LOS ANGELES – Taye Diggs (search) says he used to be an "ugly duckling." "No one believes it, but I was kind of very thin, very insecure, big glasses," says the now buff star of UPN's (search) new drama "Kevin Hill." (search)
Diggs says his transformation into the proverbial swan was a slow process that started when he went to a performing arts high school.
"There, it was great because it didn't matter what you looked like, how much money you had, how good you were at sports. If you had (acting) talent you were considered," he said, "so that's where I got a little confidence going."
Later, after earning a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Syracuse University, Diggs got eye surgery that allowed him to dump the specs and hit the gym to sculpt his body.
The results have made him a heartthrob in movies such as "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," "The Best Man" and "Brown Sugar." Women swoon over him, but he insists on pointing out his appearance still has flaws.
"I didn't think I was a short person, until after 'Stella.' But then lots of women who approached me would say 'Oh, my God, you're so short, you looked so much bigger in the movies,'" Diggs sighs.
Nobody's likely to complain about that when the 5-foot-9-inch actor hits the small screen in "Kevin Hill," which premieres 9 p.m. EDT Wednesday.
"A lot of people had been looking to lure Taye to television. He's such a great-looking guy and very charismatic actor," says executive producer Nancy Cotton.
Diggs, 32, plays flashy bachelor lawyer Kevin Hill, whose lifestyle takes a sharp turn for the more complicated when he inherits Sarah, an orphaned 10-month-old.
Being a parent changes not just his private life and personal values, but also his work schedule, as he downscales from a big corporation to a small legal firm staffed by women.
Although the show's baby bit seems familiar, series creator Jorge Reyes insists he was inspired by the experience of a male cousin who was left to rear a child alone, as well as his own stint working at a women's magazine.
The lead character was not specifically conceived as being black; Reyes says he wanted to write a script that was "diverse, but colorblind." Only minuscule changes were made after Diggs was cast.
"What we all wanted to do, and what Taye then wanted to do, was to make a show that was multicultural, but not about racial differences," says Cotton.
An hour drama with a black lead is a rare thing on network television, but Diggs says he tries not to think of that as added pressure. His main reason for signing on was simply that "Kevin Hill" appealed to him.
"It's a character with many layers and layers. There's a reason why Kevin always has to appear to be ultrasharp," he says. "He's obviously compensating for something ... The baby is going to slowly tear him apart. He won't be able to hold it together and that will force him to shed that skin and look inside himself."
Jon Seda plays lawyer Dame Ruiz, Hill's best friend, and Patrick Breen is George Weiss, a gay nanny. Michael Michele is Jessie Grey, the single-mom boss of the feminist law firm, which is staffed by Nicolette Raye (Christina Hendricks) and Veronica Carter (Kate Levering). Five babies alternate playing Sarah.
Diggs says he's isn't worried about playing a womanizer. "I'm a red-blooded male ... I'm looking forward to experimenting with Kevin's lifestyle," jokes the actor, who's married to Idina Menzel (Tony winner as the young witch Elphaba in "Wicked").
The couple met about eight years ago when they starred together in "Rent." Their relationship developed gradually while he played Benny, the villainous landlord, and "she was the lesbian, and her character hated my character!"