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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 the managing editor and staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.

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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!

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He's an amazing actor and the fact that he hasn't gotten an Emmy nod is crazy to me. From such a young age, playing a child with a disability and one that's personality driven like Asperger's is so challenging and he does it and makes it look so effortless. You forget sometimes that he doesn't have it. He's an incredible talent and he's on an incredible show.

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I too have a son with asperger's and appreciate that a show of this magnitude is showing the world how our children function in this world. Maybe people will treat them better and befriend them more. I think I cry every single episode not just because of the asperger's but on many levels it touches me emotionally. I LOVE this show. Keep up the good work.

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As a grandparent of a grandchild with the Autism spectrum. I am amazed of the talent, and how you play the part so well. Showing people that Autism spectrum is not a contagious thing .People need to have compassion and understand the lives of people with the spectrum.

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My son is 11 and has Aspergers...and the portrayal of Max is so right on...and his experiences always seem to be running parallel with my sons. Starting a new school...making (& keeping friends)...new baby in the house...& most recently wanting to run for student body president. I love Max's speech. My son too gives a speech to his school each year for Autism Awareness month regarding his Aspergers, & we found raising awareness is the best tool to helping him get along with the children at his school.
So Thank You for continuing to raise awareness. AWARENESS IS THE CURE ----AWESOME SHOW
THANK YOU PARENTHOOD

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Max, I love your character. I don't know much of aspergers though I've always been bothered by people staring at people with handicap issues. I call them God's special children, although we are all God's children... I love this program and I hope it continues to stay on...its so close to real life than other shows ...keep up the excellence quality of work.

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@ Yvonne

So, who exactly would be "staring" at this moron? He doesn't have a visible disability, he's just annoying, rude, and selfish, and you consider that to be "special?"

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I love the show and I am continually amazed at your portrayal of Max. Bravo!

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As a parent of a child on the spectrum - Max you get it right all the time. I love this character because it helps my siblings see what I go thru and has made for some great conversations. As for the friends thing "good luck" - remember you are blueberry pie, there is nothing the matter with blueberry pie people just prefer cheese cake. My daughter, who is in 7th grade, finally has a circle of friends. It started with one friend she eats lunch with every day and has become 8 friends who all started as groups of two. I don't think any of them see themselves as outsiders and all the parents are relieved they now fit in and belong to a group.

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I do have a young adult son with Aspergers/HF Autism and Max does such a wonderful job playing his character on the show. His character is very true to life. I love how his character has helped educate so many of what it is like to live with someone with Autism. It is really stressful, but it can be pretty cool at times too. We find it really interesting how our son will bring out either the best or the worst in people. It is very difficult for people to keep their masks on and we get to see their true selves. In the Autism world, people with Autism are categorised as either High functioning or Low functioning Autistics. Someone with Aspergers would be in the High Functioning category. They like to categorise Neurotypical people too as High Functioning NeuroTyps or Low Functioning NeuroTyps. You never want to be a Low Functioning NeuroTyp. :-)

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Max you are an amazing actor, I agree you should be nominated for an award. It wouldn't be easy playing a young boy with asbergers, and you are very convincing. Parenthood is an amazing show, and hope it continues for years to come

Parenthood Quotes

Does the not father want to cut the cord?

Nurse Natalie

Yeah, I'll even do ballet for a burger and pie.

Crosby

Parenthood Music

  Song Artist
On my way back home On My Way Back Home Band of Horses iTunes
Song Smile Evil Twins
Well runs dry Well Runs Dry Peter Case iTunes