Why Daveed Diggs Finally Said Yes to Playing Frederick Douglass for The Good Lord Bird
[…] So you read the novel and then what made you say yes?
Well … it’s not a goal of mine to play historical figures.
Really? Are you sure?
[Laughs] Yeah. It’s not on my vision board. But I’ve been asked to play Douglass before. I’ve said no every time, for plays or for other movies. I’m not really interested in the hero worship that we normally do with our biographies. I don’t think it’s useful. I think dehumanizing people like that makes it very difficult to appreciate how amazing they are. And so then to read this portrayal … The brilliant trick that McBride did was framing everything through Onion’s eyes. It’s a cross-dressing slave boy, which allows so much to be ridiculous! Imagine you’re a 13-year-old slave kid and you come across Frederick Douglass, the most famous man in the world, who has a Black wife and a white mistress and lives in opulence in the North. Of course he’s ridiculous. That feels honest to me.
[…] There’s this line in the Fourth of July speech where Douglass says, “For revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.” Was it hard to give that speech knowing that the same things Douglass was saying then you could say right now?
I think it’s why we need to bring that speech up every Fourth of July. It sucks that that is true, but it is not hard to say, because it’s always been true for me. There’s never been a time in my life where that wasn’t true.
It’s funny. I’ve been part of all these pieces that every time one comes out, it’s like, “Well, it’s incredible because it’s happening right now, because it’s so relevant.” When we put Blindspotting out in 2018, it was like, “Well, this is really hitting home right now.” But we started writing that in 2009. About Snowpiercer, people said the same thing: “It’s so prescient. You couldn’t have possibly known, but isn’t that amazing?” Well, yeah, but climate change was [already] a fucking thing. It’s always been a thing.
Every year on the Fourth of July, every American should have to read that speech and take stock of it and say, “How far have we come? What work do we need to do?” It’s a really good barometer.