While many know him by the name Dave Karofsky—the notorious McKinley High bully that invades your TV-set each week—Max Adler is the actor behind this surprising character on FOX’s Glee. In three seasons Karofsky’s arch has traveled from two-dimensional archetype to something more nuanced and potent—a reminder that beneath the surface, people’s true motivations can be incredibly complex. We spoke with Adler to talk about the show, his role and its recent developments:
OUT: What is it like to play a gay character?
Max Adler: It’s been incredibly valuable for me as a person. I have learned so much. As an actor, it’s a benefit to play a multitude of characters, jumping into another headspace, just understanding and appreciating it. At the same time, it’s also rewarding and gratifying—especially as you see this character you see him come full circle from the bullying, the dealing with loving another man, and ultimately being outed. You get to see the triumph and the struggle as well.
What was your response to your character being outed and attempting suicide?
I was very excited that the writers had chosen to go there. Honestly, I was a little scared to tackle such a real subject but I was excited at the same time—it presents the story in such an honest way.
When you saw that “fag” word written on your locker, what went through your head?
There’s really no way to prepare yourself for that. You see my character walk in the locker room and he’s so confident and smiling, and then he sees his locker and in a moment he’s totally vulnerable and scared. He’s forced into dealing with a public ridicule and being perceived as something he’s not. The show continues to ask why can’t people be who they want to be, without being judged?
What’s in store for you next season?
To be determined. I love playing Karofsky, and it’s such an amazing opportunity—the depth of the character and also the difference that this show is making. I would love to keep playing him forever. I originally came in the show with just two lines and all of this came out of it. I’m extremely proud and very fortunate.
How has this role impacted you personally?
It’s more like how has it not impacted me. It’s helped me understand the reason people do things, from both sides: why people are bullied and why bullies torment people. All of the letters, tweets, and Facebook messages have tremendously helped me understand the character and how playing this role has influenced people.
What could have been done to help your character from attempting suicide?
People need to talk about things more openly. There’s a stigma in society, and the subject is off-limits. People really can make a difference if a teacher, teammate, or a friend would have said something earlier—or even tried. Everyone, especially when you’re younger, is so afraid of being themselves. It ends up becoming an alienating force—not inclusive. If more people were open to discussion it would drown out the negative voices.
Do you have advice for young people dealing with what Karofsky is dealing with?
Hope. Always be who you want to be. Never be afraid of that. People who aren’t afraid to be themselves are the people that go down in history and leave their mark on the world. You don’t have to fit into a certain mold. Who we are is what makes us special.
How did you prepare for this particular episode?
I tried to understand why people do the things they do and I tried to understand my character in a detailed way. I want to truly play my character—not judge him. Karofsky is macho and has never been insecure. Then he goes to a gay bar where Sebastian shuts him down, and then he turns to Kurt and gets shuts down again. Everything explodes in his face: the texts, tweets, and Facebook posts. He wanted to remove himself from the world. I compare him to a jelly-filled doughnut, the more jelly you force in its eventually going to explode, and it’s not going to be pretty.
The episode was a incredibly intense. Do you think it was too intense?
It was perfect. It was my favorite episode of the entire season. It had amazing performance numbers, it adressed teen bullying, texting and driving, and suicide. It shows what teenagers are really going through at this age, and I’m proud I was a part of it. Nothing at this point is decided for you. It shows both sides, something a lot of other TV shows don’t show. It shows the fun parts—the parties, being accepting to college, dating—but it also shows things like teen pregnancy, coming out, suicide, and the fears, struggles, and pressures of high school. It’s like the comedy/tragedy masks. You see both sides—you have to understand one side to understand the other.
Dylan Baker, who co-starred in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” sequels, is set to make his directorial debut with “23 Blast,” an indie drama that will star Mark Hapka (“Days of Our Lives”) and Max Adler (“Glee”), as well as Justin Long, Stephen Lang and the helmer himself.
Toni Hoover and Bram Hoover wrote the script, which follows a high school football star (Hapka) who’s suddenly stricken with irreversible blindness and the choice he’s forced to make regarding whether he should return to the sport.
Adler will play another football player who’s initially unsupportive of his teammate but eventually comes around.
Production is skedded to start next month in Kentucky.
Adler, who will be seen alongside Liam Hemsworth in the indie “AWOL,” is best known for his role as a closeted bully on the hit Fox series “Glee”
Paradigm reps Hapka and Baker, who is managed by Viking Entertainment. Adler is repped by Gersh and Brian Medavoy Management.
Adler, who has recurred on Glee since Season 1, will appear as a guest star in the pilot — and may or may not stay on if it gets picked up to series.
Last Resort has also added Academy Award and Emmy nominee Bruce Davison, whose recent TV gigs include Covert Affairs and Hawaii Five-0, in a potentially recurring role. Details on either Adler’s or Davison’s characters were not immediately available.
Last Resort is set in the not-so-distant future and follows the crew of a U.S. nuclear submarine who become fugitives after refusing to fire their missiles. Ultimately, they make camp on an island that hosts a NATO listening station and declare themselves an independent nuclear nation.
Andre Braugher stars as the captain and Scott Speedman is set to play his second in command. Autumn Reeser (No Ordinary Family), Daisy Betts (Persons Unknown) and Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse) round out the impressive ensemble.
“Glee” star Max Adler, who turned in his most powerful performance to date this week as Kurt’s former bully, David Karofsky, says the team behind the hit FOX series is hoping to raise awareness of cyberbullying and its effects on LGBT youth.
Max stopped by Access Hollywood Live on Wednesday, where he shared how he prepared for the moving performance.
“I put the work in to figure out what motivates that stuff and if you read the articles and talk to the people out there that are cyberbullied, you understand that it’s such a desperate action and there’s no way out,” Max, whose character attempted suicide on Tuesday’s episode after his classmates at his new school discovered he was gay, told Billy Bush and Kit Hoover.
“This is an important issue to tackle. The main message is that there is hope,” the 26-year-old actor said. “You’ve just got to find someone that loves you and accepts you for who you are, which Karofsky found in [Chris Colfer’s character] Kurt.”
Max believes the advances in technology have made bullying easier for the bullies and much harder for the victims.
“It’s kind of gone from the old school, hand-to-hand combat method, where you could see someone’s face and really see the emotions, to now, it’s just the click of the button — from another country you can crush someone’s spirit,” he told Billy and Kit. “I feel like people don’t realize that because they’re desensitized because it’s just a screen… they don’t feel it. It doesn’t feel connected… Not only do we hope to give a message to the victims of bullying, but to the people who are doing the bullying to show just how you can really affect somebody.”
The “Glee” star is also hoping that schools and educators take bigger steps to combat to sometimes deadly issue.
“You’ve got school districts telling principals and teachers that you can’t say the word gay. You can’t teach about homosexual poets and they’re trying to push it away like it doesn’t exist. It just makes people more curious and I feel like it does need to be talked about,” he continued. “Hopefully, we’ll change people’s mind and their perception of things.”
Tonight’s episode of Glee was everything a mid-season finale should be: shocking, emotional, funny, and full of surprises. Add the series’ most shocking cliffhanger to that mix, and you’ve got the makings of a historic Glee episode.
And a huge part of tonight’s crazy twist-filled episode was Dave Karofsky, played by Max Adler. We saw the bully’s journey come full circle, and if you haven’t watched tonight’s Glee yet, please avert your eyes. Because we spoke with Adler about his reaction to Karofsky’s surprising storyline, and he had lots of great things to say about it. Plus, he reveals if he’ll be back after the looong hiatus…
This is one of the most controversial, if not the most controversial, and intense storyline that Glee has ever done. What was going through your head when you first heard this is where your storyline was going?
Max Adler: I was incredibly happy that the writers and producers chose to go there, and I said that to them, ‘It’s so brave and honest, and you’re really treating this character with the integrity that he deserves.’… I felt like to not show the struggle and to have him just kind of flip over and be nice and be happy, I just felt like it wouldn’t have done it the proper justice and it wouldn’t have been treated with the honesty that it deserves. So I was incredibly happy that they decided to kind of push the envelope and go there because I feel like the message that results out of that in the end is one of hope and optimism.
Glee‘s specialty is combining high school comedy and high school drama.
To me I feel like you’ve got a show like Glee, where it deals with high school and it deals with all the excitement and the optimism and the hope of your future and being able to go anywhere and do anything you want to do. But on the flip side, you have to show the struggles and the anxieties and the fears that kids can go through…so paradoxily you can understand that the light and the hope and the happiness in the comedy that Glee does.
We first saw you this season in the “First Time” episode. Did you know then what was going to happen or did you find out later?
I found out later. I didn’t know until I got the script. Nothing was ever discussed with me, they just kind of provide it and then I’m just thrilled to be able to experience it and portray it. So, I had no idea where it was going. When I got cast in season one, it was just a two line, slushy-throwing thing. I don’t think anybody had any idea that it would kind of become this incredibly complex, rich character. And I [give] all the credit to the writers for seeing what is happening in the world and in the news and being able to tell a story that can shed light on it and open people’s minds and have them gain perspective about what’s really going on.I think that after people see the episode, a lot of the credit is going to go to you, because you were really great in the scene.
That means a lot, thank you. We took it very seriously. I think the really important thing in that scene as you saw was the decision to commit suicide was made after the Facebook messages, and to me, I feel like the locker room is heartbreaking and tragic but you can deal with that a little bit more because it’s kind of face-to-face, and you feel the emotions. But I feel like when cyber-bullying happens, and you are kind of getting hit from all different angles, and you don’t know who these people are and bullying takes on this life of its own, it becomes incredibly scary and you want to hide in a hole. And for Karofsky there is no other way to express himself anymore. He tried the bullying and the hard bravado outer shell and that didn’t work. And then he tried to accept who he was and experiment and try going to gay bars and ended up being sensitive with Kurt with the Valentine’s-gram and that door got slammed in his face. And I feel like he was just kind of out of questions and out of possibilities.For gay teenagers who might be in the same position that Karofsky was in, what do you hope they took away from the episode?
My dad always told me a quote that I loved whenever I had problems in school and he said, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” And I feel that kids watching this will see that [suicide] is absolutely not the answer, and that there are people in the world who will accept you for who you are and your genuine true self. I feel like people are afraid to speak their opinions, to voice what they want to voice and it’s a matter of everyone kind of fitting into a role, and I feel like that is what Glee does. [Glee] breaks that down and shows you that you can’t let society get the best of you because it’s such a narrow-minded and ignorant way of thinking. This show I feel like will create that gained perspective for people and show that it’s not wrong being gay or being who you are or being an underdog of any type because we’re all just individuals. And I feel like if people watch this show and realize that it’s not necessary to hide from yourself and that there are people like Kurt (Chris Colfer) who will be there for you no matter what. That is what I hope they take away. And also the other side—when Mr. Schuester (Matthew Morrison) and Beiste (Dot Marie Jones) and Sylvester (Jane Lynch) all start talking about how they saw the warning signs, and they wish they would have talked to me or done something, I feel like that is an incredibly important message, too. Society and school districts tell teachers that they have to stay away from it and that it’s a delicate issue and nobody really wants to talk about it, but if one person stepped up and defended him in that locker room, or if one teacher tried to get through to him or asked like, ‘What’s up? What’s going on with you?’ it could have saved a life.W
Will we see Dave Karofsky again after the hiatus?
I would love it. To have experienced that life and to have this role has just been incredible, and I think it’s really important for people to see it. I’ve talked with a lot of people that see themselves as Karofsky or know Karofsky’s out there and they kind of need to see how he deals with it and what happens, to know that they will be okay in their own lives. So for me, yes I would love for him to come back.
At least we saw he got a happy ending with a little flash-forward, which made us cry, by the way!
I hope so, I hope you’re moved. But that to me is a way to deal with it because you are showing that there is a happiness to be found, and I feel like rather than money or success or career it really boils down to finding someone who will love you for your true genuine self. And if Karofsky can find that, and as long the audience sees that if you just find one or two people out there that will just love you and accept you and embrace you for everything that you are, that is the hope right there, and that is what gets you through all the negativity.
Glee Post Mortem: Max Adler on Life After [Spoiler] and a Possible Kurt/Karofsky Romance
Glee officially turned the tables on Kurt’s tormentor-turned-admirer Karofsky this week when the bully became the victim — a turnabout that had near-fatal consequences when Max Adler‘s alter ego tried (and failed) to commit suicide. In the following Q&A, Adler reflects on the powerful storyline, weighs in on a possible Karofsky-Kurt romance, and answers the question on the minds of his insanely passionate fans: Will he be sticking around Glee long-term?
TVLINE | What was your reaction when you found out you would be involved in such an intense storyline?
I was thrilled to be coming back. I found out in early January that I would be returning for these episodes, but I didn’t know the story at the time; I didn’t know where they were going to take Karofsky, but I’m thrilled they went there. I really think it’s incredibly brave and honest and it’s treating the character with the integrity that he deserves. For me as an actor, I’ve always been fascinated with the human struggle… I think you can’t truly appreciate [all the fun parts of high school] without experiencing the other side, which is the fear, the anxiety, and the struggle that teenagers go through identifying themselves.
TVLINE | That was a wonderful life Kurt envisioned for Karofsky.
That’s basically what gives Karofsky hope that there will be someone that will love him for who he is and he won’t have to keep this mask on and continually hide himself from the world. And that, to me, is the message that I would love for people to take away; you can be yourself. Although society might try to suppress who you are, there are people out there who will love you for who you are. And I think that is the message of hope.
TVLINE | Do you think part of Karofsky dreams of a future with Kurt?
No. I never thought Karofsky lusted after Kurt. I never saw it as sexual; I always saw it as a yearning for a genuine human connection. Karofsky’s whole life has kind of been playing this role and being what everyone wants him to be and tells him to be. But [then] he sees Kurt as a beacon of hope — somebody that can truly be who they are, say what they want to say, feel what they want to feel, and not really care what society has to say about it. And I think that’s such an admirable trait. Karofsky finds that so incredible and has such respect for Kurt. I think that’s what it’s been; I don’t think he imagines this life-long love with Kurt. I think there is a true friendship there. Kurt really is the guy that helps Karofsky see the light and brings him out of his darkness.
TVLINE | There are some fans who prefer Kurt with Karofsky instead of Blaine. Is it your understanding that that isn’t going to happen?
That is my understanding. I think there’s been too much history between the two of them to just completely forget about that and start a full-fledged romance. I think at this point, Karofsky is still dealing with his own struggles and his own identity and is not really stable or healthy enough to jump into a real relationship. I think at this point, Kurt is just an incredible friend, and in a way, a mentor for Karofsky. And I think at this point in their lives, Kurt is just an incredible friend that Karofsky truly needs. And my analogy in reading the script is picturing Karofsky hanging off a cliff by a really thin rope, and Kurt is the only one that is hanging onto him to bring him out from the depths of that.
TVLINE | How big a role will you be playing on the show moving forward?
I won’t be in the next episode after that, but as for the future? There’s [nothing certain]. I would love to portray this character the rest of my life. It’s an incredible experience and I’ve learned so much. It’s just been a complete dream to have this opportunity. But as far as actually knowing what’s happening down the road? I don’t know; we’ll just have to see what happens.
TVLINE | So this week’s episode could potentially be your swan song?
It could end here. But my personal thought is that there might be something else down the line to show where Karofsky goes post-hospital. But that’s all up to the writers. They’ve done everything amazingly well and treated this character with incredible consistency and honesty and integrity. Whatever they do, I think it will be genius.
TVLINE | It’s insane how passionate your fans are. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t receive at least a dozen emails from them asking when you’re returning to Glee.
They’re amazing. That’s what is so gratifying and rewarding about this; this character is so real — the way he is written and the way I get to play him and experience him and talk about him. I think the fans have a connection to him… What I’m so happy about with this episode is that it gives that really amazing, powerful message to victims of bullying and to people who are or have contemplated suicide that there is hope; there are people who accept you for who you are, and you don’t have to change yourself for what society tells you to be. It also shows the bullying aspect, and what your words on Facebook or Twitter can really do. You almost get desensitized because you type a few words and hit send and then you go on with your day. It’s just so powerful how human beings can affect each other. I think that’s the message: if people are in need of help or crying out, we need to be there for one another and stick up for one another. I think [it would have been different] if one guy in the locker room would have defended me. People are afraid to speak their minds or speak up because they want to fit in. I think that’s [another] message: we can all be ourselves and we can all open our minds a little bit and have some perspective, and we can treat each other with the respect that we deserve.
Glee Postmortem: Max Adler on Karofsky’s Dark Moment and Message of Hope
While New Directions worried about how to take down the Dalton Academy Warblers at Regionals, Karofsky (Adler) faced a more personal crisis that put the whole high school experience into perspective. Tuesday’s episode marked the culmination of his journey as the student who once terrorized McKinley’s glee club, struggled to accept his sexuality and then relocated to Thurston High to finish out his high school career in relative anonymity. After being seen talking to openly gay Kurt (Chris Colfer) on Valentine’s Day, however, Karofsky’s new schoolmates began to call him homophobic slurs and cyberbullied him, eventually pushing him to attempt suicide.
“The director of the episode, Brad Buecker, and I had some very long and serious talks about the whole situation,” Adler tells TVGuide.com. “How to handle everything delicately but as honestly and with as much integrity as possible. I know a lot of people had to have been curious as to why this comedy show decided to tackle it. But my interpretation of it was, there are the comedy and tragedy masks [the Greek symbols for theater]. You can’t have just all optimism and comedy and hopes without showing the other side of the struggle: the anxieties and the fears of being in high school and not really knowing who you are or where your future is going to go.”
Fortunately, Karofsky was discovered in time and hospitalized. His survival created a dialogue not only in the student body but also between the feuding New Directions and Warblers — even the usually underhanded Sebastian (Grant Gustin), who had once insulted Karofsky’s attempts to flirt, had a change of heart.
Check out our interview with Adler about Karofsky’s virginity, feelings towards Kurt and dream love interest:
Why do you want to make me cry? I can’t imagine anyone could watch what Karofsky was going through and not be moved.
Max Adler: I’m glad that I was able to move you. I’m flattered. That really means a lot. We put some work into that, so I’m glad it came across. It’s what we all strive for.
Were you aware of any behind-the-scenes writers’ discussions about having Karofsky actually succeed in his attempt to kill himself?
Adler: I think originally that might have been the plan. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I do think that was certainly talked about and discussed. And of course it would have been equally strong of a message. But I love this outcome a lot better. Thank God his father finds him and it’s all OK. It’s a long road back, I think, to the happiness and the hope that we would all want for him, but I think now he’s on that road. Honestly, I think it provides a message of hope to show that he does have people like Kurt to reach out to him and show him that there can be happiness in the future.
How was it working with your onscreen dad again?
Adler: Daniel Roebuck is one of the best guys. His call time that day was about five, but we were running a bit behind, so they pushed it. He didn’t get on the set until about 11 at night, and all he had to do is that one scene… He didn’t know how serious and how dark we were going to take it. But he actually came on to the set from his trailer, and he watched the last few takes of me climbing up on this chair and looking at that beam in that closet. And he came up to me afterwards with tears in his eyes saying, “OK, now I know what we need to do.” And he just came and brought it, and I felt his tears fall on my face. It was just an incredibly gratifying scene to shoot with him.
We were so glad to see Karofsky again, first at Scandals and then the Valentine’s episode. We weren’t certain he would be back this season. Were you concerned too?
Adler: I was in New York for New Year’s, and the first couple days of January I got the call saying that I would be coming back for these couple episodes. But I didn’t know what the story line was. I had no idea where they were going to take it. I’m really glad the writers were so brave and so honest about Dave Karofsky’s story line, because I as an actor and as a person am just kind of fascinated by the human experience. I’ve always been fascinated with Karofsky’s inner struggles. I never really saw him as flipping on a dime and just being happy overnight. I thought there would have to be some kind of a rock bottom or a breaking point to have him shift to realize that there is light and hope on the other side. I was really glad that we were able to show this message on national TV.
Did you create any sort of backstory of what’s been going on with him beyond just playing football at Thurston High School?
Adler: I think the same thing as the last year at McKinley, which is basically I think he’s been kind of laying low. Like he said in Scandals, “I’m just trying to have a normal senior year, and play football, and have no rumors.” It’s like he was wearing a metaphorical gorilla suit; he was constantly guarded and had that air of bravado, and confidence, and was trying to fit into to a mold as much as possible and not show any sensitivity, not show any weakness, because you’re afraid that would give something away. So I think that he sort of walked on eggshells at this point, and then when the character Nick (Aaron Hill) sees him at Breadstix I think it all kind of comes crashing down and becomes a really scary reality for him.
But Karofsky also found himself a gay hangout at Scandals…
Adler: I think that was just Karofsky trying to find himself and have some kind of a communication, and experience something. I had always played Karofsky as a virgin. I feel like he never really had a girlfriend, never really did anything sexual, and so for me it was a matter of him finding a connection with somebody — whether it’s a girl or a guy, just to be your genuine self. That was the main struggle, and I feel like Scandals, the Valentine’s grams and all of that, is just some kind of a method to try to express himself and free himself from himself. When that fails, I think that’s when he turns to the desperation of not having any more questions or not knowing where to go or what to do. So the only way he knew to call out for help and express himself was suicide. But I don’t think he thought of the aftereffects or how it can affect the teachers, his dad, his parents, his friends. That didn’t enter into his head space.
What do you think Karofsky’s feelings are towards Kurt? Is it merely romance or is there something more?
Adler: Dave’s never been sexual, ever. To me it’s always been that connection. I think Kurt has always kind of been that beacon of hope and guidance for Karofsky because of what he said in the Sugar Shack, how he’s so proud, and comfortable, and confident with who he is… The connection that holds them together and what draws Karofsky to Kurt is — an analogy I thought of is holding a rope, trying to hang off of a cliff. If I’m just hanging on by a thread, Kurt’s the guy holding the top and not letting me go. There were many calls made from Karofsky to Kurt trying to talk things out, and that last kind of try for hope, but Kurt had ignored his calls. I think that is when he let go of the rope… If just one person in the locker room would’ve defended him or stepped up or taken him under his wing, everything could’ve been different. Had one of the teachers at McKinley like Coach Beiste (Dot Jones) or Mr. Schuster (Matthew Morrison) recognized something and actually discussed it, that could’ve saved him. It’s a way to kind of reflect afterwards on all the warning signs and show society that we need to speak up and help people that are not comfortable being themselves.
Speaking of reaching out, I know you did an “It Gets Better” video. What’s your continuing involvement with The Trevor Project?
Adler: Yeah. Whenever they have events in LA, I’ll go out and support them and talk to the people that come to the events, and speak with everyone. I also interact with the other charities that I work with like the Muscular Dystrophy Association because my mother and my grandmother both suffered from that, and they’ve passed, and that’s really close to my heart. I’m also working with City Arts, which is in its first year in LA, and that raises money and it helps underprivileged kids around LA, things like after-school programs for drama and photography and music and dance, and kind of takes them off the street. Instead of getting into trouble they’re expressing themselves through the arts. So between both of those charities I talk to a lot of people. They really have connected with the character, and they share these incredible stories and messages. People all around the world have told me about how Karofsky and the story line have made their lives better, and they’ve been able to kind of reflect on themselves and accept themselves more or come out proudly to their friends and family, because they see what a struggle this can be for somebody.
What do you hope is in Karofsky’s future?
Adler: In the episode there’s a really beautiful scene in the hospital, and Kurt says, “Picture your life in 10 years.” It’s a whole beautiful flashforward of Karofsky in a really flashy suit and this successful office. He’s a sports agent and he has this really good-looking partner, and they have this beautiful boy, and he’s taking him to his first football game. I think it’s not about this job, and this success, and the money. It’s really about the connection and being able to be yourself, and his true self, around somebody who loves him for that, and accepts him, and appreciates him. I think that’s his happiness.
Fast-forward another season or two and let’s assume Karofsky is ready for love. Are there any dream guest stars you’d like to have as his love interest?
Adler: Ryan Gosling. He’s my man-crush. So if I’m going to be having a relationship and kissing any man, you could sign Ryan Gosling up. I think he’s the best actor of any of us.