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...


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


love the show and love max's character.. he does a great job portraying a kid w/asperger's ... and i have one - the same age as the character on the show ... the little bits and pieces are perfect ... sometimes the big things are harder to watch because i don't know anyone this age who would have such confidence talking about asperger's in the way he did when he gave that speech - but as it's TV and it was done for the viewing public, I can let that go. To Greg, I'd invite you to have more patience for people and realize that as parents, we have an unending amount for our children - who with a dx or not can drive us crazy at times for all kinds of reasons.


Since I am a mom with a child in the autism spectrum, I believe this young man is doing an excellent job playing Max. Max is truly higher functioning than most but his "right in your face" attitude, is interesting and in this interview, he says he would like to have more friends. People that are in the aspergers/autism disorder range, do not typically have a lot of friends. Now my son is very social and loves people but he doesn't get really "close" to anyone but the ones he really loves. I love Parenthood and have cried many a day. The show that touched me the most was the 1st show introducing Max in the school playground. You are an awesome actor Max Burkholder


Wow, i thought he really did have aspergers, its insane how accurately he portrays the character, he is of the gifted few whose talent is innate. Loved the interview


The Max character really pisses me off i want to slam his head through a wall so Max is is doing a great acting job. Im glad my kids dont have that, i couldnt handle it.

@ Greg

I could not agree with you more! I absolutely HATE this character! I think he's incredibly rude and selfish!


This is one of the best actors on TV. I cannot believe he has not been nominated for several awards.
Unfair and not appreciated. Love ya Max (disappointed 42 year old woman)


I'm with Lillian, above, I have said the same thing about Max for years, that the actor MUST have Asperger's to make it so believable. Max Burkholder does such an incredible job! And for doing it so well right from the beginning, as an 11 year old... Wow! Great job, Max!!


So glad to have this interview. We were all pretty well convinced that the actor playing Max really did have Asberger's (like the Downs character on "Life Goes On"). As one person put it, "either that, or he's one hell of an actor." Now we know the answer - the latter!

Sarah silva

Okay I love Max Burkholder! He seems like a super sweet kid! I got emotional reading this.
I do love the scenes with Max and Amber so that is neat that he said that Mae Whitman is one of the people he likes doing scenes with.

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