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Tyler Alvarez Talks ‘Blockbuster’ And Bringing Queer Latinx Representation To The Screen

In Netflix’s upcoming series Blockbuster (it debuts November 3rd), Tyler Alvarez is one of six eccentric employees at the former video rental giant’s last existing store. While his character, Carlos, is a 24-year-old aspiring film director, Alvarez shines bright in front of the camera.

In one of his earliest roles, Alvarez played Benny Mendoza on Orange Is The New Black, the trouble-making, potty-mouthed son of inmate Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Levya). He landed his breakthrough role in 2017 as the investigative, thorough Peter Maldonado on the Peabody-winning American Vandal. In between seasons, he and Tamara Yajia stared in a YouTube miniseries called Me Llamo Alma, which taught Spanish lessons as Yajia’s Alma put Alvarez’s Miguel in various awkward situations.

Alvarez’s latest role sees the actor coming into his own, as a confident, queer, Latino man, on a mission to make his dreams come true. Throughout the series, viewers see Carlos navigate dating as a bisexual man, making his immigrant parents proud, and using his directorial ambitions to help keep the last Blockbuster in business, by way of TikToks and viral moments.

In his career thus far, Carlos and Alvarez have the most in common out of any of the other characters he’s played. They are both movie buffs, they both admit to being “high strung, at times,” and they are both of Cuban descent, the latter of which, Alvarez specifically requested for Carlos.

Here’s Alvarez talking with us about the show, almost passing on some of his most signature roles, and on the many aspects of his character and his self.

From watching you play Benny on Orange Is The New Black, to the Me Llamo Alma videos, and now, Blockbuster, I feel like I’ve watched you grow up on-screen. Where did your love of acting begin?

My old babysitter, who took care of me when my mom and dad were working, would walk me to pre-K. She said to me that every single day while she was walking me to pre-K, I would say, “I don’t wanna go to school, I’m gonna be an actor one day.” And that was a shock to me because I thought that I had decided that I wanted to do this at like 11 or 12. It was just something that was innately inside of me my whole life. I loved performing as a kid, I used to put on shows for my family. I joke around saying I love acting as much as I love my mother.

New York is a very arts-centered city. What are some of your fondest memories of growing up in the Bronx?

My parents divorced when I was really young, so I moved with my mom to Long Island after that. But my dad moved to the same block that I grew up on in the Bronx. I go back there very frequently. What I love about this neighborhood is, like, one person comes outside, another person comes outside, then another person comes outside. The neighborhood kind of all hangs out together on the same block.

What do you remember about Blockbuster, the video store?

Obviously, my memories of Blockbuster, are limited, but I remember going to the Blockbuster in Washington Heights with my dad and my brother. On a hot summer night, you could walk in and it’d be freezing in there. And you could smell the little buckets of popcorn they had while you were checking out. I would rent video games too, all the time from there.

What was the audition process like for Blockbuster, the TV show?

When I first got the audition, I was looking for a drama as a series that I wanted to do. So I wasn’t too interested in [Blockbuster] when it first came around, but my agent was telling me “Just read the script.” And I read it and fell in love with it, and it all worked out perfectly. And thank God, it always happens that way. I have to tell you, most of the projects that I end up doing, like, even American Vandal, I was so close to not doing it. Thank God I did, because it was so meant to be. Even the last movie I did, Crush, I was like,” I don’t know if I wanna do it.” And then I made the best of friends [on set.]

I’m glad you ended up doing Crush, because I totally made a meme out of your character telling Rowan Blanchard’s character, “you listened to Phoebe Bridgers for eight hours straight last night, which is concerning because she only has two albums.”

(Laughs) Yup, yup.

Tell us about your Blockbuster character, Carlos.

Carlos is a first-generation Cuban American. Carlos has a huge passion for movies and is dying to become a filmmaker, but his strict immigrant parents have their own ideas of what they want his life to be. A lot of immigrant parents come to this country, and they’ve sacrificed a lot to be here, and then they want you to get a job, do something stable, and make money – they almost want you to fulfill their unfulfilled dreams. I see a lot of my friends dealing with the same thing, where it’s like, do I settle and do this stable career? Or do I risk something and go for my dreams? I think a lot of people can relate to that.

He’s bisexual, but at the same time, it doesn’t define him. So often when there’s a queer character, their queerness becomes their whole identity. And with this show, we touch on it, but it’s not all I talk about. It’s one aspect of me. I’m an avid movie… almost a movie snob, which is why working at Blockbuster is perfect for me.

I remember when the show first entered production, story editor Francisco Cabrera-Feo tweeted about bringing more Latino male bisexual representation to television. How does it feel to be the face of this, with Carlos?

I was talking to a friend recently and they were like, ‘I didn’t realize how Latino I was until I came to Hollywood.” And it’s kind of the same thing for me. It’s just who I am in my own life. I’m queer and I am Latino, but I don’t really walk around thinking like, “Oh, I’m queer and Latino.” I just like walking around as Tyler. But in the show, it’s an honor to represent myself in a lot of ways. I am queer, I’m Latino and I love movies.

How do you feel about the current landscape of representation on television, whether it be Latinx representation or LGBTQ+ representation? How do you think it can improve?

I think there’s still a lot of work to be done. I was thinking about how I used to feel like my being Latino was a disadvantage in the industry. How, when I was 15 years old and I was auditioning for the first time, I was like, “I’m not gonna get this. They’re gonna pick a white kid.’ And I knew that. No one told me that, I didn’t have parents in the industry who told me that, I didn’t have agents who said that to me. I somehow just like inherently knew that. And that’s kind of messed up that I knew that without being taught that. Today it’s like, we’re in this time where we’re being celebrated for our differences, which is incredible.

But I think we need to start casting Latinos, not just as side characters. I can name [several movies] where it’s like all the are white, and then their best friend is Latino or a person of color It’s like, just casting them as the sidekick, and cast them as a lead.

What advice can you give to other young, queer, Latinx actors in the industry?

“Who you are won’t inhibit you from getting jobs. And if it does, it’s not something you want to be a part of. That took me a long time to learn. I’ve been out since I was in high school, but I was in the closet a bit in the industry. I didn’t necessarily try to hide it, but I wouldn’t talk about it either. And now that’s not the case. I’m totally out on my social media and in my life. I heard an interview with Viola Davis and she said “If it means something to you, let it cost you something.”

I’ve had a chance to see the first three episodes of Blockbuster and they are fantastic. What can we expect from Carlos at the season continues?

We will see him struggling with whether he should chase his dreams, or continue to play it safe. More things to do with his relationships with love and dealing with his parents’ pressures and uh, and of course, just the antics of trying to save Blockbuster. Because you know, it’s about a small business and basically, all of us are just trying to keep this business afloat.

‘Blockbuster’ debuts on Netflix on November 3.