Tyson Beckford on supermodel staying power, his post-fashion projects, and why he just can’t get enough Chippendales.
Tyson Beckford is a healthy, healthy man—about as virtuous an eater as those who have seen him in various states of undress in his weekend performances at Chippendales might imagine. But even supermodels take a cheat day, and during the shoot for our cover story, he told us his kryptonite is Fatburger. (His “cheat” is a double turkey burger with lettuce, onion, tomato, and ketchup.) But discipline isn’t new for Beckford. Even after becoming the exclusive face of Ralph Lauren’s Polo Sport label in 1994, he says, “There would be big billboards of me, but I was still going to acting classes and castings, doing jobs, reading movie scripts, learning my lines. It didn’t matter what was up there, because it was already up there. I’m always thinking about the future. What’s next?” What was next, of course, were over two decades as the most successful male supermodel of all time, and roles and appearances in dozens of films, television shows, and music videos. But the buzz on Beckford now is his third, sizzling celebrity host run with Chippendales—a role that both he and his clamoring fans love so much, it’s been extended through July 9th (with talks to add performances through the end of the year). Recently, we took Tyson to Fatburger on the Strip and, under the watchful gaze of circling fans, talked about how to stay relevant for decades, and why there’s no place he’d rather be on the weekends than with his Chippendales boys at the Rio.
If this is your cheat day, what’s a regular day like?
I have a personal fitness chef that sends my meals to me weighed and in portions. They’re fish, grilled chicken and broccoli, and salmon of course. I used to eat red meat, but I got to a point where I said no more. It made me feel a lot lighter, a lot healthier. My mother got me on an organic diet when I was 25. A lot of people didn’t know what organic was at that time, and they didn’t have Whole Foods. You went to the market on a Saturday or Sunday or you bought from a local store that got it from someone’s backyard.
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So training for Chippendales doesn’t mean that you have to totally readjust your lifestyle…
For me, no. From being a model, I always had that training to get into super-lean shape two weeks out. I’d be running like 5 percent body fat, and then if I knew I’d have to shoot something, I’d drop to 3 percent. I’d get calls from my manager asking what I wanted to eat on set, and I basically changed the whole crew to eating well. Where they’d never had kale before, they’d try it. Since I kept them working, they’d roll with it.
I’ve heard you say that you’re bringing in more diverse crowds to Chippendales.
Yeah, I’ve heard it from the guys. It’s all different age groups and nationalities. All these black ladies came in yesterday from the South, and they said, “We saw you on The View [he appeared April 12], and we just had to come see you.” When you get stuff like that, you kind of melt. It’s a really blessed thing to go out on a show like that and have your friends call you up and people on the street say, “Oh, I just saw you on The View, I just saw you on Dr. Oz.”
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What do you think it takes to stay relevant for so many years?
I’m not doing anything special—I’m just being me! I look at kids on social media, and I say, “What’s your talent? Can you act? Can you sing?” We grew up watching people like Michael Jackson and Prince. They had so much talent and they changed the world musically and gave back to charities and in disasters. What have these people done? What is their contribution? Why is it you have more followers than a Nobel Peace Prize winner?
Do you watch reality TV?
I’ll watch it and I just laugh. And then I go back to the reality of what life really is. My reality TV is watching MSNBC and CNN. I want to know what Kim Jong-un’s doing.
This is your third run as the celebrity host of Chippendales. How did it come about?
They have this secret list. And you probably won’t ever get to see this list, but that’s their wish list. I remember as a kid in New York walking by their theater and thinking, Oh, they’re in great shape. Someday I’d like to look like that—never thinking that one day I would be one of those guys. People say, “You’re a supermodel, how come you’re doing that?” And I say it’s because I got bored of doing the supermodel thing. I like doing different things. I don’t want to be a stereotype. I say to myself each night when I get offstage, “They’re actually paying me to have fun?” You know, these ladies come in to the flirt lounge and they say, “You look like you’re having so much fun up there.” You can’t fake that. I’m surrounded by these guys who eat and sleep this. You have to respect it, because they take it so seriously. Muscle memory puts them in the same place every time to perfect every move, every turn, every flip, and every gesture. I watch James Davis, John Howes, and John Cook, and they’re precise and consistent every night. They make it look so effortless, but they put in so much work to be so consistent.
Are you having more fun than they are?
I think so! I really think so! I’m laughing, I’m giggling. This is my third time around, and I think it’s more fun than the first time.
You broke box office records in your first stints with Chippendales—is that why you came back?
I don’t look at the numbers. I know it’s good for corporate to look at the numbers, but I came back for the guys. Even when I was doing something else but I was in town, I’d leave the hottest party, come over, and run backstage. John Cook—one of the main choreographers—would be like, “You want to get up there?” And I’d be like, “Can I? Can I?” And it would be a surprise to the audience. I did it a few times, and it was so fun.
You’ve done pretty much all things. Anything you haven’t done?
There’s still that lingering Dancing with the Stars. They’ve asked me to do it. They’ve chased down personal friends of mine, and I’m like, “How do they know?” I want to do it. It’s just the timing. They want you when they want you. I’m going back to doing some movies this year. My next one is supposed to be a comedy. That one I’m really looking forward to doing. The working title is Drunken Zombie Apocalypse, so you can imagine what that one’s like.
Isn’t that every night in Vegas? Drunken Zombie Apocalypse?
That would be a great one to film in Vegas. Maybe part 2 we’ll do here. Ian [Ziering, who also hosted Chippendales] ran off and did Sharknado. It was a silly movie but it took off. Maybe I’m walking in his footsteps. They filmed Sharknado 4 in Vegas… The sharks are attacking on the roof of the Stratosphere, and the Chippendales are fighting them off with their crotches. John Cook pelvis thrusts and the shark goes flying [laughs].
How old were you when you started modeling?
My mother pushed me into modeling when I was 13. At that time, I was more concerned with BMX bikes, skateboarding, hanging out with my friends. Once in a while, they’d have these fashion shows, and I’d jump in because they needed a teenage boy. But then I got so involved in playing high school sports that I’d be like, “Mom, I don’t have time for that. I’ve gotta go lift weights.” I was being groomed to be a runway model from age 13, and didn’t really think about it until right now.
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You literally represented the changing face of American fashion.
In the ’90s, I was a big Ralph Lauren model. It was that skateboarding, WASPy, kid from the Hamptons look. There weren’t too many guys of color on the runway, you know? I don’t think they were even looking at guys of color at the time. But I look back and I think, Wow, I really did something back then. It was groundbreaking.
When you started out, were you worried about getting typecast?
I think so, and that’s what motivated me to do something they wouldn’t expect you to do. Every time I get a script, I look at it and I say, “Is this something I’ve done before?” I don’t want to just play the handsome guy. I’ve always thought that just when they think they know who you are, you’ve got to go do something different that takes you to another level.
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