In the middle of a hectic press day to promote the fourth season of the immensely popular Tyler Perry soap opera “The Haves and The Have Nots”, Tyler Lepley’s humility and gratitude for a career that many people dream of resonates through his smile.
The 28-year-old actor had to overcome quite a few challenges to become the man he is today. After his dreams of having a flourishing football career was cut short, the Philly native moved to LA where he couched surfed and found work as a personal trainer. Years later, he auditioned for Tyler Perry and scored his big break as the character Benjamin “Benny” Young in OWN’s first scripted series.
During the promo run for the fourth season of “The Have and Have Nots”, I sat down with the charming actor, and our conversation got candid as he opened up about his own insecurities being mixed (Italian and Jamaican) and being the only black kid in school. He also shared that he had to learn to love himself and not seek validation from others. This allowed our chat to segue into how therapy has helped him to be in better control of his anger and emotions on screen and off camera.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month so our conversation on black men and therapy was oddly fitting. There’s still an unfortunate stigma in the black community around mental health awareness. A lot of the black community don’t believe in mental health issues, let alone therapy sessions. That goes double for black men.
“When someone is always taking from you, you’re ready to put your foot down,” Tyler says, “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.”
This man is everything. He’s won me over and yes, he’s still single. In our interview, Tyler also shared his thoughts on realizing his purpose, what he’s looking for in a wife, and his views on black men and therapy.
xoNecole: 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.
xoNecole: 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.
[Tweet “It’s about loving yourself without having to go through someone else to tell you you’re good enough.]
xoNecole: Was there a particular situation that sparked your research into therapy and willingness to attend a few sessions?
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.
xoNecole: 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.
xoNecole: In previous interviews you mentioned that you parents have been married for twenty-five years, what have they taught you about love and relationships?
TL: They taught me not to settle for anything less than what I deserve which is what they have. There’s going to be ups and downs in anything but you guys have to be each other’s rocks. I’ve seen my dad really down before as strong of a man as he is and my mom was right there to lift him up and vice versa. There were times growing up when my mom would come home from work and she needed help and my dad was right there. That synergy to work together to accomplish something bigger is what I would like some day.
xoNecole: 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.