The titular character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch is not a role Taye Diggs thought he would ever get to play. The off-Broadway-turned Broadway hit musical by John Cameron Mitchell saw a slew of actors like Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells, and Michael C. Hall all portray the story of the glam and punk rock transgender woman as she travels from East Germany to America on tour. But for Diggs, taking on the iconic part, and donning those diva heels represented both a challenge and a breakthrough. “It never occurred to me that that was a possibility [for me] or for any other black person with muscles [to be cast],” he told Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR’s Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York. “So that in itself, I was very honored and humbled.” The show required that Diggs wear heels, makeup and take on a German accent, in addition to “…tucking your penis up places,” he said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but, as corny as it sounds, the most gratifying.”
Diggs’ body of work is extensive. His career in entertainment took off over 25 years ago with Broadway’s revival of Carousel in 1994; he originated the role of Benny in RENT; and played the bandleader in the film version of Chicago. His 1998 role as actor Angela Bassett’s love interest Winston Shakespeare in How Stella Got Her Groove Back still gets him recognition today. “I’ve been lucky enough to have been around for so long… now it’s interesting because I have had people say, ‘You’re my grandma’s favorite.’” Diggs said.
He may be making fans all over the age spectrum, as Diggs has written three different children’s books over the last decade: the first was Chocolate Me!; followed by Mixed Me!; and then I Love You More Than…. Diggs said Chocolate Me was based off of his own childhood, growing up as a black child in an all-white neighborhood.
“All of the kids didn’t understand why my skin was different than theirs. It was harmless, but they called it dirt. They asked me why I was dirty on one side of my body and clean on the other,” Diggs recalled. “And that’s when my mother kind of flipped the script and called me chocolate and made me feel better. She made that five-year-old mind able to understand self-esteem.”
Diggs said he wrote Chocolate Me! because he wanted to instill his mother’s wisdom in other kids that might encounter the same problems as he did. He wrote Mixed Me! for his own bi-racial son, and “[I Love You More Than…] was just for people that are away from their loved ones when they want to be closer to them more often.”
Diggs’ latest television project, All American — on The CW and Netflix — is based on the life of retired NFL linebacker Spencer Paysinger. Diggs portrays Paysinger’s high school football coach, Billy Baker. “I’m having a good time. It’s great, this whole ‘getting older’ thing,” Diggs said. “I’m the oldest cat on set and with all these really, really good looking young people. I’m playing all the practical jokes and I’m the silly adult.” All American was just renewed for a second season.
For his Ask Me Another challenge, Diggs was joined on stage by actor DeWanda Wise for a special edition of “This, That or the Other.” He and Wise had to guess whether a plot summary was describing an original series Twilight Zone episode, a romantic comedy or a picture book from the New York Public Library’s list of 100 great children’s books.
On being told he looked like the most muscular Hedwig ever:
“Yeah, I was. I’m happy they allowed that.”
On pranking his fellow ‘All American’ castmates on set:
“I like to scare people a lot. People don’t like to be scared, but I think it’s very funny.”