The star of Netflix's 'American Vandal' talks about becoming obsessed with true crime, and how the show changed the way he uses social media

NetflixTyler Alvarez (left) in season one of ‘American Vandal’
  • Business Insider spoke to Tyler Alvarez, the 20-year-old actor who plays Peter Maldanado, the documentarian on “American Vandal.”
  • Alvarez told us how being on “American Vandal” has made him rethink the way he uses social media.
  • Alvarez, who got into true crime because of the show, also discussed what other parts of American culture and society he’d love to see in another season.

“American Vandal” season two dropped on Netflix Friday.

Season two gets even more serious than season one as it tackles forced confessions, classism within schools, and (again) the relationship teens have with social media. But at the same time, it’s about poop.

In season two, documentarians Peter Maldanado and Sam Ecklund travel from Oceanside, CA, to Bellevue, WA, to solve the case of The Turd Burglar. The Turd Burglar is a prankster at St. Bernadine’s Catholic High School who has committed several poop-related crimes, including poisoning the cafeteria’s lemonade with laxatives.

Season two is clever, sharp, and even funnier than the first season. Before season two’s release, Business Insider spoke to 20-year-old actor Tyler Alvarez, who plays Peter Maldonado, the high-school documentarian who turned his classmate’s accusation into a gripping documentary that was so successful he got to make one in another state.

Alvarez told us about the challenges of playing a documentarian who is rarely depicted on camera (save for voiceover), how the show got him obsessed with true crime, and how being on “American Vandal” has made him rethink the way he uses social media.

Carrie Wittmer:What made you want to do this show in particular?

Tyler Alvarez:What made me want to do it was the satire element. It was very realistic and not like we we were laughing at it. That’s what hooked me into it.

Wittmer: Are there any true-crime documentary series that you really like?

Alvarez: Oh, my God. Well, I loved “Making a Murderer.” After booking the show, they had us watch it. But besides that, I love “Serial.” Oh, my God. Sarah Koenig is my biggest … Oh, God. I love her to death. I think she’s freaking brilliant and I’m such a fan. I’m dying to meet her one day.

Wittmer: So did the showrunners have everyone watch “Making a Murderer,” and that’s how you got into true crime?

Alvarez: Yeah. Well, suggested. And of course, I did my homework.

Wittmer: Season one pretty deliberately satirizes “Making a Murderer.” So that definitely makes sense.

Alvarez: I think that the show, in both seasons, captures the intensity in “Making a Murderer” and “The Jinx.” But it’s about …

Wittmer: D**ks and poop?

Alvarez: Yeah. This time we tackle false confessions. When we were going over season two, I was watching a bunch of the stuff on “Shadow Truth,” all the ones with false confessions. It didn’t make sense to me that people would confess to a crime that they wouldn’t commit. But after watching those documentaries, I was like, “Oh, that’s actually a thing.”

Wittmer: Your role is a little bit more of a challenge than a lot of people might think, because your character, Peter, is a true documentarian. So we know he loves movies and filmmaking, and he’s best friends with Sam. But his personality isn’t really shown in any other ways. Do you have some sort of vision of what he’s like outside of this documentary he’s making?

Alvarez: 100% I do. And as much as I would love for us to show more of Peter, it would break our whole mould of sticking so true to true crime, and these documentaries that are never about the documentarian. It’s always about the story they’re telling. If we went into Peter’s story, then we would kind of become a “show.” And our whole thing is that we’re not a show, quote unquote. Thinking about him from the first season, he wasn’t a nerd or anything like that. But he was a bit of an outcast. He wasn’t really popular, didn’t have much friends besides Sam. And they would hang out and whatnot.

Wittmer: Yeah. And now he has a Netflix deal.

Alvarez: Even in season one, Peter really kept to himself and stayed under the radar. But now he feels like he has something to offer to the world, where before he didn’t really feel noticed. The really important lesson for me and for Peter is that none of this changes you. Peter felt like he had more to offer as a human being at the end of season one, because he’d shared this documentary. But Peter hadn’t changed at all. It taught me that you don’t need anything to feel good about yourself. I’m trying to find the right words but pretty much I’m saying that you don’t need anything to be somebody. Who you are is enough. It’s sort of like me. Before being an actor and now being an actor, I’m still the same person. I still am just as valid as I was before I was an actor. Does that make sense?


Alvarez: I hope I’m making sense.

Wittmer: You are. Success can change you, but you were always that person all along.

Alvarez: Right? For real, though. For real. It was important for me as an artist to realise that I’m still the same person underneath that I was when I first started, and that none of this changes me. And it doesn’t necessarily give me any more credit or credibility at all. And you don’t need the credibility. You are enough as you are.

Wittmer: I do get a sense from season two that while Peter and Sam are comfortable and confident, they are still wondering how they even made this happen. They’re a little more anxious to solve the case and get it done right and objectively.

Alvarez: There’s so much work that I have to do as an actor to really sink into the person that we will never know. There are so many things about Peter that you guys will never know, but I will know. It makes him feel real to me and gives him a life that’s not on the page.

Wittmer: You said Peter is the same person, but do you think that there’s anything about him that has changed since he got a Netflix deal?

Alvarez: Well, he’s definitely got a lot more money now. He can definitely afford college, I’ll say that. He’ll be all right for a little bit. But you know how this business goes. So hopefully Peter will get another doc.

Wittmer: And those things that you talked about that you know about Peter, that will never be in the show, are those things you’ve also talked to the writers about?

Alvarez: Some things, yeah. Certain actors, they could tell you everything about the character: What’s their favourite food, what’s this, what’s that. And a majority of it’s not even discussed in the script. It’s just more about adding a life to the character. I do talk about some things with the directors and stuff like that. But Peter, outside of documentarian, as a human being outside of that is up to me.

Wittmer: That’s fun.

Alvarez: I mean, it doesn’t matter. Because none of it will ever be talked about. But that’s one of the most fun parts. That’s where I get my creative freedom, in a way.

Wittmer: Is there anything else in true crime that would be something you’d like to see “American Vandal” satirize in another season?

Alvarez: That’s a good question. Anything else? I mean, there’s just so much in true crime to tackle. It might be too big of shoes for Peter to fill, but government corruption. And maybe the justice system, in terms of the courts and prisons. Stuff like that. That’s something that really sticks out to me and something that I would really like to shine the light on and to satirize in a fun way.

Wittmer: Both of the seasons explore corruption within schools, but it doesn’t get too elaborate. How Dylan and Kevin got accused is kind of similar to bias in the justice system, just very different settings and very different crimes.

Alvarez: Yeah it is.

Wittmer: You’re 20, right?

Alvarez: I’m turning 21 next month. Oh my God! I’m so excited.

Wittmer: So you grew up with the internet and social media, which is so different for high schoolers now than it was for you, and very different from when I was in high school. I got Facebook, I think, my senior year. I was mostly on MySpace. When I was in college, Instagram didn’t exist yet. Twitter did, but it was a very different Twitter. Do you think that “American Vandal” captures teens and the way they use social media accurately?

Alvarez: Oh, 100%. We especially capture that this season with Jenna Hawthorne posting cute photos and showing people what you want them to see. It’s a false reality of who we are and what we experience. Because nobody ever puts the bad. You rarely go on social media and find someone saying, “Oh, I’m upset today or oh, this crappy thing happened.” It’s mostly like, “Oh, look at me on this yacht or look at me in this cool store or look at me on vacation!” We really do capture that precisely. In my ending monologue in the second season, I’m saying, “Maybe we’re not the worst generation, we’re just the most exposed.” And I believe that. Social media creates these expectations. It enforces social standards and status and things like that that we’re supposed to live under. But at the same time, our generation is moving more toward love and acceptance. And I think that’s something we tackle.

Wittmer: Has the show influenced how you use social media?

Alvarez: It has! Because I’m trying to be a lot more honest. I’ll give you an example: I have a photo that I’m going to post soon that is cropped from my chest up. I was working out on the beach and my caption is going to be like, “Don’t let me fool you. I cropped out my snack pack.” Just posting this photo, it would look like I’m buff from my waist up. No. I got a little snack pack, hence why I cropped it all the way up here. You know?

Wittmer:Absolutely. I think people are starting to want more honesty on social media, especially Instagram, because these filtered, perfect lives are getting a bit tired and feel very forced, because they are.

Alvarez: I want to be more honest with social media. It’s also really important to also connect with people and for people to see the real versions of you. That’s what people are drawn to: things that are real. And not things that feel like someone told me to post or something like that.

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