Out queer actor Evan Diagle talks playing the gayest character on TV in “Claws”

Evan Daigle has come out with a bang… not to mention plenty of rainbows.

As the ever-flamboyant Toby on the hit TNT series Claws, Daigle has landed a role as one of the most outrageous characters on television. The show follows a group of women led by Desna (played by Niecy Nash) who works in a nail salon used as a front for money laundering for local mobsters. When not getting his own nails manicured, Toby plays boy-toy to the crusty mob boss Uncle Daddy (played by Dean Norris), an opioid drug lord.

Season three of the show launched June 9, and saw Daigle promoted from a recurring character to a series regular. A native of Louisiana, Claws marks his first major acting role. LGBTQ Nation caught up with Diagle to chat about the life change in becoming a star, the new season and the trajectory of his career.

Claws airs on TNT Sunday nights.

Photo by Ryan West

So you’re having a great moment in your career.

It’s going well. I’m just really trying to enjoy it. I keep telling myself this will always be my first job, so I want to enjoy this moment in my career as much as I can, and stay present every day. I want to look back on my 25th year with lots of joy.

Fantastic. Enjoy itm man. You got promoted to series regular this season, and — I can’t give too much away — you get in on some action this season too. What strikes me about Toby is that he’s an absurdly flamboyant character, possibly the most flamboyant on TV.

I’ve heard that a few times, yeah.

Did you have reservations about taking the role, a character so overt?

I really did. When I got the first audition, it was a small part. I auditioned to only play the scene in the pilot episode where you see Toby in a thong and bondage gear and virtual reality glasses, and he doesn’t say anything.

I was just a new actor trying to really get my foot in the door, so I had reservations about even auditioning for the character because it was so scantily clad and such a small part.

I ended up deciding to audition because the producers — Rashida Jones (of Gray’s Anatomy fame) and Will McCormick, and the creator Elliot Laurence — I really respected their work. So I knew it was going to be a really great set and a great opportunity.

So I auditioned, and it ended up being a recurring and later, a series regular part. I remember being on set the first day. I had never worn less clothing in front of people, and we were filming a party scene in a club. It was a room of 200 extras. So I was a little nervous.

But honestly, the process of filming that first season and being Toby and leaning into the flamboyance, the gender variance and just the craziness of him, it really helped me deal with my own reservations I had about my own flamboyance in my own personality, and my own gender variance.

Really?

Oh yeah. I will always really value this character for so many reasons, but the main reason is that it allowed me to confront all these issues I had with myself about my own sexuality, and the way I wanted to present my own style and dress and personality to the world. Playing a flamboyant, out there, unapologetic character really has helped me grow as a person.

How so?

Well, when I got Toby, I was at a point in my own development with my own sexuality and self-identity where I was really unsure of a lot. I was unsure of how I felt about my sexuality, about how I wanted to present myself, about what career I wanted.

Toby just helped me lean in and come to terms with my sexuality. He really helped me come out in a lot of ways. I wasn’t out to everyone in my life when I first got Toby. So really, getting in character and embracing the unapologetic aspect himself helped me to be that way. I’ll never be able to express all the ways playing Toby has helped me come into my own.

Wonderful.

It’s great.

The flip side of that, though, of playing a character like Toby — a flamboyant character on TV… We’re at a point where straight actors are applauded for playing gay characters for being “brave.” Gay actors — I hear this from so many — the fear isn’t of playing a gay character, it’s of playing a flamboyant or effeminate man, and that somehow doing that will prevent them from getting roles as straight characters.

Do you ever get afraid of being typecast as a super gay character? Did your agents, managers warn you against it, or that it could have consequences for your career?

To be honest, Toby is my first job. I didn’t have SAG-AFTRA eligibility until I got Toby. So Toby is the reason why I was able to sign with good agents and managers in Los Angeles now. Toby really is my introduction to the industry. Nobody knew me from anything else because I hadn’t done anything else.

There was a conversation with my representatives about what we sort of wanted to aim for next, if I wanted to stick with flamboyant, openly gay characters, or did I want to try to audition for straight guys. It’s so messed up the way you have to figure out the way the industry sees you, whether you want to play into that or not, instead of embracing your own artistry.

Related: Actor Ian Alexander talked to Ellen about how his religious family came to accept him

What you said about straight actors being celebrated for playing gay characters — they’re seen as versatile. We view that as someone with acting chops. But it’s also true what you said about gay actors — they can come to the table, they can play gay.

It also really strikes me what you say about the femininity aspect of the character that really gets demonized.  I don’t know what it is about femininity that our culture just gets disgusted by, especially when it comes from a man. It really confuses and shocks people.

I think people like Billy Porter are so important to culture and film and actors right now because he’s really giving the finger to a lot of those boxes people try to put him and other queer actors in.

Absolutely. We love Billy. He should run for president.

I would support that!

[Laughter]

He’s incredible. And it is true what he says, and what you say about femininity in men, and the societal perceptions. I don’t know where exactly that comes from, but the queer author Quentin Crisp once said “There’s no sin like being a woman.”

Oh, we’ve been afraid of women forever.

Oh yes.

We’ve burned them as witches. We’re terrified of women. It’s insane.

We are, yet if a woman wears pants, she’s powerful and stylish. If a man wears a skirt, people lose their minds. I’m not sure what that’s about.

But we digress. Claws is a very sex-positive show. It really features women enjoying and owning their own sexuality, and that’s also true for the queer men and women. It shows unlikely pairings. And everybody’s sexual taste is treated with respect.

When you went in for the role, when you met the producers, was that something they said they wanted to push, or has that just evolved organically?

I think it’s evolved organically. But, if I’m being honest, I auditioned with a fake scene written for me to audition with. Even the scene I had to audition with was so funny and so sex-positive and so witty that I knew this guy was writing such a realized scene for a queer character, this show had to be that kind of show. So I was excited by that audition scene.

When we went to series and I started to get full scripts and get a sense of the characters inhabited by the actors, and the writers started to write for the actors, it really is incredible to me. A lot of people were really confused by the Uncle Daddy-Wanda-Toby relationship. They thought Toby was his son. They didn’t understand that this was a consensual, polyamorous relationship.

It’s interesting that those sex-positive aspects of social behavior have been happening forever. It’s really cool being part of a show that brings sex positivity to light. I know people are unnerved by stuff because they don’t know what it is. They’ve never seen that in a positive, healthy light. So I really love being part of such a sex-positive show.

One thing I love about Toby’s character, particularly in this season, is that he comes off kind of dumb to everyone, but reveals himself to be very cunning in unexpected ways. Was this something you discussed with the writers? You mentioned he was a one-off character who evolved into something more significant. Was that something you wanted to bring to the role?

That’s a really good question. A lot of people have mentioned that they really like the character because they like the juxtaposition or the layers that he comes across as a stupid twinky airhead, but also has his moments of oh, Toby did that? I really use that to build my character. There’s a scene of Toby and Desna, where she’s trying to convince him to take over the nail salon. He doesn’t want to, and she calls him out and says “I know that this himbo act is bullsh*t.”

[Laughter]

And that’s what I’ve used these past three seasons to center my character around. I really love that juxtaposition that it’s a himbo act. He knows what he’s doing. So I took that to be… I can’t give too much away, because this season you realize why Toby is with Uncle Daddy in the first place, and where his loyalties lay.

He reminds me, in many ways, of Rose Nylund from The Golden Girls, in that he’s someone who comes off ditsy but is much smarter than anybody realizes.

I love that comparison.

You can have it. The other element of your character I would be totally remiss not to ask about are his costumes. They’re crazier by the episode.

Oh yeah.

With Karrueche Tran

In one episode this season you wear — I’m not sure what it is, or what it’s supposed to be — but it’s like a hot pink apron and you wear it as a onesie.

[Laughter]

Do the costumers come to you? Do you give input? Do you have hesitations when they bring you something outrageous and say “We’d like to put you in this?

Honestly, I have so much fun in my costume fittings. I don’t really have reservations about my body. I think that we still are feeling the effects of our Puritanical origins in this country. I think we put way too much emphasis on the nude body. It’s oversexualized. I like to lean into all of that.

It’s a character. So I love being as different from myself as possible. I personally would never wear a leather thong and a football jersey and go to Ruby Tuesday, but that’s quintessential Toby. It’s so fun to go to those costume fittings. And, what you see on the show — we try stuff twice as skimpy, twice as crazy. And the network is like “Guys, tone it back.” So it’s scaled back for cable TV.

That’s amazing. Now let it be said, you didn’t set out to become an actor, at least initially. This has been a huge change for you. What’s next for you? I know you’ve written and directed some short films.

I was working in New Orleans locally, and so I worked on some short films and some non-union stuff. But Claws has really launched my career in Los Angeles. I think a lot about where I want to go as an actor, my goals, what career I want to have.

I realized that the more I think about a career to be had, I get a lot of anxiety. So right now, where I’m at, I just want to take it day by day. Not completely go with the flow, but not pay too much attention to map a trajectory. It’s been proven to me that your life can change with one audition.

Absolutely.

I could book something that could shoot in Europe or South America and have to live there for eight months. My whole world can change in an instant, so I try not to plan too much.

When I think about what kind of actor I want to be and the work I want to do, I’m really excited by the emergence of all these projects that really highlight queer artists. I love Pose. I love Vida. I love these shows that are just written, directed, produced by and starring queer talent. I want to be a part of that group of queer artists who are pushing culture forward in such a positive way.

I thank God, The Universe, Mother, that I’m starting my career at this point in history. I’m so thankful. It’s really exciting where we’re going as queer artists. So I’m pumped to keep working hard and keep working at the craft of acting.

Terrific outlook.

Photo By Ryan West

I know you’ve said before that you didn’t really set out to be an actor, that you were in college and decided to take an acting class, and that’s when you found your calling. What was it about acting that made it all click? What was the moment of realization?

It’s sort of a complicated question to answer. What I will say is that acting has taught me about life and about humanity and myself more than any person or any school than I’ve ever experienced.

When I took that first acting class, and did my first scene, after I finished I looked out at my classmates faces and everyone was just staring. I wasn’t a theatre major. I took the class as an elective. None of these kids knew who I was. Nobody expected me to be good. I remember how I felt after.

The following day I had students and teachers come up to me and tell me whether I knew it or not, I was an actor, and I had to pursue this.

Wow.

I remember being baffled by it. It was always something I wanted to try. But having a career always seemed like a complete fantasy. I had one theatre professor ask me to her office, and she told me she thought I should change my major and study with her privately, that this is what I really should do. So I decided to go for it. I changed my major, I took private lessons. I became almost unhealthily obsessed with acting. It was the only way I felt confident jumping into professional auditions. It just felt so right.

Whenever my personal life and my relationships with my family and my romantic relationships started to improve because of the catharsis I would get from my acting, when I realized it was something I get so much out of — playing different characters helps me learn about myself as a person. So I’m never letting this go. I plan to be on stage at age 89 doing Shakespeare.

Claws airs on TNT Sundays. Follow Evan on Instagram @EvanDiagle and on Twitter @EvanDiagle1.


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