Tyler Lepley has been a supporting star on the small screen for years now, but roles on two recent fan-favorite shows have seen him become a fixture on hot properties in Black culture.
With a turn as the street-yet-sensitive strip club bouncer Diamond on Starz’ 2020 breakout hit stripper-drama P-Valley, and more recently as the love-conflicted French-trained head chef Ian on Amazon Prime’s hit singles-in-the-city dramedy Harlem, the actor has become a highly-recognized handsome face.
“It’s always good when you can be recognized for your work, and people take your work seriously,” he says of his newfound level of celebrity. He credits the extra attention with pandemic binging when typically on-the-go viewers have been locked in finding new favorite shows and actors.
“I feel like, during the pandemic, people were really tuned into artists more than ever. Because when everything’s down, it’s almost like artists in a way kind of become heroes,” he observes.
Entertainment has been a critical outlet for our society throughout the uncertainty of lockdown, and the trepidatious return to our new norms. While viewers escape the harsh realities of pandemic life with stream binges, shows and films have been our refuge.
Lepley notes that it’s a phenomenon that’s happened throughout history. “Back in the day when they went through the great depression and whatnot and everything was going down, this is when movie stars really rose to the occasion because everybody was going through negative things.”
Lepley has been actively rising to the occasion for nearly a decade as an actor, though his omnipresence in Hollywood is a bit of an unlikely turn of events. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Lepley had his eyes on sports throughout high school and college. But after graduating with his criminal justice degree and seeing that things weren’t progressing much for him in his hometown, he hit the road.
“I had just been running through kind of a string of failures…learning lessons, if you will,” Lepley said of his post-graduate years. “Philly just wasn’t doing it for me, and I’m real intuitive. I just felt like it was time to leave.”
That intuition led him to LA, and a brief stint as a personal trainer. While working alongside close family friends at a local boxing gym, his life was forever changed when a talent scout randomly invited him to an audition. He booked the role (a bit-part in a somewhat obscure slasher flick) and became instantly intrigued by trying on new personas.
“It was a real small role, small movie.But through that experience, I was intrigued,” he recalls. Lepley knew he had found something special to do with his life. “So at that point, that’s when I chose to apply myself.”
He dove into acting classes and auditions, quickly landing roles in the romantic comedy Baggage Claim alongside Taye Diggs and Paula Patton, and eventually a recurring role on Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots on Oprah’s OWN Network.
But Lepley refused to coast on his success. Even now, the actor is constantly doing the work, diving deeper into methods of tackling characters and accessing deep emotions on demand, actively honing his skills for the next big role.
“I kind of look at myself as an instrument and you have to make sure the tool’s sharpened,” he says of his method work. “We don’t need it when we’re in the car, we need it as soon as they call ‘action.’ So it takes practice to do that.”
Seeking to discover more about his characters has also led him on a journey of self-discovery through therapy – one he never quite anticipated taking.
“[Therapy] was something that I started for acting, because I was going into some scenes that, especially as a black man, it’s taboo to work on some of these things that we’re feeling. It’s even taboo to feel some of these things, out loud. People call you X, Y, Z for having a vulnerable side or being tender or whatnot,” Lepley said. But what began as a work necessity made its way to Lepley’s real life, and positively affected how he relates to the people around him.
“I quickly learned, it was showing up as a major benefit in my real life, in my relationships. Whether it’s my mom, my friend, my girlfriend, I was able to articulate exactly what I was feeling, which made the communication much more effective,” he said of therapy. “And I was able to listen more when it was time. It wasn’t just so so much going on offense. I was able to just find that middle ground, find that balance a bit more.”
Those flourishing communication skills, among other positive attributes we’re sure, have led Lepley into the arms of a new lady love. The actor went public with P-Valley season 2 co-star Miracle Watts in late October and has been unabashedly loud and proud about his relationship on social media ever since, serving up a heaping helping of #RelationshipGoals where many actors in his position would either play coy or keep things low.
“I’m happy in my relationship and proud of my relationship, so it deserves to be celebrated,” he says of his newfound love. “I like to celebrate it for myself. I also like to celebrate it for people who may be watching, not that I’m doing it for that, but it’s nice to see a healthy example of what it’s supposed to look like.”
“I mean, don’t get it twisted. We’re going to pour up, maybe roll something up. We’re going to turn up for sure,” he says of that fun, carefree vibe he and Watts showcase via social.
As much as he loves showing off the woman he loves, the actor says he values keeping some things private and maintaining his own online identity. For Lepley, it’s all about finding balance.
“When you were introduced to Diamond he’s offering to kill Keyshawn’s baby daddy and then rocking that same baby to sleep in the same scene,” he said of his beloved P-Valley role while chatting with ESSENCE from the show’s Atlanta set. “This is a killer, but he’s like a Teddy bear, too.”
That juxtaposition is what he looks to achieve in all aspects of his life, be it personally or professionally. Now, known just as much for his dashing good looks as he is for bringing strong yet vulnerable characters to the screen, the actor is poised for an industry takeover. But ever the hard worker, he’s looking to apply that work ethic to his newest ventures, film production and music.
“For me, it’s really just about being able to express myself and all these different mediums of my artistry,” he said. “[I want to] put my producer hat on and continue to keep the actor hat on and put my musician hat on and be the multi-hyphenate that I see for myself and my trajectory. So look out for it all. It’s coming.”
If his current output is any indication of what’s to come, we truly can’t wait to see what’s next.