Vinessa Antoine describes lawyer Marcie Diggs as “very vulnerable and flawed and messy.” And the actress wouldn’t have it any other way. Debuting Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBC, Diggstownâ€”created by Floyd Kaneâ€”takes the well-worn legal drama genre and presents it in an interesting new way.
When we catch up with Marcie Diggs (Antoine), she’s struggling with the death of her aunt (Karen LeBlanc). But legal cases are waiting, people need her help. Marcie’s co-workersâ€”including boss Colleen MacDonnell (Natasha Henstridge), Pam Mclean (Stacey Farber), Reggie Thompson (C. David Johnson) and Doug Paul (Brandon Oakes)â€”work with the community finding justice in cases that explore racism, gender bias and poverty.
We spoke to Vinessa Antoine and Natasha Henstridge late last year about Diggstown and what makes it different from other lawyer series.
Can you break down how this first season of Diggstown will roll out? How is it structured?
Vinessa Antoine: We follow two cases [per episode]. There’s always the case that Marcie is working on and then the case that one of the other lawyers or all the other lawyers is working on. In the first episode, we also learn a little bit about Marcie’s past in terms of her family and the tragedy that happened. And a little bit of her guilt in connection to what happened to her aunt and feeling the struggle of, ‘Where is my place in this world and am I doing the right thing? Does the justice system actually work? Am I the problem or am I the solution?’
As you were reading the scripts and you just mentioned about where’s my place in the world and is the justice system fair? What conclusion did you come to yourself? Do you know your place in the world as Vinessa?
VA: I do. Absolutely. I know that I came to this planet for a certain reason and bring certain gifts that are, I think, to be helpful. I try to use that the best way I can. I think we all think about those things. What is the path that we pick and is it actually helping anyone at the end of the day? I think that’s also Marcie as well. Is she doing this for the money or is she actually trying to help people? I know she really wants to help people, but the justice system is so flawed.
It’s so complicated. It can literally mean the difference between using the wrong word in a sentence and now you’ve completely changed someone’s life.
I assume, Natasha, you did some research into the legal system too and saw how really flawed it can be.Â
Natasha Henstridge: I’m reading a book right now that’s so about that. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. It’s about a lawyer and it’s about an underprivileged woman. It’s about a black woman who was a nurse who something goes wrong with the baby in the hospital and sort of where the justice system takes her. I have friends that are lawyers and I have not, luckily, been involved too much in the justice system in my real life. Although I meant to get arrested once. One time. I think there’s a lot of nuances, obviously, and whether it works or not, it’s not perfect by a long shot. These characters are doing the best that they know how within the confines of the system.
What attracted both of you to the project? I’m going to ask specifically about Floyd Kane in a second, but what attracted you to this?
VA: Well, for me, being able to be the lead of a show, to drive the narrative. That was obviously important, but when I start to read more into the character and talk more with Floyd, I realized how important this character is for Canada and for other countries as well. Just to see, not necessarily, a black woman in a leading role because we’ve seen that before for sure in the States with Kerry Washington and Viola Davis. Marcie isn’t necessarily a tough ball buster kind of lawyer that we usually see with main characters.
Especially with black women. Now, there’s an angry sense sometimes with some of these characters which are usually very valid and plausible, but I think this is a different way of looking at a black woman who is very vulnerable and flawed and messy and doesn’t always go for the ball busting to get her point across. She’s not necessarily cracking the whip and everybody falls into line. She’s the one breaking down crying and doesn’t understand why the system isn’t working.
NH: Such a great point. Such a great point. Very true.
What about you Natasha? What attracted you to the project?
NH: I have to say I read the script and I literally was like, ‘I need to get this role.’ They had me in mind. I went and auditioned. I loved the audition scenes, but then when I went and read the script. It was just the best thing that I’ve read and that was the bottom line for me and had nothing to do with anything else. I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture at all, to be honest with you. Which now is super meaningful having done the six episodes. I just thought, ‘Wow this is really well written and well put together.’
Then I met Floyd and [executive producer] Amos [Adetuyi] at the audition. To see someone’s attention to detail and to care so much about these characters. To collaborate and be in a situation where it’s very collaborative. Where you felt like someone wanted you to understand and where he’s coming from. I just thought, ‘Wow this man really cares. It makes you care that much more.’ I’m playing an openly gay character. I thought that was super meaningful. I have a lot of gay friends that were closeted as kids and I feel so much for their plight that they’ve been through. Although it’s only touched on so far in the beginning in the show thus far. That to me was super meaningful as well.
I’m getting the sense that it’s somewhat rare to find a showrunner that is willing to be that collaborative. Sometimes they’ve just written in stone what I’ve got is my idea for the characters the way it’s going to be. It sounds as though Floyd isn’t necessarily like that.
VA: Not at all. He’s so … even before I tested for the role he and I had a conversation with the director, Kelly Makin, on the phone. It was a really weird conversation because it was like a three-way. I dialled this special number. I think there was like, maybe a half-second delay and Floyd already is a pretty quiet gentle soul himself. There were questions that I was asking and there would be a long pause. And then he would talk and we spoke, I feel like, for a good 20 to 30 minutes. Which is unheard of I think for me, as anÂ actor, to sit down and actually conversate with the person that created this role. I had a billion questions to ask and he answered every single one of them. Even to the degree where he said, ‘You’ve actually made me go back and question some things that I wrote about the character and try to develop that even more.’
It was such a nice collaborative experience with him and then he was there so much on set. Was able to be in my ear a little bit to keep me on the right path with the character because you shoot out of sequence sometimes and you’re all over the place and the rewrites come in. I want to keep on the journey so that the viewer can follow Marcie and the story from the beginning to the end. He was so available for that.
NH: But he’s very very clear on who the people are and what they want. Which is amazing because you need the captain of the ship who actually keeps things in line and keeps you clear because it’s easy to get lost. He knowsÂ the show. It’s his show. It’s his life.
Diggstown airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and streams on CBC Gem.
Images courtesy of CBC.