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Daveed Diggs is considered many things: an actor, rapper, singer, producer—and now “margarita-aficionado.”
Known for the TV spin-off series of his movie Blindspotting, and a breakout performance in the award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton, Diggs will now take on the role of mixologist and go head-to-head with Courteney Cox and Andy Cohen in an “The Ultimate Margarita Showdown” run by Cointreau.
In addition to finding out if a spicy habanero marg (Diggs’ creation, since he says that no one loves a boring cocktail) can become the new drink of the summer, Cointreau will donate $100,000 to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, on behalf of the winner to continue to support the bar and restaurant community during the pandemic recovery process.
Diggs spoke to Rolling Stone about his desire to give back through cocktails, what makes for a good adaptation, and witnessing wild audience reactions in theaters.
What inspired you to team up with Cointreau, and why did you feel like it was a good time?
I mean, I do love a Margarita, yes. [laughs] But it was also the opportunity to donate to the Independent Restaurant Coalition. Having a lot of friends who are in the restaurant industry who have suffered over the course of this pandemic, as they start to come back, it felt like a nice way to be able to support them. And I was going to get to drink potentially several margaritas.
Aside from a Cointreau margarita what’s your go-to, night-on the town cocktail, versus your stay-at-home “I need to unwind” drink?
This changes up all the time, but at home I’ve been really into Negronis lately. Which is, you know, not very difficult to make, but for some reason feels like an event. Or if it’s hot out I’ve been into basically what’s called a Gin Sour, also known as ‘The White Lady’. It’s basically gin, lemon, and Cointreau. Super delicious and refreshing. My favorite thing when I’m out is going to some cocktail bar with somebody who makes something crazy. I prefer to turn the reins over to a mixologist, and say something like, “I like gin and sour things.” Then they mix something up and say, “No, I know what you want.” But that’s the fun part for me.
Virtual events have kept the hospitality industry and the creative arts afloat during the pandemic. But do you think there will be a hybrid model going forward, or are people just ready to jump back into communal experiences?
I don’t know, but people are certainly ready to jump back in. I think it remains to be seen how smart or effective that’s going to be. What I hope is that we’ve learned a lot about how to adapt. I had never lived through a pandemic before, certainly not on this scale. So all of the skills that we came up with — how to stay connected, how to continue to create our spaces — all of these things that we learned over time I think are important to have in our back pocket. You know, there are a lot of things about the world we live in that may get worse by climate change. These skills may come in handy for us again. So and as scary as that is, hopefully we won’t need it and hopefully we can all get back to the living and being together in real life.
That’s honestly a very realistic perspective. I think that after a year and a half of lockdown, everyone is really ready to declare this the “post-Covid” summer, or the “hot vaxx summer.” What do you think this summer will hold for you?
I hope it’s just the summer of family for me. I would just love to actually get to spend some time with my mom. But again, our perspective on this is fiercely Western, and really mine is American. I spent a lot of the pandemic in Canada, too, and there are many places in the world that don’t have the access to vaccine that we do. Until that becomes true, our travels still going to be greatly restricted. The way we used to move through the world is not back. There are a lot of communities that are going to struggle with the effects of this pandemic for a long time in ways that we won’t feel now. I always think about those things. Summer is different in different parts of the world, so there’s no such thing right now as a global summer of “blank.”
One thing that really connected us during the pandemic was TV and movies, especially with the way the industry had to adapt to screenings and releases online. Was there anything you watched that helped you get through?
I definitely consumed a lot of TV, particularly old things that I had never watched, but wanted to watch before. I watched a lot of British mysteries. There was a lot of Miss Marple that I had yet to see, and I got really into this show called Rosemary and Thyme. That’s kind of my thing.
I’m also fortunate I got to make a lot of things. A lot of my work was shifting to a behind-the-scenes focus, anyway. With the time to sit down [due to the pandemic], I think it would’ve helped those things in some ways, even though I would rather that not have happened, obviously. We wrote [Blindspotting] during all this, which was shot entirely during the pandemic, and that sucked. It was really hard to do. But what we were able to really focus in on was the writing because of the lack of distraction around us. We ended up benefiting from some of that.
Speaking of which, Blindspotting is essentially a TV continuation that expands upon the world in the film, similar to the way that Snowpiercer wasn’t a one-to-one adaption. Now that you’ve been spending more time behind the scenes, what do you think makes for a successful adoption?
I think whether you’re adapting something or not, the best way to make something good is to have whoever is at the center of it really be their passion project. Those things have a much greater chance of being great than a lot of what’s created in the business by just throwing names together. We have this idea that came out of someone’s head that the creator isn’t the person who should write, and in fact, we’re actually going to hand it off to a different writer with more clout. Those things have a really hard time.
But it’s so hard to make something, it’s hard to make anything, right? Even harder to make something good. So it really should be somebody’s baby. That’s the only thing I’ve learned so far, is that somewhere at the center of a project there has to be someone who would be doing this whether or not they were making a single dollar. Those have always been the best things I’ve worked on.
What I’ve missed the most about being in a theater in-person was the communal experience of witnessing people’s reaction to. Have you ever had a moment where you were at a movie, or watching a musical, and the audience had a wild reaction?
Oh, yeah it’s the best. You almost expect that kind of thing — my favorite movie-going experience was the first time I ever saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Me and my dad went to the AMC Kabuki 8 in San Francisco. The experience was so cool, because after that first fight scene, when [Shu Lien and Jen] are on top of the building, no one had ever seen anything like that before. The whole audience stood up and applauded in the theater. I still remember that and thinking, these performers, they cannot hear you. But it was a sort of visceral reaction everybody in there had, like you couldn’t do anything but stand up and clap. You had to express it in some way. And that’s the kind of thing that I’m chasing with all of the work that I do. So you can make a moment like that where people feel so compelled to get up, whether or not they’re interacting with live artists.