Previewing TNT’s CLAWS with Evan Daigle

Evan Daigle, photographed by Akeem Biggs

Evan Daigle may not yet be a face you recognize – but the Louisiana native, who only realized in the past few years that his calling was to be an actor, turns in a great debut performance in TNT’s CLAWS. A newcomer working among small screen royalty in Dean Norris and Niecy Nash, Evan told me on a call this week to discuss his show, that “when people ask…what’s your favorite part of the experience, definitely 100% getting the opportunity to work with these seasoned, veteran, amazing actors.”

His role as Uncle Daddy’s (Dean Norris) boyfriend Toby deepens with every episode; what was supposed to be one scene in the pilot quickly turned into a recurring role in 9 out of 10 season 1 episodes, the last of which he’ll go back to film this week.

On our call, we covered the excitement of joining the show, even if it meant school went on hold, along with what to expect this season, diversity on TNT, and what comes next for him.  Check out the Q&A and be sure to tune into CLAWS on TNT at 10/9c Sunday.

Congratulations on being involved in not on your first show, but a show that already comes with a ton of great buzz!
Yeah, it’s been great honestly. It’s true, this is my first job. So, the entire experience from the start has been unreal and so amazing to me. But, the fact that now we’re getting so close to the premiere and the buzz around the show has been amazing and the reviews have been great. I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to be a part of a show that looks to be like such a success for my first project. I’m so excited.

So, getting involved, you’re working, you’re going to school. How did the script come to you? How did you find your way to this audition? What was getting involved with CLAWS like for you?
Well, I was going to school for theater and auditioning for film and television on my off-time, full-time for about two years. And so, I was really just auditioning for whatever small parts would come through New Orleans because that’s where … I got hired out of New Orleans locally. And so, we never really get to audition for the really big parts on the movies and TV shows that come through. But, it just so happened that I had an audition for the pilot of CLAWS for the character Toby who was originally only supposed to be in one scene in the pilot. And so, that’s how I was able to audition for it. And, after we filmed and after we got a green light for the series, the creators and the producers decided to have me back on and I’m going to end up being in nine out of the 10 episodes.

It’s a kind of Cinderella story. You never expect that the first time out to kind of go well and then keep going well and from what it sounds like it, keep going well again. That has to be surreal. I can’t imagine.
Yeah, no, honestly [laughs] it’s been crazy. I can’t really describe in words how I feel about it just because it’s such an incredible change in my life. The enormity of the situation sort of has taken time to settle in at different points, but I’m just so incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to start my career and exactly what I want to do. I am forever grateful to Eliot Laurence, the creator of the show, and Howard Deutch, the executive producer, for taking a chance on me and giving me … I hadn’t even joined the union…I owe everything to them.

Who is Toby? What can you tell us about him? 
Well, at the beginning Toby is part of Uncle Daddy’s crime family. He’s the boyfriend of Uncle Daddy played Dean Norris who is the head gangster of the Dixie Mafia and that is who Desna, played by Niecy Nash, is laundering money through her salon for. And so, I can’t really give away too much because Toby has a very interesting arc in the first season and he gets involved with some of the crime a little bit more than expected at first which has been really fun for me to play.

What’s it like working with Niecy and working with Dean? 
Honestly, that’s probably, when people ask me what’s your favorite part of the experience, definitely 100% getting the opportunity to work with these seasoned, veteran, amazing actors has been the best experience so far. It’s so easy to act with actors who are really talented. And so, I’m never really nervous or intimidated by them just because I know that they’re going to take care of me in the scene, meaning that they’re going to give me exactly what I need to be where I need to be to perform to the best of my ability. So, I love it. Niecy Nash is so ferociously talented and I’m so glad that she’s been given an opportunity with this role to really show her range as an actress. Cause, we know her for her comedic work but this, and then she’s really proved to us what she can do with HBO’s GETTING ON and so, I think that CLAWS is really going to show audiences the full range of Niecy’s abilities as an actress.

And, Dean Norris is hilarious, so talented, such a great guy to work with. His character, you guys will see, is really intense and really rugged but also has a deeply nurturing and caring side which our scenes get to really play with. And so, getting to do those really intense and then really soft moments with Dean is amazing.

What I liked about what I’ve seen so far is that on the surface it could very much be like the Dixie Mafia is like this cliché mob or whatever but there are those softer moments that kind of gives depth to every character.
Right. I think you’ve definitely hit the nail on the head with that. A lot of the storylines, especially with the Mafia and the crime drama in the show, are on the line of clichés but that’s sort of what the style is going for. We really want to present sort of these stories and give them depth by giving them really humanized characters. All of our storylines sort of play with these clichés in a very interesting way. For example, Dean Norris’ character, Uncle Daddy, is this really rugged, head boss of the Dixie Mafia but he’s also bisexual and openly bisexual and is very protective of Toby and loves him and would kill anyone if anyone ever gave Toby any crap [laughs]. So, I think just showing a character like that in a unique way on television is very progressive and I think this show is going to be sort of expand people’s perceptions of what these cliché stories and characters can be.

Evan Daigle, photographed by Akeem Biggs

And, what I like, too, is that we’ve seen it with TNT, we’ve seen it with TBS, they’ve kind of really … their casting diversely without casting for diversity’s sake. They’re not going out to say, “I need a diversity hire.” They’re casting the best actors for these role and I’m just wondering, what’s it like to be involved in such a diverse cast?
It’s been amazing. And, I think it’s so true what you said, they’re not hiring diverse characters and diverse actors for the sake of diversity. And, I know that that’s true because the diversity that is present onscreen in the cast is equally reflected behind the screen in our production crew as well. We’ve had majority female filmmakers, we’ve had majority women filmmakers of color which, as you know, people who know anything about television and film, that’s sort of rare. And so, I’m so proud of being part of a network who really is taking the initiative in our fight for more diverse stories behind and in front of the camera and not just talking about it. They’re really implementing it. It’s amazing.

Why do you think that this is a show that is for everybody, that people will sit down and really enjoy. What is it about CLAWS that people will love?
I think the number one thing that people are really going to like about CLAWS, me personally, I’m first super drawn in by how visually and aesthetically stunning it is. Our filmmaking style is very noir and very colorful. That, in combination with the over the top outlandish storylines with incredibly embellished scenes, down to the incredibly embellished nails of the characters. Every element, every department on this show is working on all cylinders, 24/7, and full creative energy all the time. Our art department, our costumes, our hair, or nails department, all of us are really working together to try to create this really beautiful but also really entertaining and really thought-provoking network television show.

What else besides CLAWS have you been working on or going out for? Are there things that you have coming up next? What’s the plan now?
My plan is sort of up in the air as of yet. I’m wrapping, I start episode 10 on Monday. We’ll finish wrapping Claws the season one on the 23rd of this month. And so, I’m actually going to head out to Los Angeles to try to start auditioning out there during our hiatus. So, hopefully we get picked up for a season two and that will keep me employed for a little bit longer. But, I’m really just excited that this show is giving me the opportunity to expand my work and head out to LA and see if I can make some things happen for me there. So, that’s what I’m really looking forward to doing in the near future.

Talking to you, it sounds like you are a fan, you’re a student of TV. Are there shows that you can’t miss or that you set aside and have to binge through? Like what do you not miss every week?
Oh yeah, absolutely. As far as cable goes, cable shows that, whenever they were airing I couldn’t miss, recently BIG LITTLE LIES. I had to see every Sunday, had to set my HBO for BIG LITTLE LIES. It was amazing. I really enjoy BATES MOTEL on A&E. I think Vera Farmiga is an amazing actress. I am a huge fan of television though I really. I’m enjoying BLOODLINE right now; THE HANDMAID’S TALE. I just finished HOMELAND. So, those are some of my top favorites that I can’t go without.

And, I know you’re involved in some charities and some philanthropy. What do you like to dedicate your time that you have to? What are some things that are piquing your interest right now?
Yeah. I always … the older I get, the more politically and socially conscious I think I’ve become. The more exposed to different people and to different ways of life, the more you realize a lot of work can and should be done to make the world a more inclusive and more comfortable place for everyone. So, in college I was part of in my theater department we partnered with a theater company outside of school and we would do community outreach and we would do live play readings about social justice and we would hold social justice panels.

The school I went to Loyola University, New Orleans is a Jesuit, Catholic Jesuit school in New Orleans and that’s a part of our curriculum is giving back to the community and a huge pillar of social … and being a pillar of social justice. So, I think sometimes really daunting to try to think about what to do to better the world’s problems cause there are many. So, me as an artist, I think that the only thing that I really can do is use these talents that I’ve been given to try to speak to people and to share stories and to share conversation to hopefully better the world as much as I can.

CLAWS airs Sundays at 10/9c on TNT. Find Evan on Twitter here!