June 7, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Taye Diggs: Music-and-dance man gone Bochco detective

Performing helps movie, TV star focus

In his new show, Diggs plays a homicide detective who's investigating a junkie's murder while he's suffering a personal crisis of his own. (MCT)

Actor Taye Diggs has always been a prankster. Sometimes it landed him in hot water.

“One girl slapped me in the face for joking too hard. I was hyper — something going on with ADD and anxiety before I even knew about it. ...

But that’s why I loved music theater and dance, I could focus it.”

On Monday fans will discover a new Diggs — previously costarred in “Private Practice,” “Ally McBeal,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” and “Equilibrium.” when he stars in Steven Bochco’s “Murder in the First” on TNT. Diggs plays a San Francisco homicide detective who’s investigating a junkie’s murder while he’s suffering a personal crisis of his own.

It’s a ways from his dance roots, which he says started with modern dance in high school.

“It wasn’t until college that I realized I needed ballet, so I took ballet in college, that was my introduction and then for me — I’m very proud of myself for this — most people graduate college, go to New York and it’s all about the auditions. But I was very confident so I said, ‘The auditions are going to come. I’m going to do what I want to do in the daytime. So I got a scholarship at Steps (on Broadway) and that’s when I focused on my dance.”

Diggs carefully devised a plan.

“I figured I’d probably get a job quickest in New York doing music theater, being in the ensemble because every ensemble had the happy black guy. I was very logical about it. So I made sure I had enough dance training so I would move well enough to be in the dance ensemble, and my first gig was in the ensemble of ‘Carousel.’ ”

The bravado that he felt then has dissipated since, he says.

“The older I get, that sense of confidence weakens. I was not cocky in any way, but I was very confident, and I had a plan and it worked out. Of course, I wanted it quicker than it happened. It was perfectly fine. Now when I look back, I’m very intrigued with that young man,” says Diggs, now 43.

Diggs is separated from his wife of 10 years, performer Idina Menzel. He says he’s been advised not to talk about the split. But he’s loquacious when it comes to their son, Walker.

“When my son was born I had no idea. I was in my 40s and I thought I’d experienced every feeling I could experience. I knew there’d be bigger and smaller, until my son was born. I didn’t know what I was feeling, which was kind of petrifying and exciting. I’ve never felt more vulnerable and to this day, it never goes away. And that’s disconcerting.”

He says that turning 40 brought about other changes. “I’ve always been very lucky, driven, but 40s was when I said, ‘OK, I’ve done really well kind of coasting, now I’m going to start to apply myself and really make some stuff happen. It was perfect timing for me. I wrote a children’s book and because people knew me, I was able to get a book deal,” he says.

Among his projects is his new company called Chocolate Me.

“We’re creating a program for children that focuses on self-esteem and anti-bullying,” he says.

He chose the company name from an incident in his childhood.

“When I was much younger, I lived in an all-white neighborhood. I was the only black kid and I got made fun of. And my mother brought me in and said, ‘You should think of yourself as chocolate because chocolate is sweet and delicious and smooth — all these good things.’ From that point on I was proud to be different.”