Day Break's Taye Diggs was just a struggling actor the first time he went to Tokyo. But what happened on that trip has kept him returning to where it all began. .
So sang Taye Diggs when he starred in one of his first professional productions, a theme-park cabaret show called Sebastian's Caribbean Carnival at Tokyo Disney Resort. Diggs came to Tokyo from New York, where, one year out of Syracuse University, he was landing irregular work on Broadway and in episodic television. Then he auditioned and landed the gig with Disney … and he was off to Japan. Born in New Jersey and raised in upstate New York, he had a studio apartment in New York City, and the farthest he'd traveled from the States was to Canada. "I had no idea what to expect," he says. "I decided to take a chance and see the world." So there he was, in a straw hat, white top, and white slacks, acting as emcee in a faux Caribbean cabaret, singing Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song" to theme-park audiences of mostly Japanese tourists.
Cut to October 2006: Diggs is starring in the new ABC series Day Break, a high-concept thriller whose premise mixes the best elements of 24 and Groundhog Day. Diggs's character, Detective Brett Hopper, finds himself in the middle of the worst day of his life - again and again and again. Every morning, he wakes up to the same bad day, and only when he discovers what's wrong with his life - and fixes it - can he move on to a new morning. It's the kind of role that demands much from its star and the kind of role that most stars demand. So, if you haven't noticed, from Disney to Day Break, Diggs has made a quantum leap.
It all started after Sebastian's Caribbean Carnival. After returning from Tokyo, Diggs did time on Broadway and in television. Then came the role of Winston, the young Jamaican who falls for Angela Bassett's scorned older woman character in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. From then on, Diggs went big time, starring in movies like the Oscar-winning Chicago and the feature-film version of the Broadway smash Rent. Today, he lives in Manhattan with his actress wife, Idina Menzel (who stars as the Wicked Witch of the West in the hit musical Wicked), but he hasn't forgotten what he learned - and where he went - in Tokyo, a city he regularly returns to. Here's a weekend offstage in Taye Diggs's Tokyo.
So you went to Tokyo on Disney's dime? I went over there and had amazing experiences, made really great friends, saved a bunch of money, and had a really great time. Sebastian's Caribbean Carnival was pretty hilarious. There were costumes and a number of Japanese dancers, puppets, characters, and the whole bit. It was what everybody did there, so nobody really felt that stupid. But Tokyo was overwhelming. I don't know how politically correct this is, but I had only been where there are either a lot of white people or a lot of black people or a lot of Latinos. It was just really, really interesting to see everybody Asian. Not only was I a minority, but the Caucasian folks around me were minorities as well. It was great just to have the roles kind of reversed, even more so than I was used to.
Where did you stay then, and where do you stay now? Back then, I stayed at the Urayasu Brighton Hotel. This was where Disney put us up when we first got there, and that's continued to be one of my favorite spots. It's in the area of Shin-Urayasu, which is a neighborhood that's kind of like a suburb in the States. You know, this major hotel was just smack-dab in the middle. You have to understand where I was coming from at that point in my life. Everything was just unique, but I specifically remember the bathroom; their toilets were electronic and did amazing things. The seat would heat up. I think there was, like, a massage function on the seat, and [there was] a bidet. I spent the first few minutes in the hotel room just figuring out that bathroom. Now, I love the Park Hyatt Tokyo, where they filmed Lost in Translation. It's a beautiful hotel with the most amazing restaurants I have ever eaten in, when it comes to hotel dining. They have everything from fresh sushi and traditional Japanese to a French brasserie and American cuisine. You name it, and it is all wonderful. Especially great is their beautiful contemporary restaurant, Kozue.
What are you favorite locations or sites in the city? The Great Buddha - that was pretty incredible to visit. It was cast in 1252 AD and weighs around 200 tons. You hear about Asian culture and that everyone is a Buddhist, but it's amazing to actually go to an Asian country where they take it so seriously and to actually see this culture in person. The Buddha is in Kamakura. It's a huge bronze Buddha just sitting at the top of these stairs. To know that it is respected so much that people go and see it, not only as a landmark, but also to have it attached to their spiritual beliefs - it's kind of humbling. You can also get a pretty amazing view of the city from the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office. Not a bad place to get oriented, and it's free.