As closeted high school football player Dave Karofsky, Glee's Max Adler has established himself as the poster boy for the hot-button issue of high school bullying. But up until now, he was the poster with a big red line drawn across his face. That may change beginning April 26 when Glee airs its "Born This Way" episode, which promises to be a major turning point for this seriously-conflicted youth. I chatted up Max during his day off, discussing everything from the heartbreaking fan letters he receives to what made him cry in school.
TV Guide Magazine: Chris Colfer (Kurt) has discussed the amount of mail he's received playing the part of a bullied gay kid. What kind of mail have you received as the big bad bully?
Max: I can't tell you how much I get every day from around the world. People who either identified with Karofsky because they were him or were bullied by someone like him. The most touching ones I've received are ones from gay adults who hadn't looked back at being a closeted gay person in high school. This one guy wrote to say he had been disowned by his family and his mother and father hadn't spoken to him in, like, fifteen years. When he saw the "Never Been Kissed" episode [in which Karofsky kisses Kurt], it moved him enough to send it to them, saying, "Watch this; I think you'll understand where I was coming from." And they started talking and actually reunited. They're a family again. The fact that a TV show can do that is so crazy.
TV Guide Magazine: What about fans who have a problem disassociating character from actor? Any folks who have given you a hard time about being so mean to our little Kurty?
Max: Yes. "Leave Kurt alone! Stop being so mean to him!" There's a lot of that.
TV Guide Magazine: So, the big Lady Gaga "Born This Way" episode is coming up. Do you sing?
Max: I've toured the country with my high school show choir and jazz choir. I sing and dance, do musicals. I was in Grease, Music Man, Anything Goes. I'm a big fan of theater.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you sing as Karofsky in the April 26 episode?
Max: I will say this. "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga is obviously a featured song in the episode and Karofsky is involved in that number. That song is the main focal point and message of the whole episode as far as people tackling their insecurities and overcoming things like sexuality or physical appearance. Everyone's got something they wish they could change. The episode is about the kids realizing the one thing they may not like about themselves is the one thing that makes them special.
TV Guide Magazine: You're a straight guy, so what's something you had to work through and overcome?
Max: If you're going to get deep, losing my mom in high school to muscular dystrophy when I was 17. It was a very hard thing to have all eyes in the school on me when I returned, waiting for me to break down and cry. It's not easy to go back to high school and pretend it's all okay when your life gets shattered. And then on the more physical side, would I like to have a body like Brad Pitt in Fight Club? Well, yes!
TV Guide Magazine: With politically charged storylines like the one you've been playing comes spokesperson invitations. How will you being getting the word out?
Max: I did a video for the "It Gets Better" campaign through the Trevor Project. Now they have an "It Gets Better" book with everyone's speeches you can get through Amazon. And I got in touch with the Muscular Dystrophy Association to see how I can use the Glee recognition for good. I'm learning a lot about the disease. I'm also doing this thing called Fight the Paddle, which is combating corporal punishment in schools. In 20 states in America it's still legal for kids to be beaten by their teachers. I was shocked when I saw this kid on TV showing his bruises because he got a D on his science test.
TV Guide Magazine: I assure you, Max, I have never asked this in an interview before, but it strangely seems appropriate to ask you. Have you had any personal experience with spanking?
Max: [Laughs]. No connection. That's really not one of your standard interview questions?
TV Guide Magazine: Nope, but I'll try to work it in. What's the talk about your role next season?
Max: With Karofsky, you have no idea. He could join the glee club and sing a big solo as an out, proud guy, or he could go the opposite route and go home and hang himself like many people have done. Imagine that episode, that message.
TV Guide Magazine: Oh my God! You think that could actually happen?
Max: It's all up to [show creator] Ryan Murphy. He's already got Blaine and Kurt as out gay people. I don't know if he's going to tackle the real serious aspect of what being closeted can lead someone to. But I've been told the real-life stories of this happening. I honestly have no idea. But being what Glee is, about tolerance, self-acceptance and the fact that it's a comedy, I think that would be very, very harsh and morbid. However Ryan has been known as far back as the Nip/Tuck days to push the envelope and go for the shocking moments. If he were to do that it would be for a reason and a cause that only Glee could tell. But as an actor, I hope that doesn't happen because I want to stay on Glee forever!
[After I got off the phone with Max, the thought of Karofsky doing himself in really started freaking me out. So I asked Glee executive producer Brad Falchuk if this was seriously something for fans to be worried about. Here's what he said: "That really does happen and we do like to pursue storylines that are pulled from the headlines. I can't say it wasn't discussed, but Glee doesn't really feel like the show for that. We like to get dramatic and push things, but that didn't seem the kind of story we wanted to tell."]
Would you like to see Karofsky eventually come out of the closet and accept and love himself? Maybe even be invited to join glee club next season? Or would it send a more powerful message if Karofsky were to take his own life?