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What’s in your bag, Tyler Alvarez?

Aquaphor, a Pentax K-1000, an inhaler, and more from one of the stars of Netflix’s American Vandal

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

What’s in your bag? is a recurring feature where we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring actor Tyler Alvarez.

The second season of American Vandal premieres today on Netflix, and if the trailer is any guide, it promises to be a real shitstorm. High off the newfound (in-universe and real-life) viral fame they’ve earned through the show’s first season, in which they solved the mystery of who drew the dicks, the fresh-faced journalists / detectives Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) and Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) have found themselves with a slew of pleas from vandal victims around the country.

The new season takes on a case at a Catholic high school in Bellevue, Washington, where a culprit known only as the Turd Burglar has poisoned the literal well: the Burglar spikes the cafeteria lemonade with what looks like laxatives, giving the whole school diarrhea. This time, Maldonado and Ecklund look like they have their hands full... of shit.

Tyler Alvarez, the actor who plays Maldonado, is a little different than his on-screen character: he’s older (Alvarez has, in fact, graduated from high school), wiser (he doesn’t have a finsta), and certainly goofier (he wants a pet monkey). But Peter’s still in there somewhere. During our interview, Alvarez even caught himself slipping into character.

“When I read the script, I thought it was going to be really, really good,” he says of American Vandal’s first season. “I didn’t think that it would go this viral the way it did,” even though he had an inkling. “I wouldn’t explain the concept to too many people because I didn’t think that people would understand it,” Alvarez continues. “You kind of just have to see it.” From the sound of it — he couldn’t talk details — season 2 is going to be more of the same. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation. (Note: Some of the nonstop laughing that blanketed this interview has been cut for clarity.)

Tyler Alvarez: The most important thing in my bag is my Aquaphor. I do not go anywhere without this thing. Literally, I’m not kidding you. I can’t have any conversations. I can’t concentrate or do anything without Aquaphor. Like, literally, I will not. Chapstick, wallet, keys is my checklist before I leave the house. My wallet. My crumpled earphones that are always in a knot. They’re always a mess. But sometimes they get untangled. Oh, my passport, which I forgot to take out of my book bag.

Amelia Krales: Well, you were just in Greece.

Yeah, I went to a bunch of different islands. It was crazy. In the US, I feel like we’re so focused on becoming something and working. People there are more focused on living their life and enjoying life as opposed to trying to accomplish something. Which is different and interesting... not that they’re not trying to accomplish anything because I think they appreciate life in a different way that we don’t.

I have asthma. So I don’t go anywhere without my inhaler. I never use it.

My Obey hat, which I wear all the time. Hair gets a little messy.

My Ray-Bans. I love these.

Oh, I usually always carry a notebook on me because I get random ideas. I also recycle notebooks. So in the beginning of this is like when I was in English class. But then there’s like a midsection turn to acting.

That’s my favorite part about any job is, anytime I get a job, I get a new notebook. And I write the name of the project. Now it’s actually happening for me.

That was my favorite part: to get the new notebook and write “American Vandal season 2” on it.

My computer, which is broken.

“I can’t concentrate or do anything without Aquaphor. Like literally I will not.”

Bijan Stephen: You still have a CD drive, wow.

Oh, yeah. We’re back to the Stone Age. That’s what’s in my bag. You make it look so pretty.

Amelia: I try. What phone do you have?

This is very much me. It’s cracked and broken and full of sand from the beach.

Amelia: And which model is it?

The iPhone 7. And it’s like falling apart. As always. Does anybody not have a cracked screen?

Bijan: My screen protector is cracked.

Oh, yeah, same. It’s my screen protector.

Amelia: I eat phones for breakfast.

Me, too.

Amelia: Yeah, don’t feel bad.

Bijan: Despite working at a tech website.

Come on. Step up your game. Life’s hard.

Bijan: So I guess the first question I have is: where did you go to high school?

I went to LaGuardia [Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City]. I was there for my freshman year. I was there all freshman year. But I left early because I started working on a Nickelodeon series [Every Witch Way]. I booked that during Christmastime, so I left LaGuardia in January, came back in June, had two weeks of school left, which was great. Came home, started the summer.

But I lived in Long Island when I was going to LaGuardia. So I traveled every day, an hour, two hours every day.

Bijan: And what was going back to school like for American Vandal?

I can never fucking escape high school. I’m constantly being brought back to high school. But going back for a second season was a lot of fun. We had a lot of the same crew. Griffin was there. So we were in Portland, Oregon, which was freezing. Really cold. But the food was incredible, very much New York vibes.

Bijan: What can you tell me about season 2?  

This crime is a lot more crazy and interesting. I mean, even preparing this season was a lot more work because this crime is so much more complex. And there are a lot more little details to it. As the investigator, I have to know everything about everybody. Because we also do a lot of improv. Every fact, every detail, every date, every time. So with this one, it being so dense, there was a lot to memorize.

Bijan: For season 1, how old were you when you booked it?

I had just graduated from high school. I was 18.

Bijan: And did you know that premise?


Bijan: How did that come up?

We had no idea what the show was about. No idea! All I knew was that there were dicks and a crime. I didn’t know who I was, what character I was playing in it, or anything. And they even had a little bit of improv in the audition.

So we were really confused because I was also up for another part at the same time. We’re trying to decide which project that we were going to go forward with, and then we finally got on a call with the creative team and they explained the concept. I was sold.

Bijan: That’s sort of what I was about to ask because the show is basically a better commentary on Serial than any of the… You know what I mean. It’s just a very smartly done thing. Did you know it was funny?

When I was reading the scripts, I thought it was really funny. And in the table read, we were cracking up the entire time. I’d never experienced a table read like that before.

But when I was filming it, I never looked at it as funny. And there’s even a funny moment from this past season where we were filming a scene, and the other character broke. And I’m like, “What? Did I mess up? Did I say something?” He’s like, “No. Do you know what you’re arguing right now?”

It’s just so ridiculous. But I treat it so much like a murder. I rarely crack because I treat it so seriously.

“When I was filming it, I never looked at it as funny.”

Bijan: It’s funny because it definitely comes through. Season 1 was really fucking good. Did you think it was going to be successful when you guys were making it?

When I read the script, I thought it was going to be really, really good. When we were filming it, I thought it was going to be really good. I honestly always believed in it. I guess I didn’t think that it would go this viral the way it did.

I guess I was a little afraid that it wouldn’t. I wouldn’t explain the concept to too many people because I didn’t think that people would understand it. You kind of just have to see it.

Bijan: Right.

I had high hopes for it.

Bijan: So what else are you working on?  

I have a film coming out with James Franco. He directed it. Pretenders, with Juno Temple. Then, hopefully, season 3 of American Vandal.

Bijan: What’s your favorite part about playing Peter?

Solving the crime.

Bijan: Do you feel like you’re solving it?

Yes. Yes. Because I break down the crime the way Peter would. I write down the list of the facts on notecards, and I go through each episode.

I kind of take the facts we know so far in this episode, and brainstorm trying to figure out who it is or what’s going on or what leads I want to follow up on. And then I go on to the second episode, and I write down the facts from that. At the end, I have this massive board of a bunch of things. I really do feel like I’m solving it because they also let me ask my own questions in the improv.

Bijan: How much of the show is improv?

We improv everything, but we end up using a lot of the script. We always do improv takes of each scene. So the things that I’d say are the most improv, at least from what I do, are the interviews.

The script has maybe five questions. And then I come in with a list of 40 questions that the other actor has no idea what I’m going to ask them.

Bijan: Has it made you think about journalism any differently?

Yes. If I’m not an actor — if I decide to quit acting one day — I want to go into journalism because I have so much respect for it. Because it’s so much fun lifting the curtain on things and exposing corruption. I don’t know what it is, but studying Bob Woodward and all those great journalists, I am obsessed with journalism now.

Bijan: Great to hear!

I have so much respect for it, and how necessary it is because it holds power accountable. And there’s a lot of purpose in it. Such a direct impact on the world.

Bijan: Has it changed the way that you do interviews? You know, when you’re being interviewed?


Bijan: Not to get super meta.

What I’m doing is trying to just connect with my interviewer.

Bijan: So back to American Vandal. Do you know how it’s going to end? Or do they keep that...  

No, no, no. I know the whole thing. I also want to kind of be left trying to figure out [the conclusion] on my own. That’s why I read them in order. And I kind of break them down and try to solve it as I read it.

Bijan: And you did that for the first season. So were you right? And if you read them one at a time, did you get to the solution? Or did it surprise you?  

Oh my God, the crime is just so complex. I felt really guilty. I was like, “I’m sorry, Peter. You’re a lot smarter than I am.” And I just let him solve the crime.

There was a time where we were breaking it down. Like, “Oh, why didn’t we ask about this guy? Because he has access to everything?”

Bijan: And so for the ending of the first season, it was it was slightly ambiguous. What was your take on it? Who drew the dicks?

It was Christa Carlyle. I thought we weren’t going to say anything about it. But then we were doing this panel and my showrunner was like “Oh yeah, Christa Carlyle.” I was like, “Okay, I guess we’re going with that now!”

But yeah, it was Christa. I knew that. I’m no better… Sorry, I’m going into Peter now.

Peter is no better than the school board and the administration, if I convict somebody or I make a judgment on someone based on no hard evidence. And I like the way that we ended it. It was on point.

Bijan: It was a perfect note to end on. How much bigger is this new crime than the dicks? Orders of magnitude? Is it 10 times bigger? A hundred times bigger? The biggest case of his career?  

Yeah. At least in Peter’s career? This crime was, well, it was a lot. It was a lot of work because there are so many nuances and so many characters and people. I like this crime better than I liked the last season. And I love the last season. So it was really hard to top. This crime took me on an even crazier journey as a character.

Bijan: Are there dicks in the new season?

There are no dicks in the new season.

Bijan: Damn it.  

No dicks in this season. But I’m going to leave it at that.

“There are no dicks in the new season.”

Bijan: What do you do when you’re not Peter and you’re not filming your other stuff?  

I’ve been getting really into photography, which is why I got that camera. Taking pictures, hanging out with my friends. I go to the beach a lot. I go running on the beach a lot.

Since I was 15, I’ve been working, and I’m very much a go-getter. I’m always on and trying to [figure out] what’s the next step? What am I doing?

So ever since American Vandal, I’ve been taking a little bit of a breather because I feel like I’ve gotten to a certain place where I can relax a little bit and not run so hard. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still running.

This is my whole world. That’s been my whole world since I was 15. I want to get into painting, I want to study different cultures, and I’m dying to travel more.

Bijan: So let’s talk about the stuff you brought. If you lost everything in your bag, what’s the one thing you’d want to save over everything else?

Well, the camera because this [picks up Aquaphor] I can get for two bucks at CVS. But I always say if I’m stranded on an island, the one thing I need is Aquaphor. And maybe coconuts because I can eat and drink from them. Very practical.

But I literally don’t leave anywhere without it. I’ve been five blocks away from my house, like “Fuck, I left my Aquaphor at home,” and I’ll drive back. It’s that serious for me. I have 30,000 of these, and I lose every single one.

Bijan: Tell me about the Obey hat.  

The Obey hat. That was a gift from one of the set PAs from when I worked on Nickelodeon. It’s honestly been my favorite hat ever. And this has been with me since I was 15. And this has gone with me to almost every single set I’ve ever worked on. I wear it because at 5:30 in the morning, nobody got time to be looking cute. I just throw my hat on and go in my PJs and roll up to work. But yeah, I love this Obey hat.

My passport, which I forgot to take out of my book bag. I was just in Greece. My cousin got married there, and we went to a bunch of different islands, Athens, Mykonos, which is sick. It was a lot of fun. The culture and the people and the food... I had so much feta. I literally don’t even want to look at another piece for at least another two days. But yeah... my earphones are always tangled, and it’s a stress.

Bijan: I mean, I get it. Mine are the same.  

Just throwing it in the bag or whatever. Being in New York, I use them a lot more because in LA, I have my car. [In New York], I’m in the subway, train, whatever.

Bijan: Tell me about the camera. When did you get it?

I got it the day before I left Portland after wrapping season 2. Me and Griffin [Gluck, who plays Sam Ecklund] actually got cameras.

We were out to brunch with his family. His dad was like, “Oh, I want to go check out this camera shop.” And I was like, “Ugh, I want to go home and take a shower and whatever.” And then we ended up going there, and I got fascinated by it. Oh, is that a crack? [looks at camera lens] Whatever. We’ll worry about that later.

Amelia: I think that’s just the filter.

This crack? [points to camera]

Amelia: Let’s see. See, that’s a filter. That’s not the actual lens. But I could unscrew it.

Okay, there we go.

Yeah, so we got this after wrap, and I really feel like I can see people for the first time. Shooting on film, specifically. I just think it captures people’s souls and essences perfectly.

Bijan: Is that why you chose a film camera?

No, because I didn’t know that when I when I first got it... I discovered that as I got it. I just wanted a camera, and I thought it was really cool. And Griffin was getting one. I just got more into it. And I like shooting people. That’s my favorite thing to shoot. I like capturing people in certain moments.

Bijan: What do you do with the pictures you take?  

I hang them on my wall in my room. I take only my favorite shots and I tape them to my wall and then go through them, or stylize them in the way I like it. But this is my favorite thing ever. It’s my favorite hobby besides acting. I love this thing.

Bijan: Do you think you’ll get another camera?  

Yes, definitely. This is just like a beginner’s camera. I need to get a new lens. I want to get a wider lens to shoot more long range. Because I like shooting people in public. I also like shooting people randomly without them knowing.

I know. I like capturing people in certain moments. I got this amazing shot of this woman at The Grove in LA. It looked like they were on their first date or something, and you could just see the twinkle and the happiness and love in her eyes. Trying to capture that from five tables behind, I felt like such a creeper.

But isn’t that what photographers do? They shoot random people? Is that a thing? Please tell me I’m not alone in this.

Amelia: Street photographers do that!

Yeah, okay. So I’m a street photographer. Yes. That’s what I am.

Bijan: Do you post the pictures online anywhere?

You know what I want to do? I want to start a photography page. But I’m trying to bank a lot of photos so I can have some content. But also part of me doesn’t want to do that because I want to kind of keep it for me. So I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my photos just yet.

Bijan: You could just make a finsta.

A lot of my friends have finstas, and I don’t. I would like to have a finsta, but I don’t trust it.

Bijan: That’s fair.

Amelia: What’s a finsta?

It’s a fake Instagram account.

Bijan: A more private one.

So you only have people you trust on it. You can post obscene photos that you definitely would not want your parents or anybody seeing. Or the media.

Bijan: So going back to high school. In season 2, you’re playing a high school student again. Did you guys touch on being in high school at all? Like the culture. I remember in season 1, you had the party, and that was the big deal. But what’s new in that vein?

Well, we’re in another high school. But this time, we’re in a Catholic school. So that comes with its own set of constraints and fun things to play with. Because I didn’t go to a private school, I learned a lot about what it was like for people who did go to private school or Catholic school.

Bijan: Like what?  

I can’t talk too much about it. But, you know, how religion is a factor and stuff like that. That’s all I can say without getting fired.

Bijan: I’m interested because one of the things we write a lot about here is the way technology changes people’s lives. And things like finstas are culture shifts along those lines. So I was just curious to hear if you guys — even just in filming it — addressed that kind of thing.  

Well, I can’t say anything about that. But from my own experience, social media has really changed everything. And the way people perceive the world and perceive people. I can’t talk too much about this. I’m going to give away too much. I’m going to stop.

Bijan: So how do you interact with social media?

Ever since I’ve been working, it’s a little different. Because social media is now more of a platform. When I was working on other shows before this, they kind of wanted you to post certain things, and talk in a certain way. At a point, it became a little bit unorganic for me. But now, since being on Netflix, I have a lot more freedom. And I’ve been getting a lot more honest with my followers, and actually being able to express myself and show different sides of myself that I wasn’t able to before.

Bijan: What’s your favorite social media platform?  

Instagram. I’m on Instagram all the time. I’m about to go to bed... fast-forward two hours later, and I’m on a feed of animals for three hours.

“I don’t like anything that brings me down.”

Bijan: What kind of stuff do you follow there?   

BlackJaguarWhiteTiger. He has a bunch of tigers and lions and stuff, so it’s dope. Now I want a monkey.

Bijan: I feel like monkeys are super hard to take care of.


Bijan: You should definitely do it.

I’m not going to get one.

Bijan: You definitely should, though.  

No. Why? Because I hear bad things. If you don’t give them enough attention, they’ll, like, eat you. Yeah. So actually, no, I shouldn’t say that. But I do want a monkey, though. But nobody got time to be cleaning up all that piss and stuff.

Bijan: I’m very curious about how your digital life is structured. Obviously, you have a public persona that you have to maintain. How does that even change the way you think about posting things?

I just check my grammar. That’s the biggest thing. Other than that, I don’t censor. And I’m no longer censored at all.

Bijan: So going from the kids network to...

Yeah, going from a kids to a more adult atmosphere. But yeah, I don’t really censor too much.

Stop Motion by Michele Doying / The Verge

Bijan: Okay, cool. Are you into YouTube or anything?

Not really. I watched music [videos]. That’s about it. I just got Apple Music. Before, I’d have to go online and download it, and blah blah blah. Before, I just used YouTube to listen to music. Nowadays, I can download it, thanks to my mom’s family plan.

Bijan: That’s great. So, what other shows do you watch?  

I just finished Wild, Wild Country, which is insane. Highly recommend it. I just started Big Little Lies on my 10-hour flight home from Greece. It was really good. But my earphones kept messing up, so I decided to stop it and wait until I can hear clearly. I’m bingeing Orange Is the New Black right now also.

Also, I have the worst taste in music. I listen to anything that I find.

Bijan: Please disclose it to our followers.

Oh god, no. I mean, not that these are bad artists. All my friends always rip on me because they hate my music.

But I like very upbeat music. EDM, I love Kygo. I don’t like anything that brings me down.

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