Max Adler and Darren Criss | Photo: Getty
In his tenure on Glee, Max Adler’s character Dave Karofsky goes from slapstick stereotypical small-town jock chucking slushies on unsuspecting victims, to bone-chilling homophobic threats on McKinley’s favorite countertenor Kurt Hummel, to tear-jerking conflicted and closeted teen seeking redemption, to cuddly and friendly out-and-proud bear guy. It’s not been a short journey, or an expected one for Adler, who joined the series in the first season and saw his role grow to include some of queer TV’s most memorable moments, from locker room kisses to attempted suicide.
As a character many Glee fans (and Adler) assumed was gone for good a few seasons back, he made a shocking return for the final season of the Fox show, as the new boyfriend to the ex-fiance to the former subject of his bullying. Say that five times fast. Adler caught us up on the wild ride of his Glee journey from first season to finale, what he thinks about the Dave/Blaine pairing, and if he gets to put his singing voice to use this year.
Out: You joined Glee in Season 1, what was it like joining the show?
Max Adler: Just booking it was literally a dream come true. Nip/Tuck and Popular were both some of my favorite shows. Nip/Tuck in particular, I was in high school and all my closest friends would go, “did you see what happened last night, he broke his own nose!” We’d have Nip/Tuck viewing parties. I always saw this guy Ryan Murphy in the credits, and I always thought, “who is this guy who creates this insane, envelope pushing show?”
Cut to me moving to L.A. to pursue the dream, working as a valet and in a restaurant, and I hear that the same Ryan Murphy is doing a show about high school show choir. It was like, “No way, this is nuts!” When I got the audition, it was only a one episode thing. It was two lines, I was supposed to come on and say some bullying words to Quinn and Finn, throw a slushie, and be gone. But I worked really hard, I met with an acting coach and I worked two hours to do two lines. I figured if I was on set one day on Ryan Murphy’s show, I made it.
Did you ever expect that your character would turn into such a key part of the Kurt story, and now the Blaine story?
It just very slowly dominoed into what it’s become now, 30 episodes later or whatever it is, now I’m around for the final season. I never knew it was going to become what it became. It was always an episode to episode thing, with no guarantee for any future. Once they started creating all the serious drama that came out of Season 2, it was one of those roles I never even dreamed of booking on a show like that, with creators like that. It’s an experience that’s going to be very hard to top.
Your character had somewhat of a sign off with the Season 3 episode “On My Way,” where Dave faced bullying and survived a suicide attempt. What was your reaction when Glee came calling two seasons later?
Definitely a surprise, I definitely thought I was done with Glee forever. I was actually about to go do another film. A friend had offered me a really great part to star opposite Sean Astin. Then, out of nowhere, Glee called and said they wanted to bring me back. The dates conflicted, so I said for one episode I couldn’t turn down a whole movie. They basically said, “Well, we can’t really tell you what’s going on, but your part is a lot more significant than just an episode. It’s going to be an integral part of the storyline, it’ll affect Blaine and Kurt.” So to get back to the show that gave me my big break, I ended up politely declined the movie and came back to Glee.
When you found out Dave would be in a romantic relationship with Blaine, did that shock you?
The first thing was a big smile, because I was excited to get to work with Darren [Criss] and Chris [Colfer] again. Six years later, we have such history both on and off set, and there’s such a rapport. It’s a cooler experience to not come on the set as this fresh face, wide eyed, innocent kid anymore. It’s like you’re working with your friends.
Everything shocks me with Glee, but at a certain point, you forfeit and surrender to the powers that be. They know what they’re doing. So far, they’ve created some of the best television shows that are going to live in history forever. Whatever they decide to do, I'm on board. Who am I to creatively challenge any of them? I'm just excited to have the opportunity to be back on set. It wasn’t about who I’m romantically linked to, it was more the fact that they chose to show that Karofsky has gone from this homophobic bully to now have accepted being homosexula and being out and comfortable enough to be seen with a man in public, at a bar and a football game. I just thought that was a really nice, complete arc. To watch Season 1 and then to see this, it’s a full circle that’s a nice ending for all the fans of Karofsky to see him happy and see that he’s OK post-suicide attempt. He’s smiling and happy and content and not a care in the world. What a big shift for him personally. As the actor, I’m aware that the Klaine fans are understandably in an uproar, and nobody wants to see Kurt crying and upset. As the character, I’m glad that [Dave is] happy with himself and he’s not suicidal anymore.
Kurt (Chris Colfer) runs into Blaine (Darren Criss) and Karofsky (Max Adler) in the "Jagged Little Tapestry" airing Friday, Jan. 16
How has the fan reaction been, now that they’ve seen Dave and Blaine on screen together?
I think when it was first announced,I think people immediately jumped to conclusions that it was going to be mean and vindictive, or to spite kurt on purpose. After seeing it you realize what is it. Just two guys who met and rebounded and found each other. There’s really nothing intentionally mean spirited or hurtful about it. It is what it is. Of course, you’ll see how everything unfolds as the season goes. It definitely went to pure hatred and death threats to, “I”m not a fan of the storyline, but it is nice to see you back on the show.” Whether the fans are upset or happy, just the fact that we have fans that are invested and watching the show and emotionally attached, it’s something great that some shows never even get.
There’s been a lot of talk online, analyzing if Dave is more into Blaine than Blaine is into Dave, or if they’re both simply hung up on Kurt. How to you interpret their relationship?
Dave feels like he’s into Blaine, but I also feel like he’s also projecting his wish for having someone to be with and someone who knows his past and he can feel comfortable with. I don’t know if it’s Blaine, or the idea of a Blaine or someone kind of there for him. I don’t think it has anything to do with Kurt, from Dave’s point of view. I think he’s genuinely happy to share this new life and these new experiences with someone. I think it means more to him to have Blaine, who knows where he came from and what he overcame, to get to this point, instead of someone fresh.
You’ve become a bit of a bear icon for playing Dave, how’s the attention been this time around?
Any time anybody gets excited about your existance, that’s always fun. It’s really been positive, for the most part, it’s very complimentary. People are thankful for feeling represented on TV when perhaps in the past they weren’t. A lot of people feel like they’re really accurately represented in Karofsky, both his mindset and physicality. I feel lucky to be the actor who got to play the part. It’s a very flattering thing that’s not lost on me.
You're playing a gay character in another film, Saugatuck Cures, a comedy that explores ex-gay therapy. How was filming that movie, did you bring your experiences as Dave to that role, and how was it similar or different to your role on Glee?
Filming Saugatuck Cures was such an incredible experience. It is a brilliant script written by Jay Paul Deratany dealing with family values and acceptance and tolerance as well as the hot topic of strong religious beliefs versus homosexuality and how that affects this family's dynamics. However, it deals with all of these buzzwords and sensitive issues through comedy, so while you are understanding and receiving the hard hitting messages, you are laughing along the way so it makes the subjects more palatable and easier to swallow through comedy as opposed to a heavy drama which can tend to make everything a little bit more polarizing.
The character I play, Drew Callaghan, and the character I play on Glee are two very different guys. Although they do indeed have their homosexuality in common, at the time I played Drew in Saugatuck Cures, Dave wasn't really out and hadn't really accepted or declared his homosexuality to his family and friends yet in Glee. So while I was able to explore the very difficult time that comes with being a closeted homosexual in high school with Dave, it was quite different with Drew because he was already out to all of his friends and his entire family and had accepted who he was long ago and in fact, was even frustrated at the lack of great dating options in his town as he was indeed searching for the right man!
You’re also keeping busy outside of the world of Glee.
I’m in New York City now filming Blue Bloods. It’s a great part, very comedic. I’m an overenthusiastic civilian patrolman who wants to be a cop, but can’t. He keeps getting in the NYPD’s way and overstepping his boundaries. I'm also on Switched at Birth. I have a really significant storyline this season with them as well that will be pretty controversial. It’s very topical, I can’t say what it is.
Do you only do controversial storylines?!
It’s wild. For some reason the writers keep throwing these big storylines my way and I try to handle them.
Regardless of what happens with Dave and Blaine during this season, can you say if Dave ends up happy at the end of the series?
I can tell you: yes and no. Something happens that could obviously make him unhappy, and how he chooses to deal with that could be a big question mark. Yeah, that’s going to kind of come to how Dave chooses to deal with a particular event. I am sure some will say he’ll be happy, and some will say he won’t. But I would like to think that he’ll be just fine.
Finally, the most important question: Does Dave Karofsky ever get to sing on Glee?
No! I’m so upset about it. That’s all I wanted, I would have been such a happy camper if Karofsky got a song. I wanted that so bad, but in six seasons Karofsky doesn’t sing a note. But again, they tell the story they want to tell. I can’t judge, but personally I would have loved a song.
What you should do is post a song online after the finale of what you think Dave would have sung on Glee when no one was looking.
I know, but it’s never the same as the Glee way — the editing, the track, the costumes. I could have been a contender. You win some, you lose some. As my dad says, sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.