[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?