Most of us first met Tyler Lepley back in 2013 as Benny on Tyler Perry’s beloved series The Haves and the Have Nots, which ended in 2021 after eight seasons. As Hanna’s only son and half-brother to Tika Sumpter’s forever conniving Candace, Benny, a definite ‘have not,’ was often the protector and mediator in his family, but that didn’t mean he didn’t stir up some mischief all his own.

“It was great working with a titan, one of the greatest to ever do it, Tyler Perry, and, at the time, it was on the Oprah Winfrey Network so to be able to collab with Ms. Winfrey was invaluable,” Lepley says of the experience. “That’s where I got my start in the game. So, to be able to figure out how to tackle the role, how to find the arc and just how to connect with the character, the audience, it was just a crash course.”

Although Lepley landed subsequent roles as Diamond and Ian, in the first seasons of P-Valley and Harlem, his characters were not nearly as important to those shows as his many fans felt they should be. The second time around, however, Lepley’s characters gained significantly more screen time.

“After both of those seasons, it was nice to receive some of that support. I heard lots of people saying, ‘we really rocked with the character so much to the point where we want to see more,’” he explains. “That’s great because, when we give art to the audience, it’s kind of in their hands; so to feel that feedback was positive. And then also to see the writers hear that and respond to it, that’s also a great feeling too.”

In the second season of the Starz hit P-Valley, Diamond, who guards The Pynk, was as far from making a love connection with Keyshawn aka Miss Mississippi, one of The Pynk’s rockstar dancers, then ever. Instead, he became involved with a new addition to the cast, Big Bone, played Miracle Watts, the actual lady in his life, that resulted in him being locked in a trunk at season’s end. Just as memorable, the two shared a steamy sex scene Lepley shares was anything but.

“On screen, it’s like ‘wow, it’s so sexy’; in reality, it’s very awkward,” he dishes. “There are all these people in the room, and you’re blessed to be able to have a closed set but there’s still people holding microphones and holding lights and stuff. We have intimacy coordinators. So it’s really more of a sequenced dance.” 

Although Harlem revolves around four female friends—anthropology professor Camille (Meagan Good), tech founder and lesbian Tye (Jerrie Johnson), aspiring actress/singer and sexually free spirit Angie (Shoniqua Shandai) and struggling fashion designer Quinn (Grace Byers) desperately in search of love, Lepley plays a significant role in the second season. Ian is a chef who is apparently the love of Camille’s life. Yet when he returned from Paris to Harlem in season one, he came back with a fiancée. Camille’s bold affirmation of their love the night before his wedding, however, resulted in him and Camille giving it another go, which is where season two, now available to binge on Prime Video, picked up. 

“I feel like we just have a deep enough love, and we also have unfinished business to the point where the flame never really went out. I wouldn't call it the one that got away, but it was the one that never went away,” he says of Ian and Camille’s connection. “That spark, that flame is still there.”

Standing a solid six feet, with strong features and a chiseled body even clothes can’t conceal, Lepley’s sex appeal is undeniable. “We objectify you sometimes; I’m sorry. It’s so inappropriate,” his Harlem castmate Jasmine Guy, who plays Quinn’s mother Patricia, noted during their SCAD TVfest panel in Atlanta. “I’m glad you have substance and you’re talented.”

Being put in a box happens to all of us, Lepley feels. He’s punched back, however, through the roles he’s chosen to play. “If you're put in a box as Benny, the only way to break out of it is to show that you can be Diamond. And if people typecast you now as just being big, mean, scary, the only way to get out of that typecast is go take a role like Ian,” he explains. “That’s the difference between Denzel and someone else who’s the same character in every movie.”

Going forward, Lepley, who chalks up his often-noted resemblance to Drake as “just the beard and the fade and the lightskin thing,” says “I want to do something really big. I don’t know if it’s action, I don’t know what it is, but I just feel like I can do what Michael B. Jordan’s doing. I can do what The Rock is doing. It’s got to be at that level.”

But, with one important ingredient, he adds. “It's got to be a love story.”

Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies and editor of Cracking The Wire During Black Lives Matter.