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Taye Diggs: From paying the 'Rent' to 'Ally McBeal'

Taye Diggs
Taye Diggs has established himself on Broadway and in the movies. Now he's joined the cast of "Ally McBeal" as a rainmaking lawyer  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- You may know Taye Diggs as Benny, the sexy landlord in Broadway's "Rent." Or you may recognize him as Winston, the sexy Jamaican islander in "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." Or you may remember him as Harper, the sexy novelist in "The Best Man."

Now, Diggs tackles a new role, his first regular gig on the small screen. He is the newest cast member on the hit show "Ally McBeal," and he plays -- what else -- a sexy lawyer named Jackson Duper.

CNN went down to the Los Angeles set during his first week to talk to Diggs, 30, about his new gig -- and his favorite old one.

See Taye Diggs on 'Showbiz Today Reports' at 2:30 p.m. today, February 26
CNN's Entertainment News Lori Blackman sits down with actor Taye Diggs

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CNN: What can you tell me about your character, Jackson Duper?

Taye Diggs: I guess the character is kind of smooth. He's into sweeping people off their feet, and if they are not swept then something is wrong. He's hired as a rainmaker for the law firm of Cage and Fish, which is someone who is hired to bring in a lot of clients very quickly. (And) a few of the characters aren't too pleased about that.

CNN: You've been working steadily for the last couple of years, but the night before you come on to do a show like this, do you get a little nervous? Do you get first-day jitters?

Diggs: Oh yes, I was very, very nervous. One, because I haven't done that much television. Two, I was watching this show before things really happened for me.

As corny as it sounds, this is really a fantasy come true. I am working with the actors that I was sitting on the couch saying; "Oh, it must be awesome to work with those guys ... man oh man." Then, to just find myself on the set in the middle of scenes with these actors ... it just blows me away.

CNN: How did everyone react to you on your first day?

Diggs: Everybody was unbelievably friendly. Everyone was very professional and hilarious.

Diggs on
"As corny as it sounds, this is really a fantasy come true," Diggs says of working with the "Ally McBeal" cast  

I had no idea that the amount of improv that happens on set. You get in and you immediately start shooting and the comedy just appears. And Peter McNicol and Calista (Flockhart) and Lucy (Liu), they are all just brilliant.

CNN: Now, a lot of characters have some unusual quirks that they display throughout the course of an episode. Are we going to see any twitches or anything like that?

Diggs: From me, not too many. I think David (Kelley, "Ally"'s creator) planned it so that I am one of the people in the middle that makes you realize how crazy everyone else is. I come in and I am completely thrown out of whack at how crazy all of the members of the firm are acting.

CNN: Are there going to be any romantic entanglements between your character and any of the ladies?

Diggs: I would think so, but I still have no idea. There is definitely that possibility.

CNN: You originated the role of Benny on the original Broadway production of "Rent," so you can sing, and sing well. I am starting to think singing is a prerequisite for cast members on "Ally McBeal." Do you think they are going to have your character sing as well?

Diggs in
Diggs played the role of the landlord, Benny, in the original Broadway production of "Rent"  

Diggs: I hope so. There was definite talk of that when I met with David Kelley, so I am hoping that I definitely get the chance to use the vocal cords a bit.

CNN: "Rent" was such a high-profile show. Do you look back on that time with soft spot different from other projects that you have done in the past?

Diggs: Oh absolutely, because not only was it a special moment for me, but it was a special moment for everyone. You know what I mean: We were on magazine covers, (and) it was my first time doing publicity and interviews and having to sign autographs, so it definitely broke me in, and started what was to come. And just emotionally, I am very close still with all of the members of the cast.

CNN: Your first big-screen performance was opposite Angela Bassett in "How Stella Got her Groove Back." It was lead role in a huge film. What was that like for you?

Diggs: In hindsight, I don't know what I was on or what I was thinking, but at the time I remember telling myself that there was no time to be nervous because this was a big chance and you just gotta rise to the occasion and bring it. Fortunately, that worked to my advantage.

Diggs in
In his first big-screen performance, Diggs played leading man opposite Angela Bassett in "How Stella Got her Groove Back"  

But now, when I look back, I get nervous (thinking about) that first day on set with Angela Bassett. I don't know who I thought I was. But things ran really smoothly, and I am thankful for that.

CNN: And after that film, you were in hit ensemble films like "Go," "The Wood," and "The Best Man."

Diggs: "The Best Man" is the movie I am most proud of. Of all the roles I have had to play, it was closest to who I am as a person and where I was in my life as well, and I just think everybody did excellent work.

CNN: What would you like to do with your career from this point forward?

Diggs: To be honest, I am trying to catch up with Will. I am coming after you, Mr. Smith. You and me, partner. Bring your boxing gloves. I know you're doing Ali, (so) you better get your ass in shape.

'Ally McBeal'

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