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The creative freedom of Daveed Diggs

With deep roots in ‘Hamilton,’ actor talks about why ‘black-ish’ matters

Fast rapper, Oakland, California, native, and Tony Award-winning actor Daveed Diggs, 34, is joining the third season of ABC’s black-ish for a six-show arc. He portrays Johan, the man-bunned brother of Bow, played by Tracee Ellis Ross. Diggs says that leaving the Hamilton: An American Musical roles he originated — Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson — leaves him free, and inspired.

”Black-ish is a contemporary American family. This is what people of all walks of life relate to when they watch it. These are African-American stories being told, and we see black and brown bodies performing it. It gives a contemporary sense of ownership over the history of our country that we didn’t realize we had.

”Going from stage to the small screen, it’s a totally different way of working. It’s also very much about sustaining your choices for a short amount of text over a long period of time. You do a lot of retakes. When I first started working with William Morris Endeavor, they asked if there were shows I’d be interested in being on. Black-ish was the first one out of my mouth. Part of it was because of the feeling you get from this family that just jumps off the screen. They cultivate that feeling off-camera — and that’s very much a Hamilton thing, too, to bring to your performance the exact same environment you’re cultivating when the cameras are off. And it works! I think it’s particularly important for shows that are breaking down cultural barriers. Because as much as what you’re presenting with plot, what you’re witnessing is culture. You’re bringing to a mainstream audience this idea of blackness and how varied and multifaceted that can be.

“Because as much as what you’re presenting with plot, what you’re witnessing is culture.”

And that’s what I always liked about the show. It presents an idea of blackness that’s not just one thing. That your skin color doesn’t actually dictate the way that you behave or the way that you believe. We see in these generational differences very different sorts of characters who all identify as black. And they do it in this framework of a really traditional sitcom. It’s really important to look at that and to say — ‘Oh, there’s no reason this wouldn’t have worked 10 years ago. Or 20 or even 30 years ago!’ ”This is how sitcoms work. You watch interesting people living their lives.”

Jamila Bey is a journalist and radio show host in Washington, DC. At last count, she’d been unsuccessful in 14 lotteries to win tickets to see Hamilton. She sings the entire soundtrack daily as she exercises by walking 10k to hatch her son’s Pokemon eggs while he’s at school.