2014 was a standout year for Empire star Trai Byers. The actor has been appearing in TV and movies here and there since 2009 — you might remember him from his seminal first film Caesar and Ottos' Summer Camp Massacre (though on second thought, maybe not). But this was the year Byers finally broke through. If you don't know this actor's work already, you're certainly about to, especially once Empire premieres. One of the most anticipated pilots of the year, the show tells the story of a record label owner, Lucius Lyon (Terrence Howard), who must decide which of his sons will inherit his business after he's diagnosed with ALS. I guess the idea of loving all your kids equally doesn't really apply when you've only got one company to give away.
Byers plays Andre, the eldest Lyon son and Empire Entertainment's current CFO. Obviously, he believes he deserves the business, and he's got the credentials and the experience to back up his claim. But, unlike his younger brothers, Andre doesn't have a passion for music. He knows how to close a deal, but not who the next great MC will be. And that makes Lucius wary of putting his firstborn in charge. Add Andre's scheming wife to all this family drama, and you've got a plot worthy of both Shakespeare and The CW, which will actually play out on FOX. Watch Bustle's drunk recap of Empire Season 1 here:
So why else was 2014 so good for Byers? Check out the other projects he worked on.
One of the best-reviewed movies of the year, Selma is guaranteed to earn some major buzz at award shows over the next few months — it's already up for four Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture - Drama. Byers plays James Forman, one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s allies in the struggle for civil rights and an early leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which organized student protests and was extremely influential in King's March on Washington. Forman was the first of two historically important roles Byers took on last year.
Another film that takes place during the Civil Rights Era, Jayhawkers began with a Kickstarter campaign and eventually became a feature-length movie. It tells the story of NBA great Wilt Chamberlain's experience playing college ball for the University of Kansas, during a time when many teams were still segregated. Along with Selma, Byers is clearly distinguishing himself as an actor who's interested in projects that highlight key issues and figures.
If 2014 was a good year for Byers, 2015 is looking even better. Along with his new TV show, the actor has a brand new movie coming out at the end of this month. Americons is about the 2009 economic collapse, but don't go thinking it's all boring suits and number crunching. Byers plays a banker who gets sucked into the wealth and privilege of his fancy, expensive lifestyle, only to have it all come crashing down around him.
If Empire's positive reception continues, 2015 might just top the very impressive 2014 for Byers.
Image: Michael Lavine/FOX