There it was in the back seat, the bright red Chanel lipstick that ended up defining this actor’s already ravishing smile and an important direction his career would take. Thanks to talent and the opportunities he has accepted, Tye Olson stands out as remarkable not only for the widely varied screen-roles he is able to play but equally for a life he has maneuvered through some menacing times.
Adventurous enough to have left his home and loving family in Minnesota for an acting career, he was seized by news that would complicate his focus. What made him go in for the medical checkup? He says, quite simply, “I was a hypochondriac, so they caught it early and I was put on meds.” The hardest part of having been diagnosed as HIV positive was, he says, “the mentality of it. I was healthy but not mentally. It turns a person’s world upside down. My priorities changed and I lost track of the direction I wanted to go.” But, once on a prescribed course of medical treatment, go he did.
Between Los Angeles and San Francisco and back again for projects that included a significant role in the film Watercolors with a director who had become a father figure to him and and who wanted to do a documentary for Life-Cycle, a seven day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to increase awareness of and services for people diagnosed with AIDS. Tye has ridden in this event for five years, camping every twenty miles, although glamping, he says with a broad smile, is available as well. He stayed in San Francisco for a while in the luxury men’s-wear retail business, for which he is, of course, a fabulous model. He hung out with a few friends who liked to wear heels out for the evening, which was, he says “Fun, but takes practice.” And, here would be a good time to buckle your seat belt.
He was driving with Uber and Lyft when a life changing glimmer in the back seat of his vehicle, caught his eye. And his imagination; you can always count on Tye Olson to let imagination take a creative lead. He wrote to Uber to let his passengers know he found that Chanel lipstick, but as no one ever contacted him to claim it, he decided finally to put it on, and, as he notes, that “most beautiful red was the start of my drag life.” After a time of going out with friends in heels and dresses, he went out in drag to an audition for the part of a woman in a Japanese tv show. At what point did they know he was not physically a woman? He answers, reflecting a deeper societal change, “The male role was a man who transitioned into a woman. I played the woman role.” He now goes on auditions as “Tye” and asks if he is being booked as a man or woman. Personal fluidity gives him the advantage of being able to do either with equal strength, grace and beauty.
Tye,’s medical reality was hard enough for him to swallow, he says, but it came at a really difficult time for his parents and his sister living in Minnesota, who were all facing their own punishing challenges, so he chose not to tell them right away about his HIV diagnosis. With his defining sweetness and consideration of others, he waited until he could do it in person.
He is back in Los Angeles now, and while still a stylist for menswear company and doing some live theater in San Francisco, his first love is shooting a scene a few times and being complete with it. He is honing in on HIV advocacy and LGBT films. Recently he did an anti-smoking campaign as Taylor. Why is drag so appealing? He says, “Because you can’t take yourself so seriously. You have to be goofy with wigs and heels and running around.”
To hear Tye talk about his life in his own voice is to realize that harmony can be found even with some discordant threads. How fortunate for him that he wants to be remembered as resilient and happy, two qualities that are very much his and have held him in good stead at every difficult turn while keeping him grounded at every joyous one. No matter the mountain he has climbed, he has landed safely on his sometimes beautifully high-heeled feet.
His love letter may be to someone who has challenged him, who has pushed him. His mother always made the children write thank you letters, he says, “so people will have something in our handwriting, that we took the time to write it.” He says, “You can take a look at any day in your life and find someone who could use or deserves a love letter of gratitude.” Exactly, Tyler. Exactly. And, thank you for mentioning it.