Vinessa Antoine on Raising the Stakes in Diggstown

The CBC (psst, for our readers outside of Canada: those initials stand for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has been killing it in the comedy department lately. Shows like Schitt’s Creek and Baroness von Sketch offer either a sweet, optimistic escape from reality or a satirical perspective on society and current affairs.

When it comes to the network’s dramatic programming, one show, Diggstown, offers what one might call the opposite of escapism. It’s fiction, yes, but fiction that is unflinchingly founded in reality. This gritty and nuanced legal drama features the kind of timely, topical storylines that might as well be plucked from the trending pages of Twitter news. It’s an approach that has worked for the show; as of March 4th, it’s back for a second season.

Diggstown follows Marcie Diggs (played by Vinessa Antoine), who leaves her high-powered position as a corporate lawyer in season one after the suicide of an aunt. Her new job? Working for legal aid in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Following the events of this career change in the first season and the professional—and personal—ramifications, the show is now back with six new episodes.

We recently spoke with Antoine about her approach to this role, through which she made history as the first Black Canadian woman playing a lead on a Canadian prime-time drama. She even was kind enough to drop a key hint about something fans can expect from the coming episodes.

Diggstown is back for a second season! How do you think the show has evolved since season one?

This season the cases have much higher stakes than I think last season. In the first episode of season 2, Marcie is defending a cop who kills a black woman from her own community in North Preston. This season we’re also going to dive into all of the other lawyers’ personal and family lives, including a possible new love interest…

One of the great things about television—as opposed to feature films, say—is that audience members have so much time to get to know a character. We imagine that from an acting perspective, this sustained way of living in a character’s skin comes with exciting possibilities but also a whole lot of challenges. With six episodes as Marcie Diggs under your belt, had your approach to the role changed at all by the time you started filming season 2?

For me, it felt like a continuation of season 1. Although we are picking up 18 months after we end episode 6, I was still wrapped up in Marcies’s world, and it was as if episode 1 of season 2 was actually like episode 7 of season 1.

How did you research and prepare for the role of a corporate lawyer-turned-legal aid? (Make any lawyer friends?)

I watched a few legal dramas that were suggested to me but mostly I went to court a lot and spoke with a legal aid lawyer that actually works in Halifax.

Have you learned things along the way about the Canadian legal system that surprised you?

I have learned a few things along the way, but nothing surprised me.

You left a four-year run on General Hospital to star in Diggstown. What did your time on that show—and filming at such a rapid rate—teach you as a performer? (Since we’re talking about the longevity of performance, it’s worth pointing out that you filmed nearly three hundred episodes of that show!)

Wow!! That’s crazy!! Well, working on a soap is very different from anything that I’ve ever done. It was really like training a new muscle. I’d say the take-away was learning a lot of lines in a short amount of time and forcing myself to be overly prepared at all costs.

Diggstown is known for tackling a lot of tough and topical issues. How do you and the other cast members approach particularly difficult scenes? Do you have an established rapport with each other by now that helps everyone feel safe when you’re really getting into the murkier, grittier material?

Everyone deals with their own storyline and way of working very differently, I think. On set, however, there is a great deal of respect for one another’s process and we just feel each other out. But at the end of the day, we’re all a bunch of funny actors so it’s generally a lot of joking around.

Is it hard to shake off work when you’re done filming for the day and those same issues might be floating around you all over social media, the news cycle, our conversations…?

I try to stay off of social media and the news while I’m working. Mostly because I’m dead tired and have to focus on the work, but yes, it’s hard for me. I am someone who takes issues to heart and I’m still trying to find a way to let things go. It’s a work in process for sure.

What was your favourite moment from season 2 to film? Is there a scene that you’re particularly excited for fans to see? (Even if you can’t tell us exactly what it is, can you give us a little hint?)

I’ll say that we will be revisited by one of Marcie’s first clients from season 1. Their case comes as a surprise to her. The actor from that episode is very talented and a joy to work with. Ok, fine…hint: Willy…

What’s next for you?

Other than that, fingers crossed for season 3 of Diggstown!!


Diggstown airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBC.