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Parenthood

Parenthood Exclusive: Max on Max!

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Parenthood was on hiatus last week, but I had the opportunity to talk with the talented Max Burkholder, the young actor behind Max Braverman.

What is it like to play someone with Asperger? How will the character react to a myriad of changes? Read on for excerpts from our Q&A...

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You've been playing Max since you were 11 years old. Playing someone with Asperger Syndrome is difficult for an adult, yet you pull it off so well. What's your secret?

Well, it's really difficult at times, but it's a really fun challenge. What I always like to do is, I like to sort of play pretend, you know? Like make believe. I also meet with the director of the episode and the executive producer and a doctor specializing in Aspergers and we go over how Max would react in certain situations, and it's hopefully gotten easier as I've gotten more in touch with my character over the years.

What was it like, as an 11-year old, to step into the shoes of Max? He's the type of role seasoned actors take to win awards. 

I really didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what to expect, how much the character would develop, what sort of things he would be doing, but I'm really glad that I got the chance to play Max and I'm really excited that I'm able to have the opportunity to play this character.

Run, Max!

Does Max being based off of Jason Katims' son impact how your play the role?

I don't think about that too much. I don't really think about who Max is based on, I just play him as who he is rather than try to emulate someone else. I wouldn't say it makes it any more difficult or any easier.

This season there is a lot of change for Max. He goes to a new school, Haddie leaves home and Kristina gets cancer. What can we expect from Max as the season goes on and how challenging is it for you to play these issues as they come up?

As for the cancer storyline, I don't think it really impacts Max as much as it does anyone else, because he doesn't really grasp it on an emotional level. It's more of a practical level, like if mom is going through chemo or having surgery she'll be incapacitated and won't be able to make me dinner or take me to and from school. Things like that, rather than emotionally. And new school, Haddie leaving home, I think really those things aren't going to affect max as much because he's had time to prepare for them. They aren't sudden changes. 

As a 15-year old who does not have Asperger Syndrome, does it feel strange to be the only person on set who does not react to Kristina's cancer on an emotional level?

It definitely feels weird at times, because there are scenes where I'm seeing her, you know, hunched down on the bathroom floor, deathly pale, sweating, having just thrown up, and to me, myself, it registers on an emotional level, but as Max I know I have to keep it contained and register it only on an information level. So it's actually a little strange. 

In what ways would you like to see Max grow?

I would like to see Max getting involved wit more social situations, like maybe more friends, hanging out with more people, things like that. That's where he's really lacking. Well, not lacking so much as having trouble.

What kind of kids do you think would be his best opportunity to make friends?

What most people would probably call nerds. People who are extremely interested in all the same subjects he is interested in and with which he could have long conversations.

What's your favorite part about playing Max?

I love always being able to make everyone around him angry. It's so much fun because he's so brutally honest and it brings about the most ridiculous situations, which are hilarious. Like around the beginning of the third season and Kristina says, "Nora is two and a half months old today. It's a special day," and Max just says, "That's not a significant passage of time." It's things like that that really make me love playing Max.

If there was one thing that Max has done so far that you could have changed and done differently, what would it have been?

I would like him to not like bugs so much. Because I hate bugs. I hate bugs! There are so many scenes when I have play with bugs and look so happy around bugs. Oh, that is the one thing I would change. 

You haven't had to do anything with live bugs have you?

Oh, no, I have. I have! It was disgusting. There were like cockroaches and beetles and blah!

Who are your favorite characters or actors to play against in scenes?

I like doing scenes with Sarah Ramos' character, Haddie, and Mae Whitman's character, Amber and Craig T. Nelson's character, Zeek. Those are going to be my favorite characters to see Max interact with.

Our readers have really enjoyed the work you do with Mae Whitman. The two of you really seem to work well off of each other.

Yeah, it's a lot of fun working with Mae.

What about playing Max has enriched your life?

I never really knew much about people with Autism or Aspergers before I played Max. I only knew there was a disorder called Autism and that one time a kid in my school had it. That's all I knew. It's really broadened my mind on the subject.

Is there anything else you'd like people to know about you or Max or what's coming up on the show?

I don't like to to give too much about what's coming up with Max because there's always something that will just catalyze everybody else's anger. I just like to let people be surprised by that. Well, anger, happiness, sadness. All of those.

It is Parenthood so you do run the risk of running the gamut of all those emotions during any one episode.

We really do. I love it!

Do you watch the episodes?

I really do. I watch every single episode.

What are some of your favorites?

That's tough. Probably the Nora being born episode, the Haddie going away to college episode.

Carissa Pavlica is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.

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You guys should really put a spoiler alert at the beginning of this article... I didn't know kristina was gonna have cancer.... :(

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I have a really mild form of aspergers but some of the stuff max goes through I do it to. I know to be emotional so that wouldn't be a problem for me. But for the christmas episode where he was like I want to go christmas shopping now. And didn't get what he wanted probably would be me. But I don't have it as severe as max. Or any other person with aspergers. Like I love making friends and am very social or try to be social. Most people with aspergers aren't very social.

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Hank - he does have his obsessive thing - bugs :) I too assumed he must have Aspergers in real life because it was SO good. I was shocked to find out he was acting. Phenomenal talent.

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Parenthood is an incredible show & Max is amazing. As a mother of a 20 year old Asperger son, I can so relate to so many situations on the program. How mom tries to deal with Max - I can soooo relate to these issues. The cast is wonderful. I also thought Max was Asperger in "real" life - wow- he is doing an amazing job!!
I also tear up pretty often in the scenes with Max!

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Being an LCSW who has worked with adolescent Aspergers Syndrome, I am blown away by Max's acting. He even has down the strange gait of Aspergers teens. The biggest one thing that I don't see on the show is that most Aspergers kids have an obsessive something in their life i.e., trains, movies. They seem to use them as a way to put some meaning to their lives. One patient used movies to socialize with girls, but he want to put them in a Horror Movie and kill them off. It was at this point that the school counselor called me. I can't believe I am even writing this, but Max does such a good job, as do all the other cast members. Keep up the good work.

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Wow! I have had an ongoing debate with family members as to whether or not you are on the autism spectrum in real life! We have all been convinced that you must be in order to play "Max" as well as you do! I am simply amazed! And as a mother of a 4 yr old on the spectrum, I am touched by your portrayal and your genuineness. Thank you for doing such a wonderful job of bringing awareness into the living rooms of so many people. You are an incredibly talented young man! God Bless You!

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Hands down the the best show on TV, Max, you do an amazing job and I am blown away week in week out. So close to real life. Every single actor on this show is perfectly cast. Emotional roller coaster on this past Tues episode. Kristina's character is excellent and I truly hope this show will be around for many years. Keep up the great work Max and great to finally read an article about you and some behind the scenes knowledge. Best of luck and thank you.

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I LOVE this show and I LOVE Max! This article just answered my question as to whether or not the actor had Aspergers. He does such a wonderful job that I began to wonder! Keep up the good work, Max!

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As the parent of a son with Aspergers, I also agree that you are doing an incredible job of bringing awareness to what our children, their siblings, and we parents go through on a daily basis. The student body president speech was so moving! Keep up the great work!

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Max, I think you are by far the most convincing actor on the show. I look so forward to the scenes that you are in!