Max Adler Round UpSunday, February 26, 2012
Max Adler visits the City Hearts Studio for a performance of Michael Jackson High
Max Adler Interviews
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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.
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.
What did you think of Karofsky's storyline? Did Adler's performance make you cry, too?
If you have yet to watch Tuesday’s episode of Glee, hit the nearest exit at once. Everyone else, continue reading…
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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 [noting 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.
Max Adler's Dave Karofsky came full circle on Tuesday's Glee when his character attempted suicide after being outed and bullied by a football teammate at school.
For the character, it culminates a story line that dates back to Season 2 when the jock would harass and bully the openly gay Kurt (Chris Colfer) to the point of threatening his life, forcing him to transfer out of McKinley to escape the torment. Later, Dave forced a kiss with Kurt who realized that his tormenter is gay and struggling to come to terms with his sexual orientation.
For his part, Adler has used his recurring status with the Fox musical dramedy to speak out against bullying as part of the nonprofit organization City Hearts, and has joined the Trevor Project's It Gets Better campaign to encourage other LGBT that they're not alone. (Tuesday's episode also featured a PSA for Trevor.)
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Adler to discuss what went into the powerful episode, which also shines a light on the dangers of cyber bullying, as well as what he hopes viewers take away from the hour.
The Hollywood Reporter: What kind of responsibility to the LGBT community do you feel playing this role?
Max Adler: I've talked to many people that have said how real that character is for them and how they see themselves as a Karofsky or they know a Karofsky or they knew a Karofsky. There is a responsibility to play that role and it's just an incredible honor. For this storyline, I'm thrilled that the writers went there.
On Glee, I think people will be a little, "How can you do this in a comedy show?" But to me, it's the paradox that you're showing high schoolers with their wide-open future and optimism and hope and they can do anything, but you can't show that without showing the struggles, fears and anxieties that one has about not knowing the next step or not knowing who you are or what to do. It's necessary to go there and to show that on TV so that you can appreciate the other side of things.
THR: How much of Karofsky's storyline were you aware when you got the call to return?
Adler: There was never a discussion about the storyline. It's incredibly brave on their part to push the envelope and treat this character with the integrity and the honesty that he deserves and to show the struggle and then the outcome of hope when you see his life 10 years into the future with somebody who loves him for who he is. That's the important message to see: there will be somebody out there who will accept and love you for your true self and to not worry about society's limitations and what people expect of you; it's OK to be who you are and you can be happy with that.
Beyond relating to people who are bullied or are contemplating suicide, it was also important to show how teachers, peers and coaches all saw these warning signs but because of society's limitations and the fear of talking about things openly and freely, no one really stepped up. Even in the locker room, everyone teams up against him and if just one or two of those guys would have had Dave's back, it would have been a completely different outcome. We're all in this world together; let's drown out the negative voices and be positive and teach people that it is OK to be your true self.
THR: Considering your involvement with City Hearts and Trevor Project's It Gets Better campaigns, what was your first reaction when you read the script?
Adler: It was a complete rainbow of emotions when I read it. There's excitement of being able to send a message like this into the world when people really need it and need to be spoken to honestly. It comes with the fear of representing it honestly and accurately. There was a lot of work, prep, research and discussions with director Brad Buecker about the best and most honest way to tell this story. Before we shot the bedroom scene, it was a closed set; it was just me, the director and a few crewmembers and we sat down in the bedroom and looked at everything and talked about what this means and what this kid's going through and his mindset.
THR: Why was it important for Glee to acknowledge cyber bullying?
Adler: He sees his worst fears are realized in that [his sexuality is] out there now. In doing my work with City Hearts and It Gets Better, I'm finding that it's more harmful than face-to-face bullying. People behind a computer can be meaner with what they're saying because they're not seeing the repercussions face-to-face and they don't have to deal with seeing someone heartbroken and crushed. It's really scary and that's why they wrote it into the script: cyber bullying has become an epidemic.
THR: What was filming the bedroom scene like? How did your discussions with Buecker -- and the people you've met through your anti-bullying charitable work -- influence how you played it?
Adler: You go to a very dark place. Brad set up a few cameras outside of the room and watched Karofsky in his room for six or seven minutes. I don't want to say I was possessed, but there's this incredible feeling that comes over you and you start thinking about everything that you've gone through and how Karofsky can't express himself. For Karofsky, one door after another was slammed; he couldn't be his bully, bravado, macho self at McKinley. He tried the gay bar thing and that door was slammed in his face -- it was Sebastian in this episode. He tried the soft Valentine's Day gorilla-grams approach with Kurt and that door got slammed in his face. Then you see the Facebook messages and it's just you're trapped within yourself. There are no questions to ask anymore; there's no one to reach out to. If he wants to be sensitive, it's portrayed as a sign of weakness from society. To me, he's truly what Glee represents -- the underdog and someone who's very awkward with himself and he's not your typical jock.
I've heard this from fans, but there's a lot of times that gay people are portrayed on TV and movies as a very specific kind of way that you don't really see a burly dude usually represented as being soft and sensitive. He's very unsure of who he is, how he's supposed to act, what he's supposed to say and how he's supposed to look. So when you start thinking about all that, you get to a really interesting place in your mind and the tears kind of come out of you because it's heartbreaking. The line in the hospital scene with Kurt where he explains what led to his decision and how his mom told him he had a disease and that maybe he could be cured -- I read that and I was crying. It's your own parent not accepting you and telling you you have a disease. It's so gut wrenching and heartbreaking that it was hard not to live with that in that bedroom.
THR: Which gives Karofsky and Santana (Naya Rivera) that much more in common. Will Karofsky return after the hiatus?
Adler: There's been nothing said yet. This episode does leave you with a nice optimistic view and a hope for Karofsky's future that he sees there's happiness ahead. It will be a long and arduous journey, but at least he's on that journey now to realize that he can be happy and there are people that are there for him. So it could go either way.
THR: Karofsky inspires the Warblers and New Directions to put their differences aside and move forward. How will Karofsky's suicide attempt fundamentally change some of the other characters on the show?
Adler: This will open everyone's minds up and realize that we need to talk to each other. There's been a lack of communication that's happened over the last few years and everyone's kind of afraid to speak up and talk about things without getting fired or getting reamed by the principal or the school district. If one of those kids in the locker room had stood up for Karofsky and said, "Leave this kid alone. What does it matter?" but they can't because then they're afraid of being picked on. There are warning signs all along and if someone had just reached out to this kid and talked to him, there could have been a completely different outcome. That's the message of how everyone will be affected: seeing how serious this can be and how people do cry out for help. If we all stand up for one another and speak out against the negativity, it's a much stronger bond that we'll all find ourselves in in the world.
THR: The show as a whole has now told three coming out stories, all in varying degrees and all slightly involving bullying. What do you hope people take away from this storyline?
Adler: The message is that people will start talking about it now and seeing and watching someone experience what it really means to be brutally picked on and have society tell you that who you are is wrong. It shows that there is no wrong. That's the message of Glee:acceptance and equality. It's a dual message where victims of bullying can see that society is wrong, not them. They are completely OK with being who they are; there will be people who love them for who they are is the message. On the flipside, to everyone who antagonizes anyone they perceive as minorities that it's completely uncalled for. I feel like if they see what they're doing to people, it might make them think twice. If we can save lives with this hour of television or change people's ways of thinking, which I think we can, then mission accomplished.
What did you think of Karofsky's journey? Would you like to see the character return? Glee returns April 10.
Closeted jock Dave Karofsky may have reached his darkest hour on Tuesday's episode of Glee, but actor Max Adler felt it was necessary because he says "it provides a message of hope."
[SPOILERS! The following interview contains references to major events from Tuesday's Glee episode, "On My Way."]
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.
What did you think of Karofsky's story?
[SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE MOST RECENT EPISODE OF GLEE]
Glee viewers were already shocked to see Kurt’s former bully Karofsky (Max Adler) pop up in last week’s Valentine’s Day episode, particularly since Karofsky pledged his love for his former victim. But tonight’s winter finale, “On My Way,” proved to be even more surprising. Spurred on by his own homophobic high school bullies both in school and online, Karofsky attempted suicide but was unsuccessful. Adler says he applauds Glee‘s producers for tackling such a timely subject. ” As an actor to portray this role on a show like this has been the most amazing opportunity that I could have asked for,” says Adler. “I was incredibly happy that they were brave enough and honest enough to go there because I think it’s a very prevalent issue now in the world.” EW talked to Adler about the emotional episode and future plans for Karofsky to return.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you find out about the suicide attempt?
MAX ADLER: It’s always [in] the script. The kiss. The prom. The suicide. I just get the scripts and am delighted to get that script. I remember last year there were a bunch of interviews I’ve done where I said I could see this ending that way, like as a negative result. But I didn’t think they would go there. I think because the fact that it’s so prevalent in the news and it’s such an epidemic, it needs to be shown and it needs to be talked about. I think all our hopes is that it saves a lot of lives and, to the bullies, I think it sheds a whole new perspective on what their words really do to people.
Was there any concern that the twist was too dark? Or too heavy for Glee?
My thought was this: the show is about high school kids. At that time of your life, there are no decisions that have been made for you. You have so much optimism and hope and you do anything you want. Along the lines of the comedy/tragedy map, you also need to also, to gain perspective, show the struggles and the fears and the anxieties of people in high school. I feel like if you ignore one side and show the other, it’s not as rich and powerful of an experience. If everyone can see both sides, there’s an amazing window of perspective that opens up and you can appreciate one now that you see the other. I thought it was necessary to go here to contrast with what is normally seen on the show. At the end, there is a message of hope.
The scenes leading up to the suicide attempt were so intense and emotional. That must have been tough to film?
Yeah, incredibly tough. I’ve talked to so many people via charities, via Facebook, via twitter. I didn’t have Facebook when I was in high school. Bullying then was more of a hand-to-hand combat. You had to do it face to face and you saw the reaction and you could see the emotion. Now it’s become more of like a verbal sniper. There are people that can fire at you from all angles on tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and there’s no way to stop it. And you get deeper and deeper into this whole and it’s incredibly scary. For me, to experience that and walk a mile in someone’s shoes, it was incredible and it was an amazing learning experience. Was it easy? No. But valuable? Yes.
It’s amazing to think about Karofsky’s 180. You at first appeared to be a standard bully and now he’s this rich, shaded character.
When I was first cast it was just two lines and throwing that slushy onto Finn and that’s what I signed on for. Now to be in over 20 episodes and three seasons has been incredible. You’re right, it’s a 180 but you have to understand why and what motivates that. For Karofsky, back at McKinley he expressed himself by fitting into this mold and not being himself and bullying was his outlet. When that didn’t work, he turned to the sensitive, softer Gorilla-gram method. That didn’t work. That’s when the desperation sets in. My dad always said to me that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. That always stuck with me. I feel like that what it is. You can have a few bad days but you gotta understand that there’s a whole future and a whole world out there that do accept you for who you are. That’s why we do what we do on the show is to make everyone realize that being who you are is one of the most beautiful things that you can do.
There’s gonna be a lot of outpouring of emotion from fans. Are you prepared?
I am. What I love about this role is that there’s no one way to look at Karofsky. There’s such a mixed reaction amongst the fans and not only about the romance or the whole Kurtofsky vs. Klaine.
Is that what people really call it? Kurtofsky?
Kurtofsky, yeah. Chris and I always say it sounds like a mean Russian ballerina. Beyond the coupling, there’s just the thought of what do you want for him? Do you want him happy and redeemed? Or do you want him to fail?
Will Karofsky return?
It’s kind of open-ended. As an actor, I would love the opportunity. As the character, we shall find out.
Do you think Karofsky is legitimately in love with Kurt? Or in love with the life Kurt leads?
Exactly. To me it’s never been lustful or sexual. It’s always been that connection of really admiring Kurt for being the only person Karofsky sees that’s truly himself. I think that’s so rare and for Karofsky to see that there’s just an incredible amount of respect and admiration. Kurt is like this beacon of hope and how it could be for Karofsky. It’s not so much he wants him in a romantic way. It’s always just a different need to have a genuine human connection with someone. That eventually is what can make Karofsky happy in the future, finding someone who will love him for everything that he is.
Some of the most gut-wrenching and arresting scenes from "Glee" have featured Max Adler, the 25-year-old actor who plays Dave Karofsky, the McKinely High bully figuring out his own sexual identity. Most times when he's called in for an episode it means the phrase "Very Special" should probably be tacked on to the title -- his first big splash came in "Never Been Kissed," last season's standout episode that introduced Darren Criss to the popular conscious and featured an unexpected locker-room kiss between Karofksy and Kurt Hummel, the out and proud gay student played by Chris Colfer that the bully had spent previous episodes tormenting. From there Karofsky has reappeared as Prom King to Kurt's Prom Queen shocker, leaving him in the lurch when their coronation song played. This season he appeared at Lima's local gay bar to talk to Kurt about his progress at his new school, and most recently he donned a gorilla suit in the Valentine's episode to play secret admirer to Kurt, resulting in a jock from his new school overhearing the admission of his crush on Kurt that set his plotline in motion for this Tuesday.
Adler's biggest challenge on "Glee" came this week when LGBTQ teen suicide took center stage. In the episode, the overheard conversation turns the bullying tables on Karofksy, both in person at his school and online, driving him to attempt to take his own life in desperation. We talked to Adler, who outside of "Glee" is involved in various charity work (including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the It Gets Better Project and City Hearts), about the episode, Dave Karofksy as a character, and working with Golden Globe winner Colfer so intimately.
How far in advance did you know about the story going in this direction and how much prep did you have?
I didn't know too far in advance. I found out in early January that I'd be back on the show. As usual we get the script days before we filmed, and none of that had ever really been discussed with me. I'm lucky that Ryan and Brad and all the writers have treated this character from the beginning with such integrity and honesty. As far as preparation time there wasn't too much, but I was actually very excited that they chose to tell this story. I think it's incredibly important. In my portrayal of Karofsky this entire time, I felt it was a great paradox with what was happening with other characters -- we're showing the hope and excitement and possibility for the future, but on the other side with Karofsky you're showing the anxiety and fear for the future. The fact that they took it there was so brave, and I think it's a powerful message to tell, not only to the people who are being bullied, but the people who are doing the bullying and those who choose to stay quiet to protect themselves.
How did you react to the script when you got it, especially the suicide scene when you found out the method would be hanging, which has been in the news a lot lately? It was shocking as a viewer to see that, how did it feel as an actor to get that script?
Very real. A year and a half ago I went to Washington, DC and spoke at the Anti-Defamation League at the Kennedy Center, and one of the stories I told there was about this boy, Justin Aaberg. He had done the same exact thing in real life. He was bullied and he had chosen to hang himself. As you can tell by the news, it happens a bit. It was very real and shocking, and the thing that I really liked was it illustrated the desperation of where Karofsky is at. He's tried every outlet to express himself he has -- bullying, which didn't work, then kind of hiding and laying low, which didn't work, then he tried to be cute and do the Valentine's gram, and that didn't work. I feel like you get to such a point that you're hiding from yourself, there's nothing else to do and the only way to free yourself is to remove yourself form the world. When you do that, you're not really thinking of everyone else's reactions, your family, your father finding you, how you siblings are going to be affected. You're so in the moment and need to escape the torment that you're feeling. The scene where Karofsky's father finds him, screaming and trying to resuscitate him, it's so tragic, and I feel like that's an important message. You do something like this, and your family is going to have to discover this. You scar them for life. I did a lot of research about suicide and talked to people. I found out more women use pills, and more guys use guns, which was a kind of strange fact to find. Obviously Karofsky doesn't have a gun, he resorted to what was in his room at the time to get out of the situation he was in.
How much of the stage direction and emotion was written in, and how much of your performance did you work out that day with the director?
A little bit of both. The scripts are always brilliant, and it does lay out the motions, the directions were all there. As far as the feeling and the mood, or deciding when Karofksy really decides this is it and his decision is made, that was up to me and director to talk about, as well as where he's at. Brad Buecker was the director, who also directed me in "Never Been Kissed" and "The First Time." He comes from an editing background, and has a really keen eye for trying many different takes and feelings. We have a great synchronicity with our creative spirits, and we talked for about an hour before we shot about motivation and where Karofksy is at. The script was the blueprint, and then it was up to me and the director to fill in the meat and substance.
Do you think Karofsky's at a point of desperation?
I feel like it's a way to escape. I feel like with technology, I came to the conclusion it's the difference between hand-to-hand combat and a sniper. What Karofksy was doing was hand-to-hand, he was right there in Kurt's face, he felt what Kurt was feeling and has to live with that. But now with cyber bullying people can push a button from a different country and crush someones spirit, and because it's all on the Internet you're desensitized and you don't feel it, like a video game. For me, I feel like the locker room scene is heartbreaking and crushing, and if one of those kids stepped up and defended him it could have made a difference. However once he saw the Facebook posts, that's the point where decision was made and he had to commit suicide. It takes on a life of its own; it's the sniper analogy; it's coming from all these different directions, you don't know where it's coming from, you just want to crouch down and hide. At that point it's just a way to remove himself from the situation he finds himself in. Any human being needs to express themselves to be healthy, and Karofsky couldn't express himself and the guy that he is without being publicly mocked. The only way to express yourself becomes to take your life. There's only so much pressure he can take.
Did you listen to the song (Darren Criss performing Young the Giant's "Cough Syrup") that was the soundtrack to the scene before filming?
Darren and I are great friends; he killed the song in my opinion. I enjoy listening to that more than Young the Giant's version. I listened to it when I got the script and I thought it was so brilliant. I loved Ryan Murphy from "Nip/Tuck" because of these kind of scenes where he'd play some amazing song that would inter-cut with an emotional scene. I thought this song was perfect, where it's not too sad or depressing of a song that is forcing the way you think, but has that anger and rage to it that has a sense of something building and something mounting. Darren had emailed me the song the morning of shooting that scene, so I listened to it a few times in my trailer. I thought it was a brilliant performance on his part, and a brilliant choice on the writer's part.
You have a background in singing and dance, but you still haven't gotten a chance to shine in that arena on the show. Will you?
I have no idea. I'd always like to, it sounds fun, but then I get scripts like this and the meat that they've given me to chew on, the internal depths to me equals any song they could have. It's a dream for an actor to get to tackle a role like this. I do sing, I do dance, so would it be fun and a nice way to cross that off the list? Yes, but for me it would really have to make sense for the character or the storyline. Everything they've done so far has been perfect.
Do you have any indication that you'll be doing any more episodes?
All up in the air. I never have any clue until days before. I would certainly like to, but that's not my decision to make.
You had a powerful scene with Chris Colfer (Kurt) in this episode, and you've had a lot of them throughout the series. How was working with Chris on this one in comparison to others you've done?
I would work with Chris every day for the rest of my life. He's just a natural, genuine person. There's something when you're looking in his eyes in a scene and everything in life kind of goes away. You can completely surrender to the characters, the circumstance and the situation. We just get that about each other, there's something about our scenes where we live in the world of all the subtext and what's really being said in between the lines. I think that's what people have responded to, and it's so appreciated. Also the writers have done such a great job fleshing out these characters, and people can relate to them because they know somebody like one of these characters. Chris gives 100 percent, even when it's my closeup and there's no camera on him he'll be shedding tears, which obviously helps my performance. We both have respect and love for our craft and the message we're portraying. I think when he visits me in the hospital is one of the most powerful scene that we've shot, because Kurt realizes that Karofksy needs a friend. He's dangling off a cliff by a thread, and he needs someone on the other end to show him that it's going to be okay and that there's a future where people will love him for who he is. Kurt is the only one to step up for him to do that. It's one of the first times you see us on the same page as opposed to at war with each other.
How do you react to both the passionate fans who are in support of you, and the fans who are angry at Karofsky's redemption?
As far as being an actor on a TV show, it's flattering that fans are so connected and invested emotionally in these characters that they reach out and express themselves and their opinions. You can't ask for anything better, you'd rather have that than people who don't really care at all. As far as what they say, it is sad and tragic that people out there don't think that Karofsky can change. And there are those really awful Tweets or messages where they really want Karofksy to kill himself or harm himself just so Kurt and Blaine can be together. It's really sad, and it imitates life, where people are rooting for someone to harm themselves to protect their own beliefs. The question we should ask ourselves is why do we let it get to that point -- in the show you see there are Facebook comments where after people find out Karofsky survived they tell him to try again. That mirrors real life, I read article about that. I feel like there's such a fear in our society to let people truly be who they are, that we'd rather hold people down and live in some kind of a safe status quo because there's just his fear that if we're all ourselves we'd be these wild rabid animals. If you look at it, the people who really express themselves are the Einstein's, the Alexander Graham Bell's and the Picasso's. There's such potential in this world if we just did what we believed in. If we collectively stand up for one another and have discussions, we can save some lives and change people's ways of thinking. That would be a dream come true if we could do that with this power of "Glee."
Last episode it was revealed the Karofksy has feelings for Kurt, have you always chosen to play the character this way or was it a new development?
I think it was less of a romantic or a sexual connection, and more that he just needed a human connection. He needed someone to love and accept him for who he was, and so he tried to express himself as honestly as he knew how. He never really had anyone show him how to do that. He didn't know what else to do, and he'd rather take the risk than live in the fear. He was trying to take some step forward in his life and find something to latch on to, another key to another door, and I think when that door slammed in his face it was another heartbreak for him. He'd always respected and admired Kurt for being able to be who he is, and I feel like he was reaching out to Kurt to love and accept him for who he was, because nobody else will. I thought it was brilliant too, with the Gorilla suit, where metaphorically removing that suit he was stripping the bravado and the mask off of himself and standing there bare.
Interesting parallel between the Gorilla suit removal last episode and the dressing of himself in the suit in preparation for his suicide in this one.
I'm glad you got that. I feel like in that scene, in the suicide, Karofsky has been unable to control any elements of his life, the way people see him he hasn't been able to dictate. If he wanted to show any sensitivity it would be a weakness, so he's constantly masking who he is. Him putting the suit on is finally his way to control something, make his own image and be seen has how he wants to be seen. It's interesting that in his last moments is the only time he is able to control his decisions and his life.