For Tyson Beckford, His Time Is Now

The model discusses his turn to acting — butt cheeks and all in Chocolate City — and growing bored with the fashion industry.

Discovered in 1992, Tyson Beckford has been modeling — at one point, becoming the face of Ralph Lauren’s Polo menswear — for over two decades. But many may be surprised to know that the fashion industry was never his original pursuit. In fact, Beckford says he only turned to modeling as a way to “pay the bills” when acting didn’t initially work out.

“My natural progression was always to go to acting,” Beckford says as he turns his attention to Hollywood with starring roles in 2014’s Addicted and Jean-Claude LaMarre’s all-male stripper drama, Chocolate City, hitting theaters May 22.

“I felt like there was nothing left for me to do,” he says of his career, which included ad campaigns for Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, a reign as eye candy in a number of ‘90s music videos, a spot onPeople magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People, hosting Bravo’s short-lived reality competition, Make Me a Supermodel, and a cameo in Zoolander. Essentially the only thing left for him was a pursuit of acting for Beckford, who embraces the label, “model slash actor” (and not the other way around).

In Chocolate City, Beckford plays the villainous aging stripper, Adrian, who becomes jealous of an amateur performer (Robert Ri’chard). The role might look like a parallel to his own career — an aging supermodel who has been accused of shading other young, male black models. In actuality, it’s an opportunity do something that makes him happy. “I put my aside my passion to go back to fashion,” Beckford says of wanting to leave the modeling industry much earlier, but only staying when he noticed models of color were being pushed out. “I’m not one who looks at things in color, but when you start to notice something so obvious like this you have to step up and say something.”

Acknowledging the industry is “getting extremely better,” Beckford felt it was time to refocus. “Everyone was like, ‘Can you stay and teach us.’ And if I stay and teach them, what does my life become,” he says, admitting it was an unsatisfying position to be in. Maybe throwing a little bit of shade, Beckford says that male models now are “all like cookie cutters” as him and David Gandyhold the title of male supermodel with no real heir to follow suit.

“That’s why I went to movies. Chocolate City is something I’m very passionate about. I was the first one to sign on — [the rest of the cast] all signed on because I was doing it — and the script was so good,” Beckford says. “It just made sense.”

Though, even Beckford has to admit the film is as much about acting as it is about his body. “You get a good percentage of good, brown cheeks,” he says, revealing he shows the most skin in the film. “I worked out hard in the gym. I was squatting a lot to get these cheeks tight. Not that they weren’t tight before, but they were super tight for this role.”

That may be enough to draw the gay audiences, much like Magic Mike when it became a box office hit in 2012 and secured a sequel, Magic Mike XXL, which comes out on July 1. “A lot of men and women find us all attractive,” Beckford says. “It’s a blessing.”

How Chocolate City does at the box office remains to be seen, but working in Hollywood is just ramping up for Beckford. The model also filmed Supermodel, a high-stakes drama about being black in the fashion industry, and was even courted by Fox’s Empire. While he was unable to film an episode last December, he does hope he gets called again. Then there’s Zoolander 2, which Ben Stiller recently started filming. “I don’t want to put any pressure on [Stiller], but the fans have been asking for it,” Beckford says of the possibility of returning — hopefully in a role that’s more than just a cameo.

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