Spoilers below for American Vandal season two.
Who is Kevin McClain? An outcast? An idiosyncratic savant? A noted mansplainer of tea? A lover of newsboy caps and hor-cha-ta? (Pronounce it correctly!) Chances are good that you went to high school with a kid like American Vandal’s newest accused criminal, even if he wasn’t the prime suspect in a cafeteria poisoning that gave half of your student body violent diarrhea. This “Brownout” incident jump-starts American Vandal season two, which trades in its dick jokes for a fecal-ganza: A series of poop crimes instigated by the “Turd Burglar” stoke constant fear in students at a bougie Catholic school in Washington state, ranging in execution from a poo-stuffed Kurt Vonnegut piñata to T-shirt cannons filled with dry cat turds. Kevin, played by an excellent Travis Tope, is soon charged with the crimes and expelled from school, but not before a series of increasingly dark turns reveal something far more sinister and complex at play.
Ahead of American Vandal’s season premiere on Friday, Vulture got on the phone with Tope to discuss Kevin’s bizarre accent, his stunning lack of Fruit Ninja knowledge, his even more stunning aversion to tea (“I don’t drink tea! Tea doesn’t taste like shit”), and, of course, his thoughts on merde.
I. Love. Kevin.
He reminded me of my high-school experience a little more than I’d care to admit.
I’m happy to be talking to you then, go on. [Laughs.]
It’s made me do some reflecting. Rethink a few memories.
I bet it made you thankful that social media wasn’t there to document every second of it. That’s a beautiful thing, to have grown up on the cusp of social media.
Were all of Kevin’s quirks defined when you took the role, or did you add any during filming? I just love his tea drinking.
His style of sipping tea was inspired by a YouTube channel of this guy who’s an actual tea expert. But all of his traits didn’t come from me — the fact that he drinks tea, the fact that he wears those fucking hats. Those fucking newsboy hats and the pocket watch! That was all written. I would love to take credit for the voice, but it was a collaborative effort. It took a few days into shooting to figure out the level of affectation Kevin should have. We’re making a mockumentary, so it needed to feel super real. We kept going back and forth between a Madonna-esque British weirdo voice and then my voice, and found a happy medium.
Does all of that deep gargling actually make the tea taste better?
The fuck if I know. I don’t drink tea! Tea doesn’t taste like shit. I’m an American through and through. Give me some Dr. Pepper, okay?
Wow, this is disappointing.
I’m sorry to disappoint. I’m sorry! It was all acting with that one. I never actually used tea. I have no tea disrespect to the tea drinkers out there.
Did you seek out Jimmy Tatro for a chat, knowing you were succeeding him as American Vandal’s lovable delinquent?
We never talked. I’d love to meet him, but I’ve never met him and in reality and know nothing about him. Season one is its own thing, so I don’t really view myself as “taking over” his role. I think season two is more of an ensemble show than the first season. Like, the first season was all about him. But it’s definitely not all about Kevin this time around. I felt like I should’ve met Jimmy at this point! Maybe I’ll meet him at the premiere party.
Kevin seems to embody everything from a social pariah to a lovable weirdo in the eyes of his peers. How do you see him?
As an actor, I try not to view my characters as a person outside of myself. I try to find all of the similarities. I try to latch on until I find myself in them as much as possible and let other people worry about the perception. I only thought how I was being perceived when I was being Kevin, as much as I think about how I’m being perceived as myself. But Kevin is … interesting.
Do you sustain any fruit-related injuries from all of that ninja-ing?
None, actually. But you’re gonna like this — I didn’t know until we were done shooting that Fruit Ninja was an actual iPhone game. Nobody told me because it didn’t occur to anyone that I wouldn’t know. I didn’t know anything about it because I don’t play video games. I’m so bad at them. I tried playing Game Boy when I was a kid, and I was so bad at it that I’ve never tried to play any video game since.
Do you know Angry Birds at least?
I am aware of Angry Birds, thank you. But they have their own movie, you know?
The season’s defining sequence is the Brownout, which manages to be funny without getting overly grotesque. What directives were you and the other actors given while filming those moments in the cafeteria?
We had a lot of 14-year-old extras on set that day, so they reacted as you can imagine. I feel like I was extremely chill and the most mature person in the room in comparison. You know those action-movie scenes where they have security lasers and people have to maneuver through them? It felt like that, maneuvering around piles of fake shit to not slip and kill myself that day.
… Did anyone slip?
Not that I’m aware of. But honestly, I was just trying to keep my eyes on my own work. Metaphorically. I don’t love poop jokes. I’m not interested in poop jokes. I made an exception for American Vandal. But filming that scene was horrific and hilarious. Mostly horrific. There was a lot of giggling from our young extras.
Do you know what the poop was made out of?
No, and nor do I want to.
I don’t think I want to know either.
[Laughs.] There was a variety of different kinds, colors, consistencies. I respect the job of whoever created it, but I’m good with knowing nothing about it.
Why do you think the season shifted from its silly poop jokes to end on a dark note? Did the showrunners explain their rationale to you?
I wasn’t privy to those meetings, but from talking to [co-creators] Dan [Perrault] and Tony [Yacenda], they weren’t trying to repeat what they did with the first season. They were interested in doing something darker, more complicated, more interesting, more mature. They were interested in exploring a different world and ending the season with something more explicit to say.
Were you surprised that Kevin was actually the Brownout culprit?
I didn’t know what to think. That’s what’s so cool about the season; there’s no way to predict how it turns out. Everyone just assumes it’s going to be one person. It’s impossible to predict. I had no idea and no insight. I was just as surprised as anyone would be, but I was glad I was a part-culprit.
If American Vandal returns for a third season, what body-adjacent crime would you like to see unfold?
There are only so many places I can go with that question, and they all feel like something I wouldn’t want my mother to read. Maybe the answer is poop and dicks.