You many not know him by his birth name of Trai Byers. But he may ring a bell by being Andre’, the eldest son of the Lyons family on FOX’s hit show, Empire. Byers got his start in Hollywood by joining the cast of the popular daytime drama All My Children in 2011 as Mookie, an abusive ex-boyfriend. The following year, he made the leap to prime time with a role on 90210, playing a young man with a head for business.
But it wasn’t until his breakout role as Andre Lyon that people started to really take notice. His character is sharp, smart, dedicated and struggling with bipolar disorder. Something you rarely see in a show with a majority African American cast.
Trai keeps it real on how he prepared for the role and how he tries to stay true to portraying the mental illness in the correct way.
“To be honest with you, one of the more useful things is that I have a family member who struggles with bipolar disorder,” admits Byers. “I was able to witness one of this person’s episodes in a very extreme manner that aided me with where we were able to take Andre. It weighs heavily on me, but I love doing work like this. Bipolar disorder — and mental illness in general — is something I think we as a country kind of sweep under the rug. We pass it off as behavioral problems rather than a genuine imbalance that sometimes dictates our behavior. To be able to have a platform for people with bipolar disorder on “Empire” is amazing.”
Byers go on to say, “So many people have reached out who are bipolar or who deal with people who are bipolar and are appreciative of the way we deal we have dealt with it authentically.”
“I’m just gonna keep it real with you. As a black man in the 21st century, I still have to deal with the fact that skin color is an issue. As we’re seeing on the news every single day, skin color is an issue. Being a black man comes with stigmas all its own and trying to be the best person you can be, trying to be a man above and beyond your skin color and having to overcome the ideas that your skin color represents just so you can have a job, just so you can be competitive in business or whatever element or aspect of life is hard enough.”
“So, anything that looks like it can tear you down, anything that looks like it’s a handicap, you want to dismiss, you want to throw it to your side. Especially if it’s somebody who is part of your team and not you yourself. Look at how Lucious deals with ALS. He doesn’t tell anybody, he tries to do his business in underhanded ways. He does anything that he can to keep his name alive. His reputation is most important to him.”
Now, as a newlywed to his Empire co-star, Grace Gealey, in real life, Trai is taking fame, marriage and life in general all in stride. When asked how he keeps it together, he simply said:
“I go back to a chapter in the Bible, and for a long time I felt like a bit of an underdog, but when I look at it from a spiritual standpoint, I know the inevitability of me being a great representation of God is completely there. That’s what matters the most to me. The thing I say to people all the time is to be still. Be still. Everything will be what it’s supposed to be if you be still.”