His image has been everywhere. From billboards and magazine covers, to the big and small screen, there isn’t a place where you haven’t seen Tyson Beckford. Best known for his work with fashion giant Ralph Lauren, the legendary model, actor, and entrepreneur is one of the most successful male supermodels, having achieved the fame and notoriety similar to the female supermodels of his time.
First discovered in 1991, Tyson’s life and career changed a year later when he became the face of the Ralph Lauren Polo line. What makes his story even more interesting is he never envisioned himself as a model. His goal was to become an actor.
“I didn’t plan for it, it just fell into my lap,” says the star. “I was good at taking pictures and people just kept giving out my number, referring me for work.”
Despite thinking his modeling career wouldn’t last long, it did, opening up even more doors, which eventually led to projects in TV and film. “I was always on my path, I just veered off of it to take a couple pictures,” he says jokingly.
These days, Tyson has turned his creative focus toward his entrepreneurial projects, as well as stepping behind the camera as a writer and producer. In addition to his eponymous sunglass line, which launched last September, he recently launched cologne, Orion Skye, along with a hand sanitizer line.
For a man who has had an amazing career to date, Tyson is by no means finished. As humble as he is handsome, the mega star is dedicated to continuing to build his legacy. He opened up to BELLA about his long-standing career, the work he’s doing now, and also shed light on the ways in which he continues to remain inspired.
Some fans may not know this, but you grew with a passion for music along with a desire to act. Did you always have a love for the arts?
I am very drawn to the creative; I used to draw and sketch. I would sit there with my drawing book and go into another world. I miss it and would love to get back to drawing—even meditating—because for me they’re both stimulating. Right now we all should be doing the things that stimulate us, not stress us.
When I was young we took school trips to the museum and I enjoyed going while the other kids didn’t. My permission slip was always signed—anything to get us kids out and doing things. Back then we didn’t come straight home from school, we participated in afterschool programs.
Were you bullied as a child as a result?
I was bullied and picked on, but I was strong. Plus, my brother would come out and tell me that if I Iost, he was going to beat me up, and I didn’t want that. I was always teased about my Chinese heritage; growing up there weren’t too many Asian mixed Black kids, and they used to go to town on me. But I learned to have a tough skin, and once my mom dropped me off at martial arts, it was over.
Was building that tough skin helpful when you began working in a business full of rejection?
Yes, it was. I remember heading out on go-sees and having the person behind the desk not even look at my book. I had some choice words for them and then it turned into me becoming the bad boy of fashion; I didn’t take shit from anyone. Before we had the “Me Too” movement, I had people in the industry try inappropriate things, but I let them know I was from the Bronx and not having any of it. I was there for business only, nothing else.
You have a son who is also following in your creative footsteps. How did he develop his passion for music?
I was playing everything from Miles Davis to James Brown to Eric B. and Rakim. His mom grew up with the sounds of Janis Joplin and Cole Train, plus we both are big Guns N Roses fans, so he was around music from both ends.
His grandfather also taught him how to play the guitar, and he’s self-taught on a lot of the instruments he plays. I can play the drums a little but that’s pretty much the only instrument I can play. He’s been around a studio since he was 11 years old. For us, we know this boy is going to be a musical genius when he’s ready.
He also produced the music for your new cologne, Orion Skye. How did the opportunity come about?
We had a few days to get it together so I sent him the video, he asked me the vibe, and came back with three tracks. Out of those three I was able to pick the one, and when I told him what I picked, he said it was the same one he wanted to choose. We are really on the same wavelength. Even if he and I don’t speak for a week or so, me, him, and his mother are all on the same vibe. He definitely has both our blood in his veins.
Was this the first time you worked together?
No, we had done a shoot for Chinese GQ together, and now he’s going to be scoring the music for my next production, a scripted TV series called “Throttle.” It really is amazing being able to collaborate with him.
You’ve been the face of many brands and now you have your own. Were you involved in creating the scent for this new cologne?
I was involved from start to finish. I was asked what some of my favorite colognes were and I sent over a list of what I liked such as Ralph Lauren Polo, Tom Ford, and Bvlgari. From there we came up with a scent that was amazing. Suggestions were made for the name, but when they mentioned this one, it stuck with me. I have always been into space and astrology, so when I heard it, it was instantaneous.
You’ve spent more than half of your life in front of the camera, now you’re stepping behind it. What encouraged you to do so?
Being on set, and watching and learning from others has been such an inspiration. I’m more driven to be a producer than an actor, and coming up with this scripted TV series has been an amazing journey.
Can you tell us more about the series?
“Throttle” is sort of like “Miami Vice” meets “Fast & Furious.” My partner and I, Steve Hawthorne, created the concept and teamed up with a writer, Adam Targum, who’s written for “Banshee” and other action-adventure shows. I was a fan, and once we clicked, we knew we were going to create something amazing together.
Creating the characters was intriguing, and I pulled a lot of stuff from my own life. In talking to friends, I’ve heard all sorts of stories, and some of these guys I brought in to help out with scenes. So some of the stories are true, just the names have been changed.
Right now we are shopping the series, which is something I’ve never done before. I’ve written five scripts, but this is the furthest I’ve gotten.
In a few short months you’ll be celebrating a milestone birthday; how do you stay young at heart?
By taking good care of myself. I work out, focus on my health, and I put in the work. The way you grow is from the inside out, not the other way around.
Fifteen years ago you were involved in a bad car crash and it had a profound affect on your spirituality. How did the accident change the direction of your life?
It was almost like a rebirth. I realized how important the things were that I took for granted. I could have died that day and left my son fatherless, and I can’t imagine what my mom would have gone through if she lost me. I told myself I have to be more careful in life, not take so much risk. I love fast cars and fast bikes, but I need to remember I’m not immortal.
Styling and Photography by Twila True Collaborations, RivalWorld, and Karissa Walker.
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