Daveed Diggs breaks down the ‘unfathomable’ idea behind ‘Snowpiercer’s’ season finale
“We’re doing the coolest s— right now,” says Daveed Diggs.
It can be a challenge to stay on topic when it comes to the Tony- and Grammy-award-winning actor-musician-writer. Especially when he’s calling to talk about one thing from the set of another while doing yet another thing — we were interrupted by someone administering a COVID test. (“Hold on, I need to get a thing shoved up my nose.” King. He didn’t even cough.)
But that’s all he says he can give us about Season 2 of “Blindspotting.” Just about.
“I can’t talk about it. It’s killing me,” he continues, laughing at the thought of what he’s up to with the spinoff of his 2018 movie of the same name. “It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done — a number of very big swings that I can’t believe anyone let us do.
“They can’t possibly be making their money back.”
The Oakland-raised creators of Starz’s new series, based on the 2018 film, know residents are liable to argue over its “validity.” They’re ready.
So, back to the show that is making it rain, er snow, one he can actually talk about: TNT’s “Snowpiercer,” which aired its Season 3 finale on Monday and was recently renewed for a fourth season.
Diggs plays Andre Layton, a detective-turned-stowaway-turned-political leader on the show about the last of humanity living out their days on the Snowpiercer, a train that endlessly loops around the frozen world. “Snowpiercer,” based on Bong Joon Ho’s 2013 film of the same name, debuted atop the basic cable heap with its mix of drama, science fiction, action — and humor. Yes, humor. A lot of that comes from Diggs’ depiction of Layton.
“I don’t believe that life isn’t funny. If you’re still alive and you’re struggling, it’s probably because you have found where the joy is in that,” he says. “And so I think generally my entry place into characters is to figure out where their joy lies. ‘Snowpiercer’ is fun; it’s a goddamn action TV show. If it’s not fun, I don’t know what we’re doing.”
The fun is woven through “Snowpiercer’s” tale of class, with a lot of swings at morality; there are parties, celebrations of achievements, an aquarium. But things are mostly mean, ugly and violent. The residents of the upper-class cars bought tickets to save themselves. The Tail is where those who fought their way onto the train live. Layton starts his journey there.
When his skills are needed to solve a murder, administrator Melanie Cavill (played by Jennifer Connelly) brings him uptrain. When he sees how the other classes live and learns her secret, it increases his desire that all should have access to everything the train has to offer. So, by any means necessary, he takes it.
In the season finale, the denizens of the train decide whether to stay on board or go to “New Eden,” a place supposedly warm enough for life.Layton, flying in the face of science, chooses life off the train.
Diggs? Well, not so much.
“As just a citizen of the train with no actual science to support [me], it would have been hard because I do believe in science,” he says. “I don’t know that I agree with all of the ways that Layton has chosen to be a leader. There’s something powerful in his belief in people. I love people, and I sort of thrive off small interpersonal interactions. And I think Layton thinks much more globally. Generally, he thinks people are good. And I’ve started to sort of see a little bit of value in that, that I probably wouldn’t have placed into it before, because I still am kind of incapable of it.”
With “Snowpiercer,” there are now three things Diggs has been involved with that live rent free in people’s heads. No one’s forgetting “Hamilton,” for which he won a Tony — “that one’s for the homies” — playing two roles: Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson.
“I didn’t even think it was a good idea,” Diggs says and laughs. “This wasn’t a world that I was in. And this is why you always work with your friends. My friends saw that there was space for me in this world that I didn’t even really know existed.”
There was a time that Diggs was seemingly everywhere: recurring roles on “black-ish” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” the fastest rapper on Broadway, NBA commercials, insert your own pop culture memory here.
In TNT’s “Snowpiercer,” based on the film by “Parasite’s” Bong Joon Ho, Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs are passengers on a post-apocalyptic train.
“I do a lot, like I think that’s part of my thing. Because I like a lot, and I am taking advantage of this moment, because who knows how long it’s around. Sometimes just a lot happens to come out all at once, you know, you’ll have like, a season of the TV show, and then like three weird commercials that you did. And the fact that ‘Hamilton’ came back on Disney+, like, who expected that? And then during all that the TV show that I’m writing also comes out. I didn’t plan the timing of any of that.”
“Snowpiercer” marks his first leading role in a television series.
“It was one of the first things I auditioned for post-’Hamilton,’” he says. “That was damn near six years ago. We’re still on this train. So that’s wild to me.”
Diggs spoke with The Times about the season finale of “Snowpiercer,” acting and hyphens.
You’re like that person in the friend group who is quietly annoying because you’re good at everything.
I’m only good at a few things. I happen to get to do most of them for a living, which is like pretty cool. And pretty rare. As an artist, you generally are sort of forced into one thing. I think most artists are actually good at quite a few things, but your career ends up being the one of those things that you were able to support yourself with. It took so long for me to get to a point where I was really, truly supporting myself on my art that by the time I got there, I had become this sort of multi-hyphenate. And this is just the only way I know how to operate. Years ago, I was looking for a job. This is pre-”Hamilton” and I’m just trying to get a regular job in L.A. because I finished touring and I had no more money. I was interviewing to be a waiter. And my mom laughed in my face. And she was like, “You can’t do that.” “What do you mean?” She was like, “You’re not going to be good at, you know, the kind of organization that takes.” I mean, I did not get the jobs.
So the thing that you’re not good at is waiting tables?
Look. To keep this version of myself going, this machine, I have so much help. Even the fact that I was only 15 minutes late for this call is a miracle. ... For example, I have never tried my hand at directing. And I’m not sure I ever will because the directors that I work with that I like have their minds on so much of the process at once. I think if there’s one thing that makes me good as an actor, it is my uncanny ability to genuinely not care about anything that’s not my job.
Do you have a favorite hyphenate in the multi-hyphenate? You’ve got the group Clipping. It seems as if your heart is with the music.
Always. I think for anyone who does it, that’s it. Because it’s the only one of them you can really do by yourself. I can make music anywhere, at all times and it is a joyful experience for me to be doing it whether or not it’s going to end up on a record.
‘Hamilton’ star Daveed Diggs bolts from the ‘popular to the fringe’ with experimental hip-hop act Clipping.
A man flees his home on a ship, hoping to escape the turbulent life of his youth.
The third season of “Snowpiercer” seemed slicker somehow and even delved into other genres, especially in the first few episodes.
I think we got better at making it. One thing about television, and really about episodic television, that I think is pretty unique to it is you can really lean into a moment. There’s this idea that for any piece of art, there should be a useful elevator pitch, “Oh, this is a show that feels like this.” But life doesn’t feel like that. Life feels like all of those things. And like, sometimes your life is a horror movie. And sometimes it’s a romantic comedy. Part of the fun of making it is, “How close can we stick those things together? How are those things more similar than we think they are?”
Let’s talk about the finale.
I haven’t watched it yet. I know we get off the train. [Deadpan] What else happened?
Layton wasn’t a scientist. So what made him hold on to the idea of a “New Eden” so strongly?
When he first presented the idea, he totally lies to everybody and doesn’t give them any of the necessary information. It’s only until those last couple of episodes where people are allowed to make their own decisions with all of the information. He does believe that this place must exist. And even if it doesn’t, it’s probably better than what they have now. And for him as a father now, watching Miles grow up on the train and the last nine years that he’s spent on the train, the idea of bringing a child into that world is pretty unfathomable for him. And like the cyclic nature of power [a three-way tussle between Layton, Cavill and Mr. Wilford, played by Sean Bean] on the train, so for him, even the chance that it might be better was worth it. And it turned out a lot of other people felt that way too.
I’ve got a really crazy question here. Who wore the dreads better? Layton or Mekhi Phifer in “8 Mile”?
S—, I hope Layton. [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s true.
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