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.
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