Tyler Lepley: From personal trainer to unexpected TV star

It’s not every day that the chance to work with film giant Tyler Perry and media mogul Oprah Winfrey comes along. But when that opportunity fell into Tyler Lepley’s lap, he took it. After all, unbeknownst to him, he had been preparing for his current role all his life.

Growing up in a gritty Philadelphia neighborhood, pursuing acting was far from Lepley’s wildest dreams. He had an interest in sports, participating in football, basketball, and track at Central Bucks High School West. His athletic talent led to him receiving a football scholarship to Kutztown University, located in a rural borough of Berks County, Pennsylvania. After playing for two years as a running back, a lack of commitment led him to shelve his football career.

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After receiving his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Kutztown, Lepley started working, but was unsatisfied with his job. So, he packed up and relocated to Los Angeles, where he had family. He settled into a life of sleeping on his cousin’s floor and working as a personal trainer. While at a boxing gym, his typical hangout spot, he met a producer who liked his look and personality. Lepley had struck gold, as that meeting soon led to him starring in an independent film. A family man at heart, Lepley used his earnings to care for his mother and father.

His newfound acting career gained enough momentum that he found himself auditioning for Perry’s new drama and the first scripted series on Winfrey’s OWN network, “The Haves and the Have Nots.” Benjamin “Benny” Young was a character who was not unlike Lepley: he was handsome, passionate about his family’s well-being, and came from humble surroundings. Lepley scored the part.

Four seasons in, the irresistible series is still garnering stellar ratings and continues to hold the top spot as OWN’s most-watched show. And five years after moving to L.A., Lepley’s life has come full circle. His upbringing as a loving son from a “Have Not” experience guides him in playing Benny, and his athletic background will come in handy for his upcoming boxing film.

Lepley’s big break was obviously fate. While being in the right place at the right time helped, his misdirected preparation is what really made him a star.

We caught up with Lepley and discussed his hit show, relationship status, and how to get the perfect abs.

I never realized how much you look like Drake. Do you get that all the time?

I’ve heard it once or twice, but I don’t think I look like him. It must be the part in the hair or the light skin. You know they say all light-skinned brothers look alike.

How do you feel about the season so far?

You know what, it opened back up with big-time numbers. I expect no less working with giants like Mr. Perry and Ms. Winfrey. At the end of the day, it’s a blessing to have the fans keep turning out like that and to have their support; it’s great.

How great of a feeling is it to be in the presence of the greats, Tyler Perry and Oprah?

It’s hard to put it into the words, but what struck me the most though is how hardworking they are, how diligent they are with their time and they’re still so humble. I’ve been blessed to be in intimate settings with Oprah and Tyler Perry and the nuggets of knowledge they drop on us daily is mind-boggling. You think once you touch a billion dollars and you’re this world mogul you might let off the gas a little bit, but they haven’t skipped a beat at all. As happy as I am to be working with them, I’m more inspired than anything. I’m taking notes every day, so it’s cool.

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Were you really discovered while being a personal trainer?

Yes. So, I moved out here from Philly and did the homeless thing, slept on my cousin’s floor. We were all gym rats coming from a boxing family. So, I was just hanging out at the boxing gym and maybe three months into it, someone actually approached me. They said they wanted me to audition for something and I thought they were just pulling my leg. But lo and behold, I went and auditioned, booked it and that was the start of the process.

Were you an actor in Philly before you moved?

Never. I was a football player and I got a scholarship to play football at Kutztown University — shout-out to Kutztown. Naturally gifted at football, I graduated, but since I didn’t apply myself like I should have, my gift was my curse. After graduation, I didn’t like my job, so I ended up moving to the West Coast. I stayed on my cousin’s floor and five years later, here we are.

Your character Benny seems to be so naïve when it comes to your sister, played by Tika Sumpter.

Everyone has been in situations where you love someone so much, you’re so close to that person, which in turn makes you more susceptible to getting hurt by them. Especially someone as manipulative as Candace. In real life, Tika is a sweetheart.

On the show, you’re dating a cougar. Would you ever be interested in dating someone that much older than you in real life?

I have dated someone older than me before and wouldn’t necessarily call them cougars. I think that because of my upbringing and because of what I went through, I’m a little more mature past my years. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone; it just is what it is. It goes both ways. I have friends who are older and knuckleheads that act like they’re 16. Most of the time, your age will equate to your maturity level and since I’ve always acted older than my age, I can easily vibe with someone who’s been through a little bit more.

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I don’t see any rings on your finger? Are you still single, and why?

I think it’s a combination of things. The first thing: my parents are still married after 25 years, so I know what real love is. Me being as stubborn as I am, I’m not going to settle for anything less. I’m also blessed enough to be in a position that’s almost like my second chance. Here I was, blessed with this football ability, and at the end of the day, I can look at it and learn from it, but I still didn’t get the job done. I don’t want to be someone who’s repeatedly making mistakes. So, I find myself on the West Coast, God drops an opportunity in my lap, I want to apply myself all the way. Right now, I’m going to put my head down, grind and support my mom and dad. When Mrs. Right comes along, hopefully it will feel like the marriage that my parents have.

If you were looking, what kind of woman would catch your eye?

Pretty comes in all shapes and sizes but I like someone who can make me think; that’s sexy, too. She should be confident, able to think outside of the box, take care of herself: whether it’s a mediation you practice, eating healthy, or going to the gym. A Coca-Cola shape is nice also; don’t get it twisted, but looks fade. It’s really about what’s underneath; that’s what I look for.

What’s your gym regimen? Do you go to the gym like six days a week?

Outside of this movie that we’re shooting, I used to be in the gym much more lifting and sprinting. Now that I’m getting older, my joints [can’t] take all the heavy lifting like I could when I was playing football. So, now my workouts revolve more around taking the stress off my joints. I swim a lot. Even though I am boxing, as well, I still make sure I do the necessary stretches for my rotator cuff and a lot more focus on nutrition as well. You’d be surprised; if you do the right things in the gym maybe one or two days, then you eat the right way seven days a week, you’ll be grinding smarter.

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What’s next for Tyler? What projects are you working on?

Before I go down to shoot the next season of “The Haves and Have Nots,” I’m about to start shooting this new movie called Ringside. It follows the life of a boxer whose name is Jaxon Holley. It’ll be cool to actually get to work out in my cousin’s gym, Gloveworx, in Santa Monica, California, and really live the boxing life again, because, if you’re in a film not doing something physical, it’s easier to get by, but when you’re doing something with your body, there’s a chance to not look authentic. We start filming for that in two weeks.

SEGMENT: (Since Tyler was discovered as a personal trainer, he gives three tips to get our bodies in tiptop shape with workouts for the abs.)

The work is going to start before you get to the gym, just like anything else. Before you go to the football field, you’re going to have a week of practice first. You hear that phrase all the time: “abs are made in the kitchen.” First things first, you have to make sure your nutrition is right. Some of the big things, like staying away from the mass-produced stuff. You have places that are bragging about feeding a billion people, but you need some kind of filler to feed those billion people. It’s not like mom’s cooking, you know, where the chicken came from where the greens were growing. Also, try to stay as organic as possible, nutrition-wise. When you get to the gym, you have to understand that under your obliques [the side muscles of the stomach], you have a girdle muscle called the transverse abdominis. That muscle works as a stabilizer in your core. If you’re doing things like planks, and other exercises that stabilize your body while using your core, those are good workouts to do first. You can actually have a six-pack muscle underneath flabby parts on the outside. All you have to do is do the necessary cardio to burn the fat off, so you can see what’s underneath.

 

Kacie Whaley
Kacie Whaley

I'm a writer and philosopher.

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