By BRUCE DENNILL
Diggstown is a Canadian legal drama that airs on Universal TV (Thursdays, 8pm, DStv Channel 117) in South Africa. Vinessa Antoine plays Marcie Diggs, who leaves a high-powered corporate job to work in a legal aid clinic in a small town.
Playing the title character in a big series – is it a different type of feeling or pressure to being part of the ensemble (whether it’s a film or a series)?
There’s more pressure, definitely – you’re carrying the weight of the show. I’m in 70-80% of the scenes. But I think it’s more about setting a level of work ethic. I saw a lot of difference in that regard; kind of setting the bar in terms of presence. It starts with the director and the lead or leads to set the tone or the mood of the show. If I’m in a bad mood, there’s a trickle-down effect. But I’m mostly in a good mood!
You live in LA, have danced in New York and are starring in a Canadian series who surfs, no less. How has all of that – the different communities and cultures – prepared you as a performer when it comes to portraying a lawyer who cares, and is actually truly interested in justice?
Me being Canadian and having parents from Trinidad & Tobago means I can understand the immigrant mindset, and Canada is a real mix. My whole life has been about moving around – a continued circle of taking in culture. It’s the same for my character. She ends up in Novia Scotia, which has the largest black community in Canada.
How important are messages that mean something to you personally in scripts? Obviously, most of the time you can’t directly influence what themes are included in an episode or series you get cast in, but in terms of job satisfaction, it’s an element that can make a difference?
As an actor, I’m always happy to work. I’ve been offered numerous roles, from reality series to stories set in outer space. To have a role that tackles real issues feels like killing two birds with one stone. I wouldn’t call myself an activist, but it’s good to support something that matters.
Are you aware of any topics that have benefitted from gaining a platform in Diggstown; any important conversations that have been started?
One of the talking points in the show is that my character surfs – it’s not something you often see a black woman doing. A lot of people think it’s funny, but it’s actually started a community in Nova Scotia. After four years of the show, there’s a group of interested surfers who have now formed an association – the North Preston Surf Program – full of young black surfers, many of them girls.
Does professional and personal merge in any way in this regard? Have you had your eyes opened to new areas of society or causes that you find yourself wanting to invest in more off-screen?
Sadly, no. These are not new issues for me. There have always been problems in the black community, unfortunately. But it’s good to be raising awareness of those who don’t know about them.
Playing a lawyer can often mean learning almost a whole new language in terms of legal jargon. How did you get yourself comfortable with the terminology and having it feel natural in your mouth? Is it similar to perfecting an accent or other vocal or linguistic aspect of your craft?
I always do the research for a role. Whoever I’m playing, I need to know exactly what I’m talking about. With Diggstown, the creator of the show is a lawyer, so the material makes sense. With all the work I’ve done, I’d pretty much call myself a bona fide lawyer now! But once I leave the set, I leave all that behind. It doesn’t come into the rest of my life in any way.