Multitalented performer getting ready to pitch TV tributes for Muhammad Ali and Harry Belafonte.
Multitalented performer getting ready to pitch TV tributes for Muhammad Ali and Harry Belafonte.
Whether on the big screen or over the airwaves, Angelo Diaz is making his presence felt. Starring on TV One’s top-rated show “ATL Homicide” since its debut in 2018 is just the tip of the iceberg. The talented actor has several other endeavors in the works, including a TV show pitch about the late great Muhammad Ali.
Diaz’s recent “Bottles In Boca” single—which he released under the name Cubagawd— was well-received, and he’s looking to put music on the forefront of his short-term to-do list.
Diaz talks with Zenger about his upbringing in tough neighborhoods, the massive influence his mother had on him, what it’s like to work with the real-life David Quinn, and future projects he’s working on.
Zenger: Let me get the intro correct: writer, producer, actor, musician, tapping into the fashion industry. There is no way you’re operating on 24-hour days like everyone else.
Diaz: (Laughing). You know it, man. It takes a team. It takes people that believe in the vision, believe in what you’re doing. You’d be surprised how productive you can be when you love what you do.
Zenger: Are you into something more than the other right now, or do all your occupations get equal time?
Diaz: I try to give them all equal time, especially if it’s something where I need to grow in one area more than another. Music is the newest to me, but I’m a storyteller at the end of the day. Writing, acting, producing, directing, and now I’m making music. That’s just all a part of my purpose. They are all different crafts and different mediums, but at the end of the day, it’s just storytelling. But I’m hungry, so I’m willing to push for it.
Zenger: Your calendar must look like a football playbook.
Diaz: Man, you have no idea. It’s all blessings. I dreamed about being in this space where my hands are this full and the blessings are raining down, and the opportunities are coming at me. Not only that, but I’m creating opportunities for other people too. That’s really important to me.
Zenger: Your first gig was a Tommy Ford project and his last project, if I’m not mistaken. What was it like working with Tommy and knowing your work with him was his final project before his untimely death?
Diaz: He’s such good people. He’s got that perfect energy that you look for in an OG. He was open, he was willing to share game and he made the set a better place. He even made the rehearsals a better place. He was a guy that when he walks into a room, he wants to leave it better than when he entered it. It oozes out of his spirit.
Zenger: Watching, “ATL Homicide” not only shows how much evil is in the world, but it shows the great detective work that goes behind seeking justice for the families of the victims. But definitely a lot of evil out there.
Diaz: I had an understanding of that coming from the area that I come from. I’m from the hood, I’m from the city, I’m from the projects. Moving around a lot in Miami as a young kid, me and my mom, I witnessed a lot of things. I became privy to a lot of information. And then finishing up in Duval for my high school years, we also had a very high murder rate. We were the murder capital of Florida during those years.
At the end of the day, I gotta credit my mom, because she was a journalist, she was a writer, and she was a college professor of both. From the womb, she had me writing articles and essays. Whatever she felt like assigning me. Some things that she assigned me to write about were great inspirational acts that humans accomplished as opposed to the terrible things that we can do to one another. So, at a very young age I have been trying to balance the fact that humans can accomplish amazing things with each other and for each other, but at the same time we’re capable of doing some very dark things to each other.
Zenger: Your mother is Cuban, your father is Ethiopian Did you get any backlash growing up in the hood and not looking like everyone else?
Diaz: Not too much. Within our American black community, there is colorism. But at the end of the day, I was more accepted in those areas than in some Latin areas. There is heavy colorism within the Latino community too. I don’t get how anyone can be against melanin, but everyone has their own complexes, right? At the end of the day all I can do is be a light and a beacon for Afro-Latinos. But to be honest, most places that were predominantly black were more accepting of me and my mom than some of the Latino areas.
Zenger: Your acting abilities are amazing. I always feel it’s different when you’re portraying a living legend in which you are doing in your portrayal of homicide detective David Quinn on “ATL Homicide.” What was like to prepare for that role?
Diaz: It’s awesome. I think as an actor it’s beautiful because you’re part of giving that person their roses while they’re still here to smell them. And not that honoring people when they’re gone isn’t equally important — it is — but at the end of the day, it’s such an honor to play someone who is still living and breathing with us. And he’s able to give us so much insight into why he does what he does, the places he’s been, where he comes from, and what motivates him.
And I’m able to study him more, mannerisms, the way he carries himself, he’s been very open about those kinds of things. That’s also true of his partner, Vince Velazquez. They both been open with me and my co-star, Chris Diaz. We’ve had to ask them about the way they pronounce certain things, the way they tie their tie. It’s been dope to be able to dive into an open book in that way and get lost in it.
Zenger: So David Quinn has been pretty hands-on with you?
Diaz: I think he was more hands-on than he even realized. Just going to grab a beer with these guys is a huge help. When I’m in Atlanta, and he hits me up, “I see you’re in Atlanta, let’s link up.” And we break bread the old school way. We have conversations , and that’s helpful. When we first started the show, we were spending a lot more time together just asking questions, asking their origin story and what led them down this path. Because there’s not a lot of black and brown people on that side of the badge. There is in a city like Atlanta, but outside of Wakanda (laughing) you’re not really getting a lot of that.
It’s been beautiful to see them portrayed on the screen and we wanted to make sure of that. Even though the show doesn’t go into depth and detail about the detectives and their background and their upbringing, we still wanted to honor that in our approach to it. And hey, you never know, we may be able to take the show to new platforms and new places and get deeper into why David Quinn and Vince Velazquez do what they do, which I think the fans really want to see.
Zenger: The numbers say that “ATL Homicide” is TV One’s top-rated show. Did you envision that happening?
Diaz: I can be quite ambitious. So, when I saw what we were working with, met the detectives, and more so, I felt the impact of who they are in the city. The amount of lives they really impacted. I watched “First 48” casually, but I’m careful about what I consume, because that’s sending frequencies into your mental and emotional being. I knew they were “First 48” Hall of Famers, but I didn’t quite know the details until I got cast for “ATL Homicide.” I really saw the impact they had on the culture, and I was like, “OK, this is going to be a big thing.” Also, just who they are. Their swag, their vernacular, their vibe; it’s just nothing else like it on TV right now.
Zenger: What else are you working on?
Diaz: I have been looking forward to this phase, I have a good bit of momentum right now from my first big wave of big breaks, I really wanna transfer some of that momentum and get some of my own projects picked up that I’m working on. People have been seeing me post about a [Muhammad] Ali project. I think there has been confusion. I have not been cast in an Ali project. I’m working on my own Ali project. Right now, I have no major partnerships with any studios. I’m just finishing up the pilot script to get in the pitch process.
I’m really excited about that, and I’ve been looking to make that more of a public situation so that people can see it. It’s the same way that people were able to see Issa Rae’s “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” She was open about it during the process of it on social media. She was as open as you can be without giving away proprietary information.
I’m taken with Ali’s conviction and the way he was able to stand on his own two feet. Whatever he believed in he was going to roll with. You can see that in his growth over the years. He changes his stance on several things over the years. And the way he was very benevolent, very giving, very grateful. He knew he couldn’t take any of the money with him, and he treated it as such. He treated it like water. He wanted to just spread light and joy. At times when his finances weren’t right, people were frustrated with him because he was as generous as can be when he had it, and he knew he was going to get it again. He was ahead of his time with his sharpness and wittiness.
People think about his instincts and his quickness in the ring, but he was just as quick and witty outside the ring. I think by creating a TV show, a period piece where people have to sit in those periods, the late ‘50s and ’60s and watching them grow up as a young man, they’ll see how ahead of his time he was, because you have to show people those times before they can really understand and appreciate what Ali brought to the table.
It’s like how this generation views Tupac, but to be of those times, you’ll understand why it was so groundbreaking. Ali has one of those legacies that’s too much for a movie, which is why I am excited to give it a TV show opportunity.
Between portraying Ali in an episodic TV show, and also honoring Harry Belafonte in a similar fashion — including his contributions to civil rights — are two things I’m very excited about. That’s getting most of my energy these days, as well as music. The response to “Bottles in Boca” was great. We’re dropping a EBN Remix to “Bottles In Boca” here soon, which is going to be bananas. We’re partnering with Decepticon, he is a very dope EBN and house DJ. I’m excited about the direction we’re going to go musically.
“Bottles In Boca” is fun. It’s a song to break out 2021 with. Get back outdoors, let’s have some fun and create some new memories, safely of course. But at the end of the day, I got some things to say. I look forward to exploring music more.
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff