First things first, yes, Tyler Lepley knows he looks like Drake and Omari Hardwick. And while these are great artists to be associated with, Tyler is in a league of his own as one of the stars of Tyler Perry’s immensely popular soap opera, “The Haves and The Have Nots”. The last few years have been a whirlwind for the 28-year-old considering the fact that his lifelong dream wasn’t to be an actor.
The Philly native grew up with an affinity for sports and with a football scholarship to Kutztown University, he thought he would get drafted to the NFL. However, Tyler admits that his natural talent for the sport made him less disciplined when it came to honing his craft. After graduation, he had to figure out “plan b” and at the time, all Tyler knew was that his instincts were telling him to move to Los Angeles.
Now on the west coast, Tyler worked as a personal trainer while sleeping on his cousin’s floor. A chance encounter at the gym with a film producer who was looking to cast someone that fit his description led to his first acting role in a short film. With a fearless outlook on life, Tyler continued to pursue this new endeavor and five years later, he has five seasons of a hit series under his belt.
In the middle of a hectic press day to promote the fourth season of “The Haves and The Have Nots” which premiered on OWN (The Oprah Winfrey Network) on June 21st, Tyler’s humility and gratitude for a career that many people dream of resonates through his smile. His personality is infectious and he’s not afraid to be vulnerable on camera or in an interview.
While there’s still an unfortunate stigma in the black community around mental health awareness, Tyler admits that therapy has helped him as an actor to be able to tap into his emotions on and off screen.
In an exclusive interview with the L.A. Sentinel, we learn how his character Benny has evolved and how he overcame his insecurities to become the confident man that he is today.
LAS: Since you didn’t necessarily come to L.A. to be an actor, what kept you in pursuit of this new dream in between roles?
TL: Initially I put all of my eggs into to the basket which was football and to not have it not work out but to wake up in the morning and still be okay, I still have another shot. I’m still breathing. When I look back at it, the writing was on the wall. God does this to me all the time; he’ll drop something in my lap and it’s up to me to use my intuition to try and feel it out, apply faith to it and do the best I can with it and not worry about the end result because that’s what faith is about. I think that’s helped me to navigate these waters even though I didn’t necessarily have as much experience as my peers.
LAS: It’s a huge accomplishment for a show to make it to five seasons! (Season 4 airs June 21st with season 5 having already been shot) That requires a lot of character development to continue to flesh out a storyline. How have you evolved with your character?
TL: I have a big heart, I give people the benefit of the doubt and I love easily just like my character Benny. Unfortunately, there are a lot of mean people out there and you get your heart stepped on a little bit so I have to be smart enough to see that, make an adjustment and assert myself differently moving forward. That’s what I was able to draw from for my role. If you watch Benny from the first episode to where we are now, he’s gone from being nothing but a lover to being kicked around and having everyone including his own sister manipulating and taking advantage of him. When he woke up out of his coma, he had a new perspective on life, you see him start to assert himself more and check people for terrorizing his family.
LAS: Looking back on when you first got to L.A. and you were sleeping on your cousin’s floor, what would you tell your younger self about persevering through the tough times?
TL: The first thing I would say is to breathe and relax because when things are going crazy, the anxiety can paralyze you. Trust yourself, we all have these gut feelings; it could be on a first date, it could be in a job or in my case it could be not knowing what I’m going to do when I moved to L.A. but I felt like I was supposed to be here. We all have those moments where we doubt ourselves but stand in front of the mirror and believe that you’re good enough. Trust that you have enough talent to get you to where you want to be. I know it’s a daunting task. I use to wake up and think ‘I’ve never even acted before, how am I ever going to get good enough to be on a platform as big as OWN?’ It all starts from trusting yourself, learning how to tune people out and letting your inner voice be the main thing you listen to.
LAS: What life lessons have you taken away from being in the presence of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry?
TL: People always focus on how big people are and forget that they’ve never stopped working, despite their success. Once you do get to their level and even when you’re on the way up, what’s most important is how you treat people. Whether you’re the janitor or an executive, stay vulnerable enough to have these types of conversations. That’s what I’ve taken away from them is how to treat people along the way and how hard you have to work to maintain what you’ve built.
LAS: Are there any particular insecurities that you had to overcome to be the man that you are today?
TL: Yes, everyday. I grew up being teased because I was the only black kid in an all white school. I had to overcome always seeking outside validation because when you don’t get it, you feel like crap on the inside. I’m mixed so growing up, I didn’t know how to do my hair. I was trying to put pomade and hairspray in it and it wasn’t working. Everyone around me said I wasn’t cool but one day I looked in the mirror and I said I liked how I looked. It’s about loving yourself without having to go through someone else to tell you you’re good enough. You shouldn’t have to wait for someone else to say they love you. You have to love yourself and once you get that, there’s a calmness that sets in and you’re just happier.
LAS: Was there a particular situation that sparked your research into therapy?
TL: My acting coach always talked about the benefits of therapy. If you’re not working on your emotions, they can go cold or numb. And if life is just so happy and you haven’t connected with any of the deep pain you feel, a lot of times with pain, what’s the first thing you do? You look the other way because it feels better, so if you have to feel one of those deep moments where you have to cry on cue, the idea is to have it be real. So therapy helps you to work on your emotions so you can call on them.
What made me stay in therapy is when I started to enjoy it. I’m Jamaican and Italian so I’m wired to snap, not in a bad way, but I have a temper and that’s not the way you’re supposed to handle situations. I’m not a dictator, so if things don’t go my way, that doesn’t give me the right to be a crab apple or be rude to someone. I caught myself in certain situations where I wasn’t in control of what I was feeling and therapy helped me to gain that control. Now, you can tease me all you want, I like myself now so I’m fine.
LAS: What advice would you share with men, especially men of color, who may not feel comfortable with seeking professional help?
TL: Find a way to channel your emotions. If you don’t want to act, find a book to read or maybe sit down and start writing. If you think it’s not macho to talk to a professional at first, start somewhere easy like you’re mom, or a sibling, I talk to my cat sometimes, just express yourself. And don’t take yourself so seriously to think it makes you not cool to understand yourself, that’s madness. It’s good to know how you feel so you can really assert yourself.
For young black males, because of everything we’ve had to overcome, we’re wired to be aggressive. When someone is always taking from you, you’re ready to put your foot down, one of the best things you can do to channel that anger is to be emotionally sophisticated enough to articulate what you feel, it’s going to save you from being in a lot of trouble.