Tyler Lepley Talks Female Dominance in 'Harlem' and Difficulties of Dating as a Man (Exclusive)

Tyler Lepley became synonymous with his work on the Tyler Perry evening soap opera The Haves and the Have Nots as Benny. Though he continues to work with Perry, he's since branched out and is now a series regular on the STARZ drama P-Valley and has women gushing over his looks all over social media. Now, Lepley is taking his talents to the Tracy Oliver-created series Harlem, which centers on the friendships and lives of four 30-something women in Harlem, New York.

Lepley stars opposite Meagan Good as Ian, a former love who leaves his relationship to follow his passion for culinary arts. Ian and Good's character Camille reunite by chance and the series chronicles whether or not a rekindled love with so much complex history can be sustained. 

Lepley, who is currently dating Miracle Watts, knows what it's like to have to try and balance relationships while chasing a dream. Pop Culture spoke with Lepley about his similarities to his character, working on a female-driven set, and why the role is a standout for him. Scroll through to read our full Q&A with Lepley. (It's also available in video form at the top of this article.)

PC: What made you want to be part of a show centered around four Black protagonists chronicling the struggles of dating at that?

TL: I think the first thing that drew me to the project and to the character was when I was reading the pilot episode and there was lots of room for a well-balanced, thorough juxtaposition of a real character. A lot of times when I see comedies or romantic comedies, I kind of get one note and that's not what Tracy Oliver was writing with this. So I think the first thing that brought me to it is just the ability to marry like the strength and virility of Ian's character with the tenderness and the artistry of what he was going through as a gifted chef. And that kind of really drew me to the project. And then I saw the storylines of the four women and it was fun.

So speaking of the four women, how was it part of being around such feminine energy during filming?

(Photo: Sarah Shatz // Amazon Studios)

It was good. I have big Aries energy, I'm a fire sign, lot of masculinity so they were good in mellowing me out. So it's fun, we had fun every day on set.

Because you spoke about the kind of paradox within your character as far as vulnerability, but also being basically like the front runner as far as a male lead in the show, what do you think viewers will take away from your character, Ian, and his dynamic within the group and specifically with the character Camille?

I think that one thing they can take away from is that his strength and his focus are admirable. You got to get caught in the conflict because he's technically leaving his girl to go chase his passion but through that, he's finding himself. I think in terms of the relationship between Ian and Camille, it's nice to see two people that are different, but still one and the same. They have this funny, loving chemistry where they kind of understand each other's BS. You know what I mean? They're able to push each other, they enjoy that verbal seductive banter back and forth where they're always trying to one-up each other. And it's refreshing to see something like that.

And one of the things that you mentioned specifically is that you spoke about your character leaving his relationship to chase his passion. And obviously, you're in entertainment so I'm sure you have some experience there. Were you able to relate to trying to balance love, and not just love like within a romantic relationship, but obviously we see career people or people chasing their dreams having to sacrifice family, having to sacrifice a lot of time away from other things that they love in order to make their dreams come to fruition.

Absolutely. So the circumstances were different, but the through-line was the same. I literally went through the same thing about 10 years ago, 11 years ago now, to leave Philly and to go chase my dream in L.A. So to leave everything that I've ever known to chase something that I've never seen, it sounds crazy to people. It sounds crazy to my mom, to my dad. In Ian's case, it sounded crazy to Camille. So there were lots of parallels and similarities that I drew for my own life, while also sprinkling in lots of the homework that I did just in terms of being that gifted, creative, studied chef that Ian is. And I think that's refreshing too, obviously, we want to see people that have cultivated a relationship like Ian and Camille for so long. We want to see them stay together through thick and thin, but I think it is a little bit refreshing to see someone that's passionate about their work, that's passionate about finding themselves.

And the interesting, the funny thing is that through doing that and through going through some of those obstacles and conflicts, you end up, in this weird way, coming back around to what it is that you wanted to work on in the first place. So Ian goes away, but five years later, he stumbles back upon Camille just by chance.

And obviously, we spoke earlier about the dating element that's shown in the show, we're living in a different time. There are apps now, social media. Now it's a lot different – from when our parents or even when the millennials started dating back in the day, it's definitely a lot different, and now we see that you're happily booed up now, but when you were single, from a male's perspective, is it just as difficult in dating and trying to find the one, because men and women are always trying to figure out each other. So what would you like to tell women who are watching the show as far as the complexities of dating for men as well?

Yeah, well, I think in my experience, which obviously is different from a woman, but I feel like there are a bit of similarities in this. Is that when you lack your purpose, you get distracted by like pleasures, if you will. So like, for me, and as I'm relaying this to women that may be watching, I think when you can hammer down or nail down what it is that you want to do, what your purpose is, when you can make yourself happy. I think all the other things fall into place.

And then on the flip side, if you're not making yourself happy, sometimes you can kind of get confused or thrown off the path in terms of what it is you are looking for, what it is that you're attracting. And my scenario, I never really got happy in a relationship until I was happy with myself. When I was chasing my dreams and I was able to put one foot in front of the other in terms of my trajectory and where I was going, then it kind of opened up what it is that made me happy in terms of my girlfriend in this scenario. So I think, I say all that to say like make yourself happy first. I feel like the rest finds itself.


And overall, what are you hoping that viewers take away from the show? What themes do you want them to focus on?

So there are lots of things I want people to take away from the show, but I think one of the central things that I'm hoping people get is that through some of these conflicts in life that may feel and seem hard, rightfully so, as you're going through them, this is how you build yourself. This is where you find yourself. And I don't feel like you can get to the mountaintop until you go through some of those uphill battles. And the easy way out never really seems to work for me and I feel like that for Ian's character, I feel like that for Camille's character and the rest of the women. Even some of the role players on this show, you might only see a couple episodes here and there. I feel like one of the throughlines I want get everybody to take away from this is finding themselves through that conflict and not being afraid to pursue something that you've never seen before.

All episodes of Harlem are streaming now on Prime Video. You can watch our full video interview with Tyler Lepley at the top of this article.