“Extrapolations” is available on Apple TV Plus starting March 17