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Taye Diggs on Empire

There are some artists who are best known by, and even practically define, a certain era of show business, while an actor like Taye Diggs has managed to survive a few vastly different (albeit recent) eras, approaching each forthcoming generation with a new role to prove himself a prominent force of talent. Today’s generation knows him best as Coach Billy Baker on the CW teen sports drama All American, while elder fans may recognize him from his days on Broadway.

The 39-year-old, New Jersey-born star of stage, television, and film has been a scream king (starring in the 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill), an action villain (playing a disciple of an emotionless dystopia opposite Christian Bale in Equilibrium), a heartthrob (in Brown Sugar, The Best Man films, etc.), and even a game show host (for The CW’s short-lived hypnosis challenge Hypnotize Me) among other things throughout Taye Diggs' illustrious career since he first made his screen debut as a poker player in a 1995 Tupac music video. I would not be surprised if that last tidbit of trivia is something that few fans actually knew about Taye Diggs. Well, there is more where that came from.

If you could not already tell by the impressive variety of his filmography, Taye Diggs is a man of many talents and many layers beneath his celebrity persona. With the following six intriguing facts about the actor, we reveal the depth of his most unique and fascinating character: himself. We begin at the grass roots of his life as an artistic performer.

Taye Diggs in How Stella Got Her Groove Back

Taye Diggs Began Performing At Busch Gardens

You might be surprised to learn that a prestigious hot spot for rising stars in show business is none other than Busch Gardens: one of the top amusement parks in the United States. Taye Diggs (who performed in many live shows and even taught people to dance at the Williamsburg, Virginia location in the early 1990s) is actually one of a few well-known actors who impressed talent scouts by their work at the theme park, including Bad Hair star Blair Underwood. The gig would be the first step to landing one of his best-known stage roles, which would affect his life in more personal ways than he may have expected.

Taye Diggs and Idina Menzel on Sesame Street

Taye Diggs Was Concerned About Fans’ Reaction To His Split From Rent Co-Star Idina Menzel

In 1996, Taye Diggs originated the role of Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III in the Tony-winning Broadway production of Rent, which also featured Idina Menzel as Maureen Johnson - both of whom would reprise their characters in Chris Columbus’ film adaptation of the musical in 2005. The co-stars fell in love and then married in 2003 (at the same Jamaican resort where Diggs’ feature film debut How Stella Got Her Groove Back was filmed, actually) and would have a son named Walker, only to divorce 11 years later. The only ones who seemed more heartbroken over the split than the famous couple were their fans, which Diggs talked to Redbook about with the following emotional reveal:

I'd be lying if I said there weren't times when I thought, Oh, man, people are going to trip out [if we split]. Maybe they thought it was cute that we met in Rent. There weren't a lot of couples like us in the theater community—and I know there aren't a lot of performers as talented as she is… and then you have the whole mixed [race] thing. It was easy for people to root for us. Right now, we're still trying to figure out a lot of stuff because we're on different coasts and our son is getting older.

Idina Menzel, better known these days as the voice Elsa from Frozen, has since remarried Aaron Lohr (who also starred alongside the former couple in the Rent movie), but Taye Diggs has dished to various outlets, including Us Weekly, about sharing in the joys of co-parenting with his ex-wife. Thankfully, it sounds like a far less damaging affair than what his character in The Best Man went through, which for Diggs, was more in the literal sense.

Nia Long and Taye Diggs in The Best Man

Taye Diggs Did Not Expect Nia Long To Actually Slap Him In The Best Man

Writer and director Malcolm D. Lee’s 1999 romantic dramedy The Best Man stars Taye Diggs as an author whose semi-autobiographical book causes a stir between him, friends, and an almost-flame (Fatal Affair’s Nia Long) at a Brooklyn wedding, for which he is as the best man. A behind-the-scenes clip, courtesy of TV One, reveals that a scene when Long’s character family slaps Diggs was especially intense for him, as it was such a painful and unexpected move that he said at the time he swore he would never work with the actress again. Of course, that would come to no avail as they both reprised their roles in the 2013 sequel, The Best Man Holiday.

Kate Walsh and Taye Diggs on Private Practice

Taye Diggs Was A Huge Grey’s Anatomy Fan Before Shonda Rhimes Cast Him On Private Practice

The Best Man Holiday, set at Christmastime, was a critical and commercial success - proving to be a worthy follow-up to the end of Taye Diggs’ six-year stint as Dr. Sam Bennett on Private Practice. Landing a starring role on the medical drama, created by Shonda Rhimes and centered on Kate Walsh’s Grey’s Anatomy character Addison Montgomery, was actually a dream come true for Diggs. He told TV Guide, in a 2007 preview of the series’ debut, that he was big admirer of Rhimes as a writer and had followed her hit show that Private Practice was spun-off from “like it’s nobody’s business.”

Taye Diggs and Daniel Ezra on All American

Similarities To His Own Struggles With Racial Identity Attracted Taye Diggs To All American

In addition to leading the cast of short-lived crime drama Murder in the First and a recurring spot on Empire, Taye Diggs’ biggest TV role since Private Practice is arguably on All American, in which he plays the coach of young South Central football player Spencer James (Daniel Ezra) who is recruited to play for a Beverly Hills high school team. When The New York Times asked the actor what about the part interested him, sports had nothing to with his answer in the following response:

This one was very specifically poignant to what is happening today in this country, in society and also in my life. It deals with socioeconomics and race, sexuality and identities. Spencer moves in with my family, and I’m married to a white woman and have two biracial children. So everybody’s challenged when it comes to how they identify themselves and how other people identify them. And that’s something I’ve had to deal with being an African-American young man with an education, and people stereotyping me. There’s one line where in the show my son asks me if I think he’s black enough. And that really hit me hard because there were times in my life when I’ve asked myself and my mother that.

The fact that themes of racial identity in All American so strongly appealed to Taye Diggs should come as no surprise as the topic has been relevant in many of his most notable career efforts. I should clarify, however, that I am not just talking about his acting...

Taye Diggs promoting Mixed Me! on The Wendy Williams Show

Taye Diggs Moonlights As A Children’s Book Author

In 2015, Taye Diggs appeared on The Wendy Williams Show to promote his illustrated book Mixed Me!, inspired by his and Idina Menzel’s bi-racial son, Walker. This was a follow-up to Chocolate Me!, his 2011 debut as an author of books that aim to explain the complexities of race for younger minds. Diggs now has four children’s books under his belt, also including I Love You More Than… (a more personal story inspired by his relationship with his child) and My Friend, which is due for release in early 2021.

What do you think? Do Taye Diggs’ books sound like something you would read to your children, or would you rather read something more in line with his The Best Man character’s work for your own entertainment? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates on the all-American All American actor, as well as even more inside looks into the lives of your favorite celebrities, here on CinemaBlend.

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