From East To West: Tyler Lepley Rises To His First Lead Role On TV One’s ‘Ringside’
Life has a funny way of pointing you towards what and where you are destined to be, and in this actor’s case, his dream led him to pursing a career outside of the square we’re sometimes too focused and comfortable in, refusing to venture away from opportunities that’s calling our names.
One would never imagine that the streets of Philadelphia held a young man by the name of Tyler Lepley who knew life had more in store for him. Interested in its physicalities after partaking in several sports growing up, Lepley was mean with the hands and swift with the feet. He knew the 9 to 5 he was working right after college wasn’t where he was destined to be, and in order to receive the change he wanted, he had to get up and go for it.
Moving to what’s known as “the better coast” helped jumpstart the star’s career. You could find him at Glove Works in Santa Monica, Calif., before he made his way to your television every Tuesday night at 9 p.m., after landing a recurring role as Benny on The Have and The Have Nots on OWN. You might have seen him all over your news feed, explore page, and timeline, with almost every woman around the world obsessing over his talented acting skills, built figure, and appealing appearance that’s easy on the eyes, but he continues to stay humble and always references back to his sense of self before the stardom he’s gained.
Being granted the opportunity to showcase his talents on national television, portraying such a complex character, led Lepley towards his first leading role on TV One’s new movie, Ringside, produced by Swirl Films. Written and directed by radio personality Russ Parr, Lepley’s character, Jaxon, is an undefeated boxer that’s preparing to fight against a champion. He treads lightly, swimming around the core issues he faces at home and with his manager on a daily basis, ensuring not to sink in the midst of it all by finding a way to get out of the rut and continue to strive for greatness.
During a press run for the newly released film, Lepley discusses changing gears on his career, his experience working with Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey on The Haves And The Have Nots, and working with Sevyn Streeter on Ringside.
Starting off with your career, you began heading in the route of personal training and you moved from Philly to L.A. to pursue that dream. Why L.A. of all cities?
Tyler Lepley: I didn’t actually start training ‘til I got here. It was actually just something that I kind of fell into. I left Philly and I came to L.A. because I didn’t like my 9-5 job. I wanted something more. I’m a little intellectually curious when it comes to life, and once I graduated I just felt a little bit stuck, almost like I was in a midlife crisis at 23, which makes no sense. The reason I came to L.A. was because I had two cousins that lived here. One of them had worked at the gym. I wasn’t promised a job right then, but it was really just about having that support system. If they were in Florida, I was going to move to Florida, and if they were in Dakota I would’ve moved to Dakota. I just wanted to start something new and it just so happened that this is where a little bit of my support system was.
How did you end up leaving training behind to enter the acting field?
I actually got approached, or you can call it discovered, inside the gym. I moved here and maybe within three months of working at the gym, I grabbed the job, just from being a gym rat, hanging out at my cousin’s gym, probably within a month of moving here. I was working at that gym for about three months and I had someone come into the gym that said I want you to audition for this. I went in and I booked it. But it wasn’t until about two years after that point that I was a full time actor. And I think what makes that domino fall is when you have enough money to actively pursue this full time. When you’re doing work here and there that’s not enough, you know? You have to have a survival job to keep food on the table while you chase the dream. And it wasn’t until I had the volume of work, from a show like The Have and The Have Nots could I actually go ahead and pursue it full time. So that was the determining factor.
Is attending the gym still one of your daily routines?
Yeah, definitely. Absolutely. I think if you want to look a certain type of way, it has to be a staple in your daily routine. But for me, I come from playing football in college and I used to box growing up, so I have lots of scar tissue and my body feels old sometimes so it’s important for me just in terms of my longevity, to stay loose, stay flexible. It’s definitely still a part of my everyday regimen, for sure.
What age did you start boxing?
I actually got into karate first. That’s the first place I ever threw my hands. My dad probably got me started around four or five, and I dibble and dabbled with it, and it wasn’t until I got serious with football and then I got a scholarship for football that it was kind of sitting on the back burner. Just because I had to go to school and I wasn’t getting a scholarship to box, I was getting it to play football. So when I got serious with football is when I hung the gloves up for a while.
What was your first reaction when you heard you landed a recurring role on The Have and The Have Nots with Tyler Perry, and also that you would be airing on Oprah Winfrey’s network?
Well it was crazy. Excited doesn’t even describe it because you have to understand at the time it was Mr. Perry’s first drama series ever and it was Ms. Winfrey’s first scripted series ever. So this was like four years ago. To start off as a series regular, man, it was just like a dream come true. And then now as I look back on it, it was great then when I found out that I was going to have a job and be able to work with these people. But as I been working with them, up until this point, as I look back at it, the biggest lesson that I have was not just a job and being on the TV and stuff like that, which is all great, but to have those types of role models, and to be able to watch Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey in an intimate setting, you can’t even pay for that. I could give all the money in the world and still wouldn’t be able to have access to that. So to be able to have accessibility to greatness is what I really thank God for everyday, because these are trailblazers. Billionaires for crying out loud, just as humble as ever, and it’s a great example of not only how to get there, but how to stay once you get it.
And you and Tyler Perry share the same first name. What is it like being on set with him at the same time? Is someone given a nickname?
(Laughs) Well, well, first of all he’s the rich Tyler. I’m on my way, I’m on my way (Laughs). It’s just so crazy; we laugh at that all the time. It’s not too often you get to drive into a studio and you see your name on the sign. So it’s great, and like I said he’s very personable, he’s very humble, and vulnerable, so we laugh about stuff like that all the time. You know he’s really like, almost like a big brother, molding us and trying to steer us the right way, so it’s really cool to have him around.
Are you surprised by the success of The Have and The Have Nots? It’s completing season six now, plus it’s a scripted television show and it’s really rare that scripted television shows get picked up for multiple seasons now.
You know what, I’m floored by it. It blows me away that the fans tune in. Because I watch the number too, right. So someone at ICM would kick the numbers out, so it would show up in my emails how well the show does. So to see three million people show up for every single week for the last three years, every week when it’s on, even last week we caught another three million. That’s what I’m floored by, the support of the fans. You know it’s a little risqué anytime you see something for the first time, like I mentioned earlier it was his first time doing a drama series, and it was her first time doing a scripted series, so you know there’s always a little worry because you’re doing something for the first time, but at the end of the day, even though I’m floored by the support of the fans, I cant be surprised because these guys, everything they touch turns into gold. I’m trying to learn that blueprint. I’m trying to see how they do it. It’s really exciting.
A photo posted by Tyler Lepley (@tylepley) on
Your work ethic has been really amazing and you’re making your way up to the top. Do you still audition for roles? Or are you automatically casted to play a character now?
No, No, I still audition for roles. Where I’m at right now there are some offers only, there are some things that are only offers, but I still audition. I also like to audition. It’s its own muscle. To go in there, a room full of strangers, and to be able to act like it’s just you and someone else talking. So it really just gives that nervous system and that muscle exercise. It helps you anytime they call action. So sometimes I do, but I still enjoy auditioning.
What was it like working alongside some of the industries biggest talents on Ringside?
It was great. It was exciting. It’s not everyday you have big shots. I remember watching ATL. I saw Sevyn Streeter on the radio the other day with Gucci Mane, and I’ve been a Gucci lover forever. Russ Parr, you’re talking about the radio. Russ Parr does everything. So it’s cool because in my own right, even though I’m the lead I’m coming here learning from everybody, from my co-stars to my director. And it’s great because Russ isn’t like, a dictator. Back when I used to play football, when I had a coach like that who listens to you, we used to call him a players coach. So the way I say that nowadays it’s like Russ is like an active director. He really wants your input. I was excited and I was still learning. It was great, it was a lot of fun for me.
Was Russ the person who approached you with the script?
No. I actually auditioned for this role. I did this one the old fashion way just like I did The Have and The Have Nots. I wouldn’t have it no other way. Because you know you got to see what someone can do. You can watch me on The Have and The Have Nots all you want, or on other shows, but Benny’s not Jaxon, this is a whole different character. I had to go in and do it the old-fashioned way and book the job so it was a lot of fun.
And Sevyn is a singer so this was her first film ever. Working closely with her, with her playing your sister, how would you say she did for her first movie?
Oh my gosh, Sevyn Streeter did phenomenal. I was blown away when I heard, because I had overheard that it was her first acting job. I would have never thought that because she was just so into it. She was so believable in some of my scenes. I caught her giving me stuff to make me react. She was actually pulling me into some of my scenes. So you see someone like a Sevyn Streeter, that’s when you see someone with natural talent. And to think about it, she’s coming up in this world of entertainment, I’m sure she has a lot of older role models, just like she has Jaxon, that tries to steer her the right way. It’s not all the time that you’re able to tap into that. Sometimes you get so panic by the action you forget about all your life experiences. I was appreciative of her being able to stay in the moment and really draw some of the real feelings out of some of these scenes. Sevyn Streeter was great.
How did the movie come about with you landing the leading role of Jaxon?
I remember when I first went in I was really excited. This is one of the scripts that I had read more than two times. Sometimes I try to read it a few times, like the whole script to get a real feel of what I’m actually doing from start to finish. Normally I would do it twice, maybe three times for any normal audition if I have enough time. Like if it’s tomorrow I’ll be able to read the whole script. So I remember when I read the script at first I was so excited to go in that it almost threw me off. I was just so excited about the project. That’s like a dream role for me. Not only because of the boxing, but to be that caretaker, to be so rough into it. And Jaxon is a really dynamic character. So even for my acting chops I just wanted to do it. So I went in on the audition and then I had like about a week in between the final directing section with Russ Parr. In between that week it was great because I had enough time to really get into it. I started really getting back into the boxing, in terms of like sparing, and just really reading. I read the script like maybe six times. It just really helped me for the final directing session. I just had to get Jaxon down by the final time I went in there. That’s kind of how it went. That old fashion, hard work, and it was a lot of fun when the director called action. It was dope.
Tell me a little bit about the character of Jaxon and what went into preparing to play a boxer?
First of all, you got to have all the physicality down pat. It has got to be not just good, it’s got to be real. It’s got to be authentic. When Floyd Mayweather or Mike Tyson walks around, you can tell they’re a boxer just by them walking in a room. You know what I mean? It’s more than just throwing a punch. It’s very physically demanding in terms of being disciplined to bring the physicality of life. Because if you step in that ring and do the wrong thing you affect the whole movie. It’s not only a role but this is a boxing movie. It has to be real. Then as a actor, someone with dynamic as Jaxon, you gotta give yourself permission to feel all those things. I remember hearing one scene, and I remember doing some of my background work, like Jaxon, Selita, and TC, their parents died when they were really young. It was a very unprepared situation. It’s one of the first scenes in the movie that they talk about. Jaxon, he’s a caretaker, but he was kind of thrust into the dynamics. You know, at six, you don’t want to be daddy. You want to go to senior prom and you want to be reckless, and you want to grow up. So there’s a strong dynamic of him taking care of everyone but not necessarily wanting to. He’s just that good of a man that he has a lot to overcome when he does that. So it’s just like a lot of dynamic intricacies with a character like Jaxon. Or balancing having to give everybody else what they need with taking care of yourself as you go into this life altering, middleweight championship that has the ability to affect everybody. Not only could Jaxon go get killed inside that ring, but the same people he might not want to take care of when he wants to be reckless and free like everyone else, it can affect all these people. So there’s just so many push and pulls, and so many tug of wars with a character that’s as dynamic and as deep and multi complex as Jaxon Holley. So it was a lot of fun but it was necessary, and I think it turned out great.
A photo posted by Tyler Lepley (@tylepley) on
And it’s a real life drama. I saw the trailer and it’s crazy how the character of Benny on The Have and The Have Nots is a little similar to Jaxon in the movie because you try to hold it all together in the midst of all the family life drama. Do you enjoy taking on such complex roles?
I really do because I feel like it’s such a mirror of my own life. My life is so complex, yeah sometimes it’s bad, but even bad experiences you can learn from. I’ve had so many things that started out as lemon and now I’m drinking lemonade. I love playing complex characters like that because it’s just so much to draw from and they’re real. No villain is always bad and no good guy is always good. You know what I mean? There’s always a ying to the yang, so I look for characters like that. I definitely enjoy them.
Can you remember one experience in life that you can really relate to the character of Jaxon?
I can remember whether it were school. I have lots of instances where I can just remember people trying to steer me. I’m the driver of the ship and I can just remember having lots of outside pressure to do something in my life that someone else may have done in their life. It may have been learning from their experiences, but at the end of the day I have to live my life and do things my way. I’ve had lots of situations like that. Whether it was good or bad, it was just outside things I had to block out in order to succeed and opportunities I had in front of me. Everyone and their mother said do not move to Los Angeles, you are crazy. But I had to do that for myself. It’s just like there’s lots of outside pressures for Jaxon, whether it’s his manager trying to squeeze more money out of him, whether it’s his brother trying to squeeze more money outta him, whether it’s a career that might not be going the best way, whether his blessing for a promiscuous sister. It’s just so much outside circumstances that affect him that he has to end up blocking out because he’s going into a very serious situation and a big opportunity. I’ve had that in life for sure.
Jaxon also meets a female who captures his heart and she’s hiding a secret from him. So how are you, Tyler Lepley, handling fame and the groupies? Because Tyler’s everyone’s man crush Monday, you name it.
(Laughs) I don’t have groupies, not at all. But I think the way to deal with it is almost like going back to that unwavering sense of self. I don’t really put myself in those types of situations really. It doesn’t mean I’m not acceptable to them, but I’ve got a pretty good screening process. It’s not like you have to jump through hoola hoops, (Laughs) but I got good intuition also. I can kind of tell in 10 minutes where this is going. If it’s dangerous, it might just be like a dangerous, fun encounter. There’s a ying to the yang. It’s just fun and cool. If you’re going to do it, just understand what it is. And whatever it is for you. I think to wrap that answer up; the way I deal with all the outside pressures is to go back to who I am. And that’s why you know I’ve been blessed to have never been in a crazy situation yet, because I just go back to, again, my sense of self. And everything and everyone around me reflects that as well.
What’s your dream role that you have yet to accomplish that you would like to play in the near future?
Something that I haven’t done before. That’s as specific as I can get. I just like roles that can challenge me; something that’s really going to intrigue me and stretch a muscle that I’ve never used before. So I really look for roles like that. And outside of that, I guess something I’ve always wanted to do as a kid, I always wanted to do a big action movie. I come from sports and I come from a very physical world so I would like to do that also. And that’s why I was happy about doing this role too. I got to bring some of the physicality to it. So definitely stuff like that.
Are you currently working on any other projects that you would like to share?
Right now I actually just got back from shooting the latest season of The Have and The Have Nots. Just got back from ATL. It was dope. What we just shot will air at the top of 2017, so you guys will see that at the top of next year. Right now I’m just busy plugging away this Ringside man. I’m so excited for everybody to see what’s going on, on TV One at 7 o’ clock on the fourth. It’s going to be a lot of fun. And then in the meantime you know just steady working on myself. Going to therapy, I go to my voice lessons, I go to my acting coach, and I plug away day by day, inch by inch, to give in top-notch efforts.
Ringside premieres on TV One at 7 p.m. EST on Sept. 4.