CBC’s Diggstown is back for its second season. The series stars Canadian actress Vinessa Antoine as Marcie Diggs, a star corporate lawyer who joined a Halifax Legal Aid clinic last year to help her community fight injustice.
The TV Watercooler caught up with Antoine to discuss the conversations about race that are being explored in Diggstown, her exit from General Hospital (where she originated the role of Jordan Ashford – we’ll always remember Jordan and Anna’s bench talks) and if daytime television could ever become truly inclusive.
What drew you to Diggstown?
There were two aspects [at the time]. I loved that she was a surfer. I hadn’t really seen a lot of lawyers who surfed on TV before. Especially black women. So that was kind of cool. The second was that I was really interested in telling stories from that narrative of a black woman who lived in Canada. We hadn’t really seen that before. Especially one from Nova Scotia.
Was surfing something you got into when you first moved out to Los Angeles?
I did a little bit of it when I first moved to L.A., but it was nothing serious by any means. I was really just learning the basics. I did a tiny bit and then I fell of fit because it was really hard. [Laughs] This woman was kind enough to let me use her board and wetsuit. I told a small fib during my audition, “Oh yeah, I surf!” But I wasn’t anywhere near the level that I needed to be [at that time].
But it all worked out.
Yes! I had to get back out into the water and actually train.
There’s a lot of murder in the first two episodes of this season.
There is! The second season is a lot darker. Floyd Kane (the show’ creator, showrunner, and writer) put a lot more emphasis on basing these stories on real cases that have happened.
Usually, we have a white cop who accidentally kills a black person but in the first episode (of the season) we had an Asian cop being responsible. Marcie, who is defending him, is put in a tough position because of her job and her standing in the community. Can you share with us the complexities of how that played out?
It was important for the writers to tell the story from a Canadian point of view. I think we’ve seen that story time and time again of a white cop accidentally shooting a black person. In this case, it was interesting to have a focus on the relationship between the police and the black community in Nova Scotia. I think it helped tell the story further by having Marcie defend the cop. Usually, the lawyer on TV is representing the victim. It was a really interesting spin on it. It forces the audience to ask themselves deeper questions about the notions about their own relationship with the police as well as the relationship the police have with the black community.
The show will also explore having the Indigenous and Black communities working together this season.
Yes, and it’s something that I haven’t seen a lot of or enough of. There’s sometimes this idea that everybody struggles against the system – where we are one and the same and we’re all struggling and fighting the same fight. While that may be true in certain communities, we have this idea that maybe the Indigenous community and the black community are fighting the same fight.
In that specific episode, we think that we are joining forces and we’re on the same uphill battle but it’s going to show that the Indigenous community is fighting a very different fight. Their way may not be the way that the other communities are fighting. It’s a nice pairing to see when you see these two groups come together. It’s very rare. Both groups have been oppressed for so many years. It’ll be nice to see them come together this way, and not when it’s a period piece because we have seen that before. They come together in 2020 in a new, fresh way. I’ve certainly loved working with Brandon Oakes (who plays Doug). He’s a phenomenal actor.
Will we see more of Marcie’s personal life this season? She’s single.
Oh, yes. There’s a nice surprise [coming up]. She’ll be dating. Some of the other cast members will also be dating – and there’s a love triangle coming up. Avery (Dwain Murphy) and Marci perhaps might be dabbing in some taboo romance.
So, it’s not just all murder this season.
Not just murder! We’ve got some taboo sexual tension all over the place. [Laughs]
Do you enjoy doing six-episode seasons? These short seasons remind me of the British shows.
Personally, I would love to have more than six episodes a season. Maybe something with eight or ten. By the time I was done filming the fourth or fifth episode, I felt like I was finally starting to dig my heels in and was ready for another six. It’s definitely the way that they are doing things in the UK. We did find a way to jam-pack a lot in a short amount of time. It was probably very challenging for the writers as they’ve got to make sure that each character gets to have a real slice of life in those six [episodes].
With only six episodes in each season, were you hoping you could continue your role as Jordan Ashford on General Hospital? At the time of your departure, you could easily have gone recurring like most of the cast.
Yeah…no. That was not [the case]. I thought that I would get to stay. It was quite a shocker for me. I never planned to leave the show. I was hoping to get to do what the other actors get to do…go on a little sabbatical. I knew that we were only going to be gone for the summer, so I thought maybe my character could go away on an undercover mission or fall into a coma. But they had other plans, which was out of my control.
No disrespect to the actress that took over the role, but I thought it was really cold of them to finally give Jordan and Curtis (Donnell Turner) that wedding after you left. It seemed very harsh to do that to the fans as well.
Me too. We had all these plans to do this really cool wedding and of course when we’ve got all this wonderful footage of Curtis and Jordan from over the years. We could have cut together this really cool walk down memory lane and we thought of some wonderful songs that spoke to their relationship.
[The opportunity] to get to do a wedding after for that soap couple would have been icing on the cake! I really wanted to give the audience that moment. As much as I am happy to be where I am now, I think that [not getting to do that wedding]will always be a sore spot for me. I wanted to give the audience that soap opera wedding moment. It’s something we all crave.
It was disheartening. Daytime doesn’t get many popular black pairings. It’s sad that this is the route General Hospital took. If they had recast Laura right before the big Luke and Laura wedding, it wouldn’t have been the same, would it?
Right. We want to have those flashback clips so that we can cry and smile along with the relationship and feel the fullness of what that really is. It’s a Cinderella moment. It’s a shame.
But you did luck out. Diggstown received a lot of attention when it premiered for the fact that this was the first time a black woman helmed a Canadian primetime drama. Congratulations on that!
Do you think that daytime could ever become more inclusive as a medium?
Personally, from my experience and seeing how things are done, I think that there is one particular soap, The Young and the Restless, that based on their track record, has been able to put those storylines in the forefront. The era in the 1990s with the late great Kristoff St. John (Neil) and Victoria Rowell (Dru). That was a very beautiful and interesting time. I haven’t’ seen it repeat itself. I do feel that if there’s one soap that could do it [again], it would be Y&R.
In my experience, I don’t think that the others have the capacity to want to do that or see the importance of doing that. Some people use to make the joke, “General Hospital? Generally White Hospital.” It’s a generally white show. That’s just the way it is. I think that if you get hired on that show as a person of colour, you do the best you can. It’s good work. But, you’re not going to be someone who is on the forefront.
What was the last show you binge-watched?
High Fidelity with Zoë Kravitz and our [Canada’s] wonderful Rainbow Sun Francks. I wanted to watch it because of Rainbow and I love Zoë, so I watched the first episode and then I paused it…went to the kitchen, grabbed a plate of food, got some wine and changed into my sweatpants. I was in it for the long haul – I’m going in! I just kept watching back to back.
It’s a perfect weekend binge.
Yes, it is!
Diggstown airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (8:30 NT) on CBC and CBC Gem.