In the heated moment when he kissed Kurt Hummel in the McKinley High locker room, Dave Karofsky, 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. 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.
The Advocate: Now that we’re between seasons, are you suffering from Glee withdrawal like I am?
Max Adler: 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.
You recently caught the Glee Live! concert tour in San Diego. Are you bummed that you’re not touring with the gang?
Of course. I did show choir in high school, so I definitely envy everybody who gets to be up there while I watch from the sidelines. Being at the concert, I kind of felt like my character in a way, so it was interesting. But we’ll see what happens in the future.
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 he does 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.
Now that it’s been confirmed that your character is attracted to other men, have you become more aware of all the hot guys on the show?
There are some attractive men in that Glee cast. I cannot deny that.
After all, Santana figured out Karofsky’s 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 thought, 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 you’re 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 in 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 out causing trouble or getting into fights; he has school, football practice, 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 Web, playing video games, eating, whatever, he’s in hiding. He’s almost like a wanted criminal, trying to lie low.
Out of all the Glee boys, who do you think is Karofsky’s type?
Oh, man. This is a horrible question. [Laughs] I don’t know. I don’t know if he has a type, but it’s probably not a jock. I’d say that Dave is attracted to someone who’s more compassionate and tender. How do I put this? Dave would probably be the “guy” in the relationship between him and another guy. He would want a guy with a more effeminate, motherly quality.
Got it. We have words for that, Max. Karofsky’s a top.
[Laughs] I did not say that!
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 so 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 Been 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.
Let’s discuss the motivation behind that infamous kiss. Is Karofsky in love with Kurt, or was it just a impulse of horny desperation?
I think it was just curiosity. I can see Karofsky developing feelings for Kurt in the future, and there could possibly be a love story there, because that’s certainly not out of the cards. But at that point, Kurt was the only person he’s ever known who’s actually gay and out, so he just needed to see what it would feel like — what a man’s lips feel like and taste like. It was a curiosity kiss, and we’ll see if anything develops from that.
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 honestly, 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 I find it amusing. If 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 cohosted the Anti-Defamation League’s Concert Against Hate. At what point did you decide to get involved with the LGBT community and antibullying initiatives beyond your portrayal of Karofsky?
After “Never Been Kissed” aired. When I read that script, I thought 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 my 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 rumor 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 rumor in interviews. But that’s kind of how I was playing him — I always thought that he was at 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 hasn’t really 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.
Is Karofsky’s suicide not in the realm of possibility for next season?
Once that rumor started going around, Ryan [Murphy] and Brad [Falchuk] said that it was discussed it 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. That would be a big downer of an episode for Glee. But anything could happen.
Another downside of Karofsky’s suicide is that you wouldn’t be on the show anymore.
Yes, that would be bad, because I would love to do this forever. But if they did go that way with the story line, I know it would be for the best, I would carry it out wholeheartedly, and I know it could make a big difference.
When we last saw Karofsky in the “Prom Queen” episode, he breaks down and apologizes 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 season?
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 that moment he could 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 that was that you see Karofsky making steps, digging into his inner feelings for the first time.
I hope you get to smile more next season.
Thank you. It’s 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.
Don’t act like you don’t know exactly what you’re doing when you leak a shirtless picture of you and a puppy.
I did not leak that! Someone probably stole that off my friend’s Facebook page, and now it’s out there. I certainly did not want that getting out there, but oh well, there it is. [Laughs] The gay fan base has been so incredibly sweet and supportive of me and of everything I’m doing. I’m always meeting gay people who tell me stories about themselves and their past, and it’s just amazing that these people can open up to me. I’m a stranger to them, but because of the role I get to play, they’re comfortable sharing these stories with me that shine a light on their daily struggles.
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, ’80s 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.
I’ve seen a few pictures from that set, and it looks like you and your costar, The Hard Times of RJ Berger’s Jayson Blair, are having a nice bromance.
We have grown very close. Our journeys are interesting, because we worked together as waiters at a restaurant in L.A. before he got RJ Berger and I got Glee. But we stayed in touch, and all of sudden we’re shooting a movie together in Michigan and hanging out every day. And we’ve ended up playing extremely similar roles on both our shows.
Right, in the RJ Berger season finale we discovered that Blair’s jock bully is secretly gay. Have you offered him any words of advice or encouragement about playing a closeted character next season?
There’s so much attention around gay issues right now, so we couldn’t have asked for a better time to get to play these roles, because we can really make a difference. I already told him, “It’s about to get fun, so get ready for an exciting ride.”