These days, Daveed Diggs finds himself in the eye of a hurricane. And it is quiet.
The Ivy League-educated rapper and actor from California has earned a Tony Award nomination for his work in the biggest Broadway show in a generation, and that means he’s needed for endless appearances and events.
His refuge? Onstage at Hamilton.
“Everything surrounding the show is really crazy right now and doing the show is very much the same as it’s always been — really easy and fun and kind of relaxing,” he said. “So it’s great that that’s the last thing I do every day … just go to the theater and do the thing that I know how to do best.”
16 The number of Tony Award nominations ‘Hamilton’ has garnered this year.
Diggs, 34, plays both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette, leaping off a table while employing a thick French accent at one moment and facing off against a Founding Father in a rap duel in the next.
Director Thomas Kail said Diggs leads a cast — including Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson and Jonathan Groff — that will be remembered for many years. “It’s like the 1927 Yankees,” he said. “People will look back on this program and say, ‘They were all there in this one building at the same time.’ ”
Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical tells the true story of Alexander Hamilton, an orphan immigrant from the Caribbean who rose to the highest ranks of American society. It has done what few Broadway shows have done: entered the wider culture.
“People from where I grew up are listening to the soundtrack — that’s crazy. I didn’t know a single musical soundtrack, really, growing up,” Diggs said. “Nobody listened to musicals. That wasn’t a thing I did.”
Diggs never expected to find himself on Broadway, but he and the young African-American and Latino cast of Hamilton hope to make it a place where everyone can feel welcome.
If this all goes bad tomorrow … I’ll be fine. At least I did it. At least I had it for a second.
“All the way on the West Coast, never having seen a Broadway show, it was like, ‘They don’t want me. There’s nothing there for me.’ I’d come to New York a lot and never even tried to see a Broadway show. There was no reason for me to do that,” he said.
“I didn’t care because it didn’t seem like they cared about me. That is one thing that feels like this group is working really hard to change by just moving the fence a little bit wider.”
The show has stretched Diggs, asking that he sing and learn choreography for the first time for his Broadway debut. But the former track standout and theater major at Brown University saw most of his interests collide — history, rap and stage.
After college, Diggs supplemented his income as a teacher while “doing horrible auditions for people who did not care.” Money was always tight.
“It was bad, but I’ve always had friends and family. I’ve always been very supported. I’ve never really been sad. I’ve just been broke. They are very different things.”
Diggs, who joined Miranda’s hip-hop improv group Freestyle Love Supreme, is known for his rapid-delivery rapping, a Bay Area style he honed though many hours of practice. He admires innovative, unorthodox rappers like Aesop Rock and E-40.
“I’ve always gravitated toward technical music in general. I love jazz fusion. Really technical playing has always been a thing for me, and that kind of rapping is the rap equivalent of that,” Diggs said. “It’s about muscle memory. It’s about training your mouth to do the thing that you wrote.”
The attention he’s now gotten has meant new opportunities. “I have access to a world that I just didn’t have access to before. A lot of different worlds, actually. And I have help,” he said. “That’s actually the biggest change. I was just guessing before, just trying to figure things out. Now there are people who can help me.”
Diggs won’t speculate on how long he’ll stay in Hamilton, but he’s already making new music on the side with clipping, his rap trio, and film and TV projects are coming in that interest him. Whatever happens, he’s not worried if the musical is the most popular thing he ever does.
“If this all goes bad tomorrow — and part of me feels like it will; a part of me has always felt like that — I’ll be fine. At least I did it. At least I had it for a second,” he said. “It’s all part of a journey.”
Diggs is often asked what kind of advice he has for young artists, and he is quick with an answer: “Don’t stress the timeline as much.” He explains that he had a definition of what making it was and assumed he’d reach it by 25.
“Then 25 came and went and I hadn’t figured it out. Then it was like, ‘Well, 30. Thirty’s the time,’ ” he said. “Thirty came and went and it was still a struggle. But you could look back and see the gains.”
70th annual Tony Awards
- 7 p.m. Sunday
- KTVT/Channel 11