On Thursday Thayer Academy Middle School students enjoyed a surprise visit from Tony-award winning actor Daveed Diggs, best known for his performance as Mr. Browne in Wonder and Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in the hit Broadway show, Hamilton. Mr. Diggs spoke to the students in a conversation moderated by Middle School counselor Mr. Jarvis Wyche about the influential teachers he had growing up in Oakland, CA, and how he balanced academics with athletics and his love for the performing arts during his time at Brown University. He then took questions from students, posed for photos, and signed posters.
Following are some highlights of the Q&A with Mr. Wyche and the students:
Q: What inspires you the most now when you think about rapping or singing or any type of project that you're looking into?
Daveed Diggs: I'm really interested right now in things that are smart. I look for projects that are not afraid of being hard to understand sometimes, or if I'm choosing a script to be in, I like scripts where there's not a foolish character in it. There can be people who act a fool, but I want to know that everybody is an interesting, thoughtful, well-developed character. That's contrary to what we are presented a lot of times, but we're in a moment where things are dumbed down for us all the time, and I think that's not useful. So I'm trying not to participate in that. That's really what inspires me. Just things that make me think in ways I haven't thought of before. So I pursue projects where I have to learn a whole bunch of stuff.
Q: How do you get into character before a performance?
Daveed Diggs: That's a good question. For me, it has a lot to do with physical things. I have to run around and get sweaty. The first time you read a play, you sit around the table and just read it and then talk about it. I'm really good at that. I really like that part. Once [the show] gets up on its feet, it's a little harder for me to get in touch with my body to turn my brain off and let my body do some of the work. And so I have to do a lot of work before I perform to get my body over-ready so it can override my brain a little bit before I stay too much in my head. So that's part of it.
And the other thing I try to do is not go over the words too much before I go on. You know, when you do TV, sometimes you get the words right then. Right before you walk in front of the camera, so sometimes you are really focused on the words, but I think the words of a performance are the least important part in some ways. You know them. Once you know them, you should be trying to forget them so you can just live in that moment. So the two things I try to do is forget the words and get my body active.
Q: Do you have any words of advice that you have for 12, 13, 14-year-olds?
Daveed Diggs: Two things. One, you are enough. There is enough inside you right now. There's more than enough, and I think a big part of your job over the course of your life will be finding all of the things that you already have right now. There's going to be a lot of times when people are going to tell you that you're not enough, and they're wrong. And you can tell them.
The other thing is that I think I was very stressed about the timeline. Those of you who are artists, you will probably go through this at some point if you continue to pursue that, but that I turned 21 and I was still struggling and didn't have any success... And I turned 25 and I was still struggling, trying to figure out how to eat. And I turned 30, I was still stressed about how long it was taking, and I'm 35 now. And y'all just learned about me last year. You know what I'm saying?
But I've been doing this for a long time. Since I was your age. So to me, that feels like a long time, but when I also think about it, I wasn't ready for the life that I am living right now any time before now. So I think you have to just trust in your process and trust that if you're making decisions wholeheartedly, you're making the right decisions. And the timeline is going to be what it is. You can control the things you can control, but not anything else.