Will it get better for Dave Karofsky, or could Glee's closeted bully still kill himself?
Max Adler reveals what might be in store for his conflicted character next season - including the possibility of a love connection with Kurt Hummel.
In the heated moment when he kissed Kurt Hummel in the McKinley High locker room, Glee's most hated slushie-tossing tormentor, became one of the most tragic and sympathetic figures on television. As his self-loathing character kept harassing Kurt throughout the second season, forcing the openly gay glee clubber to temporarily transfer to another school, Max Adler earned more admirers by wholeheartedly embracing the responsibility of representing struggling gay youth.
Now smiling for a change on his summer hiatus, the 25-year-old actor looks back at Karofsky's slow road toward self-acceptance and predicts a somewhat brighter future for the football jock when the Fox juggernaut returns for a third season this fall.
Now that we're between seasons, are you suffering from Glee withdrawal like I am?
I'm totally going through Glee withdrawal. The hectic schedule was full-speed, and then it all stopped at once. But I'm not the kind of person who enjoys downtime, so I'm always looking for what I can do next. Two days after we wrapped season 2, I went off to shoot a movie, and there have already been other auditions and meetings, so I'm keeping busy.
The Glee audience first discovered that Karofsky was gay in "Never Been Kissed", the November episode in which he unexpectedly kisses Kurt. Similarly, you learned Karofsky's secret when you read the script for that episode. How did that new insight change the way you played the character?
Well, before the "Never Been Kissed" episode, I still looked for things within him that would make him more interesting for me to play - why does he bully, why does he torment so many people? Him being gay was actually something I tossed around as an idea, but it obviously wasn't confirmed until "Never Been Kissed", which just reiterated how I played him. I knew there was something going on underneath, but once I knew for sure what that thing was, it made it a lot more exciting for me. It's almost like playing two people at once: Karofsky has one way he speaks and shows himself to his peers at school, and then there's this whole other life beneath the surface, so with everything he says there's something else that he's thinking. To get to act that is such a joy.
Santana figured out Karofsky secret when she caught him checking out Sam in the hallway.
Yeah, Sam's a good-looking guy. That was great, because in the script it just said, "Santana spots Karofsky" - and then in all caps - "AS HE TOTALLY CHECKS SAM'S ASS OUT!" I though, oh, my God, that's going to be so much fun. I had already thought about that kind of thing. When I'm doing those locker room scenes, I think, Karofsky's probably feeling pretty uncomfortable with all these other guys, because it would be like me in a locker room with a bunch of girls changing. That was something I had been playing, but it was never shown until he checked out Sam. If your questioning your sexuality at school with a bunch of good-looking teenage guys, yeah, your eyes are going to be roaming for sure.
Because we see Karofsky sporadically, have you come up with your own details to fill his backstory?
Yes, I think about it all the time. At this point, all he's doing is trying to blend in and fly under the radar. He wants to watch everything he does - the way he walks, the way he talks, what he looks at - so I feel like when you don't see him, he's not causing trouble or getting into fights; he has school, football practise, and then goes home, so he's living his life like a drone, a robot, just trying to get through another day without anyone seeing him for who he really is. Whether he's surfing the Wed, playing video games, eating, whatever, he's in hiding. He's almost like a wanted criminal, trying to lie low.
Has Dave ever hooked up with a guy on the sly?
I don't think so. I think his kiss with Kurt was his very first encounter with a guy, which is what scared him. He's been shell-shocked since then, so I don't think he's ready to get out there and start hooking up with anybody just yet.
The poor guy must be ready to explode - figuratively and literally.
Exactly. I was curious about what was going to happen at the prom, because it would've been one heck of a time for him to come out. But I love how the writers have let it play out a little longer, because it would've been a little soon and abrupt for him to come out like that, especially in front of the whole student body. He's totally ready to explode. I imagine him as this big inflated balloon before "Never Being Kissed", but there was a small pinprick once that kiss happened, and now all the hot air is slowly escaping as he tries to close it up.
A lot of Glee fans out there would enjoy seeing Kurt and Karofsky hook up. Are you aware of the slash fan fiction category called "Kurtofsky"?
I'm aware. Chris [Colfer] and I have discussed this, and we've decided that Kurtofsky sounds like a mean, famous male Russian ballerina. In all honesty, I haven't read any of it. I know it exists, but I don't want to read it, because I don't want it to influence anything I'm doing on the show. But I am very aware, and find it amusing. It people are still thinking about the show once it ends, that's a good thing.
You teamed up with the Trevor Project to make an "It Gets Better" video, and you co-hosted the Anti-Defamation League's Concert Against Hate. At what point did you decide to get involved with the GLBT community and anti-bullying initiatives beyond your portrayal of Karofsky?
After "Never Being Kissed" aired. When I read that script, I though it could have this major impact, but I didn't know whether it would be positive or negative. I thought it was important, but it's a very risky thing to have play out on prime-time TV, so I didn't know if people would lash out against me, the character, the writers, whatever. Once it aired, the response I got was 100% positive. I had a smile on the face the whole day. That's when people started coming up to me, asking for autographs, pictures, shaking my hand, telling me, "Thank you for doing this", "You're representing me", "You're representing someone I know". I knew from that point that there are eyeballs on this story line, and it's my job to be honest with what's on the page and to represent the feelings and struggles that people are really going through. As entertaining as the show is, and as fun as the job is, there's a heavy, serious element for me in representing the gay community. It's been incredible.
There was a persistent rumour near the end of last season that Karofsky might kill himself. What were your thoughts on that possibility?
Yeah, I may've even started that rumour in interviews. But that's kind of how I was playing him - I always thought that he was least contemplating the idea, getting close to suicide, which would be very real. The obvious choice would be for him to come out and live happily ever after, but I thought the more interesting choice was having him struggle, because that really hasn't been represented for so long on television, and that's what a lot of people need to see. But because of the message of positivity that Glee puts out there, a suicide could be difficult to have on the show. Once that rumour stared going around, Ryan [Murphy] and Brad [Falchuk] said that it was discussed in the writers' room, but they didn't think that's where they were going to end up taking Karofsky. So I think fans can rest easy.
When we last saw Karofsky in the "Prom Queen" episode, he breaks down and apologises to Kurt for bullying him. Later, after being crowned prom king and having the opportunity to come out to the school by slow-dancing with Kurt, he runs out of the prom near tears. Where does that leave the character for next year?
It was a huge step for him to get to that point. That was the first time that he was himself, whether he wanted to be or not. Everything he'd done up to that point was this big shield of bravado, and he was faking who he was to everybody, but at the moment he couldn't take it anymore, so he let his guard down. So there's still a lot of progress that can be made. At the prom he saw how the student body dealt in a positive way with Kurt being named prom queen - they ended up backing him and cheering him - so that might ease some of his fears a bit. The most important part of all was that you see Karofsky making steps, digging into his inner feeling for the first time.
I hope you get to smile more next season.
Thank you. It's been fun playing the bad guy, but it's fun to smile too.
Even with your snarl, you've become something of a sex symbol this year. You recently ranked 64 on AfterElton's Hot 100, which isn't too shabby. How do you feel about that kind of attention from the gay audience?
It's all in good fun, and I appreciate it. It's also scary, because I feel like when you're put in that position you can only get beat up and go down from there. But for the time being, it's very cool.
Finally. You just wrapped filming the movie Detention of the Dead. What can you tell us about it?
It's a lot of fun. It's got a very John Hughes, 80's feel to it, which is refreshing, and then you get zombies. So if you like Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and The Breakfast Club, you're going to like it. It was a blast to shoot.