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This is the day when some unknown bad guys frame Hopper for the murder of the assistant D.A. The conspirators murder his girlfriend and threaten his family to force him to confess to the crime he did not commit. As he experiences the day again and again, Hopper learns tricks to save his girlfriend and avoid capture. Each episode brings him a little bit closer to the truth.

Hopper is a man of action along the lines of TV’s Jack Bauer on 24 or Lincoln Burrows from Prison Break. With the heat coming down from episode one, Hopper springs into gear immediately. All we know is that he’s a cop, his partner is involved with an internal affairs investigation, he suspects his sister is being abused by her husband and he’s dating the ex-wife of a rival detective. Other than that, it’s all unfolding before our eyes.

“As an actor, you’re trained to do a certain amount of back story,” Diggs told Dish. “This series specifically, dare I say, there’s not much time for back story only because there’s so much to deal with on the page. An acting coach told me once a long time ago, only do back story if you think it will help, or else you’ll just be working for nothing. In a situation like this, I feel like a lucky actor in that I don’t need to do much about it because it’s all jam packed on the pages of this script.”

Diggs rose to fame in the cast of Rent on Broadway, playing the landlord Benny. There, he met his wife, Idina Menzel, and began making movies. He got the girl in How Stella Got Her Groove Back and played tough guys in movies like Go and Basic, but Day Break is his first full on action hero role.

“I’ve done a couple of movies where I kind of got to shoot a gun but still be smooth, still be handsome and kind of charming. But I get to, at least I’m going to try, to let all that go with this character, as much as I can.”

His first name, Taye, comes from his childhood nickname. His given name Scott became Scottie, then Scott-taye and now just Taye. “I can figure out how long I’ve known people by who calls me what.” Only Menzel got to make up her own name for Diggs. “She calls me honey. She doesn’t call me by my name.”

Day Break takes a cue from shows like 24 and Lost, continuing stories that ask the audience to pay attention for clues that may pay off many episodes or seasons down the road. Adding the science fiction element of time travel gives viewers even more potential fodder for analysis.

“I’ve been watching the trends of television lately,” said Diggs. “I think people like to be, for an hour or so, they want to think but they don’t want to think too hard. They like the idea that they can kind of participate in the solving of a puzzle, and then the idea that they can come back. It’s kind of like one of those long chess games you play with your grandfather, whatever. I think that’s an appeal.

For me, I just got caught up in 24. It’s that along with the action element and then just feeling for the characters. I think it’s a combination of all those things. I can only hope but I can imagine that there are going to be these cats on the computers telling each other, ‘Watch the third episode, rewind it. The dog drools and then that drool affects something else.’ I would hope that people would get really, really specifics.”

Comparisons to Lost do not surprise Diggs either, though that’s no guarantee of success. “Whenever Lost comes up, and I’m not judging the intelligence of the audience, but whenever a show as challenging as a Lost comes around, there’s another simple show that does just as great if not better. So there are audiences of all different types. I think [Day Break] is along those same lines. I think it’s for someone who enjoys action and enjoys mystery and enjoys the idea of putting one’s mind to work.”

Comparisons to Groundhog Day are okay with Diggs too. “Oh, I loved it. I loved it. It’s tough to watch over again but I loved it. I thought it was a very, very interesting kind of gimmick.”

After filming the pilot, Diggs chose to experience the show one script at a time, the way an audience will find out the story as they watch every week. The producers only told him enough about the big picture to earn his trust.

“I think it’s very smart that they’re choosing to play a lot of the story lines close to the vest because it makes it even more exciting for me to read and play. I’m a heady person as is. Added to the idea that I’m an actor, so if I got too many scripts in advance, I would start going places in my head that I don’t think anybody would benefit from. So they keep a lot of that to themselves.”

Day Break is Diggs’ second foray into television. His first series, the drama Kevin Hill, lasted less than one season, though that did not disillusion Diggs from television, nor does it give him more confidence that Day Break will last. “It’s another job. For myself, it requires the same amount of confidence. I feel more confidence with the writing. With the writing and the network.”

His confidence was on full display when nit picky journalists started harassing him with repetitive questions. After the third question about whether or not the show would repeat the same scenes every week, Diggs asserted that everyone can trust him not to make a silly show, because he’s Taye Diggs. The actor did not mean to sound arrogant, or like Dave Chappelle’s impression of Rick James when he announced, “I’m Taye Diggs.”

“I didn’t mean for it to come out from an egotistical place but it came from a place of ‘I’ve been in this business’. I have somewhat of a name that I think people have come to recognize and trust. Who would I be as an actor who wants to continue working if I signed up for a show that was just silly? There’s a little bit of risk in everything in this business, but we think we’ve got it under control.”

Such confidence does not make him unapproachable. Diggs stood in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel as long as I needed to ask him the questions in this interview. Though he kept his publicist nearby, Diggs had no trouble speaking for himself. Wearing one of his trademark berets (he collects hats), Diggs kept his baritone voice measured, like a cool hero needs to under pressure.

Diggs wears a different beret for each interview and has lost count of his total tally. “I don’t even know. It’s a thing with me. Hats and sneakers.”

Unfortunately, Brett Hopper does not wear hats. “It’s a challenge and as an actor you shouldn’t use crutches, so I like the fact that outside of the obvious, this character just has me kind of stepping in someone else’s shoes, so I’m very much looking forward to that.”

The first 13 episodes of Day Break filmed in Los Angeles, which kept Diggs apart from Menzel. She took her Tony Award winning performance in Wicked to London. After filming the pilot, Diggs made plans to survive the long distance relationship.

“We have computers with cameras on it and texting and all that, so hopefully I can use that frustration and put it on screen.”

It might have been just as hard on Menzel, leaving Diggs along in Los Angeles playing lover to Moon Bloodgood and partner to Victoria Pratt. “She’s met ‘em all. She knows how to do it. Everybody’s in relationships. We’re all adults and to be honest, there’s too much to do on set to be attracted to them or anybody. I think we’re all okay.”

When asked the inevitable question about a day in his life he would like to relive, Diggs earned major brownie points. “My wedding,” he answered. “That was a pretty great day, a wonderful day, a day I’d like to relive.”

Television itself has been a uniting force in the Diggs-Menzel marriage. When they are in the same city at the same time, they share addictions. “My wife and I are disgustingly addicted to Grey’s Anatomy. I got some of the DVDs early before they aired and was upset at myself because I couldn’t watch them when they aired and watched them over again. Lost. Desperate Housewives, I’m all caught up on DVD so I am a TV watcher.”

Menzel will also have to compete with all of Diggs’ lady fans who will get to see him wake up shirtless every morning on Day Break. To get in prime shape and ready for the show’s physicality, Diggs has enlisted a personal trainer.

“I wanted to kind of get in the mindset of being a little bit more disciplined, because I tend to do as much as I can and then give up because of my parents and genetics. Right before I came here, it was every day. But I think once the show starts, I think I’m going to be able to get away with on the weekends. So I think I need a trainer even more so for that. I’ve got a nutritionist as well because I wanted somebody who could make sure I would have a lot of energy. She measured the carbohydrates, proteins, the fat and what not, making sure I can stay awake and do the job. A little less protein and a lot more carbs.”

Day Break airs Wednesdays at 9PM ET/8 Central on ABC.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 63 - September 2018
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