Daveed Diggs on How the Obama-Era ‘Hamilton’ Felt Like a Different Show Last Year Under Trump and COVID

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Jenelle Riley
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Daveed Diggs has been living with “Hamilton” since its first workshop in 2013. He won a Tony Award for his dual performance as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in 2016. And now in 2021, he finds himself up for a SAG Award for Disney Plus’ filmed version of the show. It’s a bit surreal for the actor, considering he hasn’t played the role in almost five years.

“That’s a totally different guy in that in that show,” Diggs says on this week’s episode of Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast. “So to have it come out, and this sort of revisit that time … it’s just, it’s wild, man. I think it’s probably like a pretty rare experience. You know, an art is always viewed in the context of the time in which the viewer is viewing it. And so to have a show that was on Broadway at the end of the Obama era to come out, again, towards the end of the Trump era, and also when everything was shutting down – it’s a different show now. It hits different.”

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Diggs also gets into the many famous people who came to see “Hamilton” during its run, including Busta Rhymes, who attended the show several times and regaled the actors with stories backstage. “I studied that man’s work so much when I was younger,” says Diggs. “‘Extinction Level Event’ was such a big deal for me, I probably still have every word of that album memorized.”

Earlier this week, Diggs found himself nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for portraying another historical figure, Fredrick Douglass, in Showtime’s “The Good Lord Bird.” Asked about embodying another legend, Diggs laughs, noting, “I didn’t think that was gonna be my jam, you know. But people do send them to me now.”

It was star/producer Ethan Hawke who first gave Diggs the novel by James McBride and asked him about playing Douglass. “McBride’s novel is one of the best things I’ve ever read,” Diggs says. “Once I read it, you could have offered me anything, I would have dressed up like a tree and stood in the background if there was any way I could be useful in trying to bring that story to life in a way that is was true to the feeling of reading the novel.”

In addition to “Hamilton” and “Good Lord Bird,” Diggs has been extremely busy as of late. He’s currently shooting the third season of the TNT series “Snowpiercer,” is voicing Sebastian the crab in Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid” and can be seen in a series of Door Dash advertisements with “Sesame Street” characters. The latter is a dream come true, says Diggs: “I’m nervous about what I can say about that experience, because I don’t want to break the magic for anybody. Because they also don’t break it while you’re there.” In fact, he’s “spent hours on a couch with Cookie Monster just talking, just coming up with sitcom ideas for the two of us. I cannot overstate how cool it was.”

Also on this week’s show, we speak to Alan S. Kim, the young “Minari” who has melted hearts with his portrayal of David, the youngest son of actor Steven Yeun’s character and his on-screen mom, Yeri Han.

Just this week, Kim won the Critics Choice Award in the young actor or actress category, and his tear-filled acceptance speech immediately took over social media – bringing some joy to the internet’s usually dark places.

Variety senior artisans editor Jazz Tangcay recently spoke with Kim about filming in Oklahoma, working with Yeun and his next role. He also shares his favorite movie and a few more of his favorite things. And yes, he was as adorable as you would hope.

But first, on the Awards Circuit roundtable, we go through our final predictions for this year’s Oscar nominations.

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay and Michael Schneider (who produces), is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.

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