‘Hamilton’ star and first-time Emmy nominee Daveed Diggs on the legacy of the acclaimed show [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“What is a legacy?” ponders Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) toward the conclusion of “Hamilton,” Miranda’s blockbuster musical. “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” 

But a funny thing happened to the cast and crew of Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical: a filmed version of the stage production with the original cast has allowed its participants to actively watch the garden grow. Released on Disney Plus last year, “Hamilton” the movie has followed right in the footsteps of its acclaimed original production, earning awards accolades and stoking cultural conversations years after the cast took their final bows.

“It was such a formative part of my life and career,” freshly minted Emmy nominee Daveed Diggs tells Gold Derby about the Broadway musical. As a result, Diggs adds, having the movie version exist feels unique: it’s not how most productions usually extend beyond the original run. 

“That’s not how it’s supposed to work. I’m supposed to get to have this ever-changing view of what happened,” he adds. “But that didn’t happen, we captured it. It’s very strange, but it’s cool. It’s nice to have a document of a thing that was very important to people at the time and have it still be important to people. The theater is one of those things that only exist in the context of the moment it’s performed in. So having [director] Tommy Kail doing such a great job of capturing the thing and making it something you can view outside the live experience and have that be relevant to another time, we’re in a different era now, that’s really special.”

Diggs is one of seven “Hamilton” actors who received Emmy nominations this year. He’s a nominee in the Best Limited/Movie Supporting Actor category alongside fellow co-stars Anthony Ramos and Jonathan Groff. But it’s a position Diggs has been in before: he won a Tony Award for Featured Actor in a Musical at the 2016 Tony Awards ceremony and also grabbed a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for his “Hamilton” performance earlier this year.

Diggs last performed “Hamilton” on stage in 2016 (he plays the dual roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson). But, he says, revisiting the show last year allowed him to think of the work in a renewed context.

“My feeling when we were performing it five years ago at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, it was sort of a celebration of an inclusivity in America that had always been promised and we sort of hadn’t seen. There’s a lot about the Obama era that felt like that. It felt like we are seeing something here that is part of — it’s something that had been promised that had yet come to fruition,” he says. “Having the show come back at the end of the Trump era, in this summer where we had the renewed attention to Black Lives Matter because of George Floyd and a lot of attention to the racial inequities that exist in this country, it became much more of a reminder of that promise. There’s something about brown bodies taking ownership over the story of the formation of this country that in 2016 felt like a celebration and in 2020 felt dangerous. Or felt like a bit of a demand. I like that. I like that it exists in two different contexts.’

The continued “Hamilton” recognition coincides with a variety of other diverse projects on Diggs’ ledger. Just last year, Diggs starred as Frederick Douglass on the Showtime limited series “The Good Lord Bird,” adapted his 2018 indie hit “Blindspotting” for television (the Starz show stars fellow “Hamilton” alum Jasmine Cephas Jones), led the TNT drama “Snowpiercer,” and found himself voicing legendary Disney character Sebastian in the new version of “The Little Mermaid.” That part will have Diggs perform the Oscar-winning song “Under the Sea,” a task the actor initially found “terrifying.”

“I was nine years old when that film came out. Me and my dad went to the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland and stood on a line, one of the only movies I’ve ever stood in a line to see in a theater,” Diggs says of the 1989 original. “It was crazy, even auditioning for it. The audition popped up out of nowhere. I was like, ‘I don’t think they really want me for this.’”

Diggs says that while he doesn’t love to audition, he took the meeting and the rest is history.

“Once I got the role, trying to figure out my Sebastian and really separate it from [the beloved Samuel E. Wright performance]. I didn’t listen to it anymore after that really,” he says of performing “Under the Sea.” “I asked for all the instrumentation as early as possible. I just wanted to really make sure that it existed as far away from my memory of the piece as possible so I could not just be copying it — give something of my own to it.”

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