Turning a New Leaf

Former Detroit banker trades cubicle for Hollywood, stars in meaty role as O.J. Simpson’s son in new FX series

We all know the story about a local talent working a dead-end job, chasing a dream, and desperately waiting for a big break. But Tye White’s story is a little different.

Before finding success in Hollywood, White pursued a degree in economics, then embarked on a successful run as a banker for Chase Bank. But the University of Michigan graduate and metro Detroit native got sick of working a mundane, 9-to-5 job trapped inside a cubicle.

“I was sitting at my desk one day and called my friend,” White says. “He said, ‘We only have 30 more years of this until we retire,’ and that was the end of it.”

Shortly after that phone call, White packed up his belongings and moved to L.A.

“At the end of the day, I had to do what made me happy,” White says.

What’s made him happy most recently is landing roles on Greenleaf, which was set to debut in the spring on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network, and as O.J. Simpson’s eldest son, Jason, in the new FX mini-series American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, set to premiere in February.

Before those roles, White says he was inspired by silver screen greats like Denzel Washington, Robert De Niro, and Kevin Spacey. He landed guest roles on TV series such as Pretty Little Liars and Mixology. As he continued to make a name for himself in Tinseltown, he started to score more notable roles as characters in NCIS: Los Angeles opposite LL Cool J, and VH1’s Drumline: A New Beat.

“Drumline was one of the more challenging roles because the role I played was very different from who I am as a person,” White says. “The character I played was a very misogynistic person, and I’m the complete opposite. The role I’m playing in Greenleaf is also very different from who I am, but I like to push boundaries and step out of my comfort zone.”

Greenleaf follows the scandalous and secretive religious empire of the drama-filled Greenleaf family. White assumes the role of Kevin Satterlee, the son-in-law of the Greenleaf Ministries’ pastor.

As the filming of the series came to an end, White found himself portraying yet another high-profile character, this time as O.J. Simpson’s eldest son.

“I have a very meaty role, and there’s a lot of fun stuff that’s going to happen,” White says. “It’s a dream come true. Two years ago, I would have never believed that this could happen.”

The series focuses on the trial following the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and features an all-star cast that includes John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Sarah Paulson. Series director Ryan Murphy, known for American Horror Story, has become a kind of mentor for White since the two met on set.

“Outside of his talent, he is just a genuinely nice person,” White says. “I haven’t met everybody in Hollywood, but sometimes you just get that misconception that people with so much power have a certain persona, but he’s not that type of person. He believes in you and is such a pleasure to work with.”

As his career continues to unfold, White may find himself working alongside many more Hollywood powerhouses. And although he’s thankful for the opportunities he’s had thus far, a man can dream. When asked to sketch out his dream role, including a “fantasy cast” and movie synopsis, White has his responses ready.

“Denzel Washington would be cast as my father, for sure. My best friend would play my brother, and Phylicia Rashad would play my mother, because she reminds me so much of my own. My role would be some type of high school or boxing movie where I’d have to fight my brother in the ring, or something along the lines of Training Day. Hopefully I’m lucky enough to get to do that one day.”

If there’s one thing the limelight has taught him, White says it’s to remain humble. And for anyone else interested in making the leap from economics (or any other career) to acting, White has this advice: “Just go.”

“Don’t be afraid to take a leap,” he says. “Have patience because nothing is promised. I believe that everyone’s dreams can happen, as long as you have supportive people around you.”