You probably recognize Max Adler from his role as Dave, the bully from "Glee." But we got to see a whole different side of the goofy actor who was all smiles and the furthest thing from intimidating. We sat down with him at Studio Café in Studio City, one of the many restaurants where he waited tables before he got his big break with "Glee."
His tales of countless restaurant jobs – and getting fired for everything from toilet paper to a 75-cent muffin - kept us laughing all morning, but his Hollywood story is truly inspiring. While we are sure that Max makes a killer cappuccino, we can’t wait to see what else he will do on screen!
Molly: You really are a true Hollywood story. Tell us where your journey began. What was your first job in Los Angeles? Max: First job in Los Angeles was at the Marriot. I used to valet in a Marriot in Arizona. They transferred me out here. The only position that available was in the Woodland Hills Marriot and on a map it looks much closer to Hollywood. I had no idea how far it would be. So it was like an hour and a half trek every day to get there. I worked there for a couple of years. Five days a week. You know, 8-14 hours. It was long days. I was miserable, depressed, and so broke at that time - it was Ramen noodles every night. All the money from the Marriott would just barely cover the utilities.
So to make ends meet, and cut corners, the Marriott has a giant warehouse closet of thousands of toilet paper rolls and paper tolls. When I needed it, I would just take from the Marriott. Then one morning I came into work and they said that the boss wanted to see me upstairs. I went up there and he said, “Sit down. What can you tell me about this?” He handed me an 8 x 10 black and white still shot from the security camera of me holding all these rolls of toilet paper. And I just said, “You know, times are tough. I’m so sorry. I did what I had to do. I can return them.” Anyways, they fired me for theft because they couldn’t prove how long it had been going on, how much I had taken. So I got fired for stealing a few rolls of toilet paper. That was the first job.
Molly: Hilarious. What was your move after that? Max: Jobwise? I worked at Macaroni Grill. I got fired from that for missing shifts for auditions. Because, basically, my mentality was that I moved here to be an actor. And I can do whatever to make money, but I wasn’t ever going to miss an audition or an opportunity for a shift at a restaurant. I promised that to myself. So there were times when I couldn’t get the shift covered and I just would not come in. Because I would think, “I’m not going to miss this opportunity.” I worked at Hugo’s for a few weeks. Missed some training shifts for auditions - so I got fired from that.
Molly: You brought a muffin with you today. Tell us about the muffin story. Max: Ah the muffin story - Mogan’s. It was in the Pacific Palisades. There was a regular, an older woman in her 70s, named Jackie. Retired. She’d come in every single day and her tradition was to have a vanilla latte and banana nut muffin. And we would always shoot the shit and schmooze and she would always tell me about her grandchildren and her travels and I would tell her about my aspirations. And, you know, we formed a little friendship. She came in one day after I worked there for about a year- just really down, like something was off. I asked her, “What’s going on? Are you okay?” And she said that she had just come from the doctor and had gotten results and she had breast cancer and was trying to deal with that.
I felt so bad and said, “Look, your muffin is on me. Get out of here. Have a good day.” And the bus boy told the manager that I didn’t ring her up for the muffin and I got fired from Mogan’s for giving away free pastries- to a poor older woman that just found out she had cancer. They didn’t want to hear my side of the story. I begged, I pleaded. I told them, “Look, I can’t pay my rent if you fire me. I need this job.” And they didn’t want to hear it.
Molly: We’re here at Jinky’s Studio Café in Studio City. Was this your last job as a waiter? Max: So I got fired from Mogan’s. Then I came here - Studio Café, where I was happily received, and everything was great. I had done some television and films, but it wasn’t enough to quit. And after five episodes of "Glee," I was still here, because the money after the first five was not enough. And then once "Glee" started going, I peaced out, and it's been a cool ride ever since.
Molly: So you truly are the muffin man. Max: I truly am the muffin man - in the flesh.
Molly: You’re from Scottsdale, Arizona. Which is pretty different from LA. How was that transition? Max: It’s like a mini LA. It’s a much easier way of life there. You get a lot more bang for your buck. It’s a lot cheaper. Gas is thirty or forty cents cheaper. Movie tickets at night are eight or nine bucks. And you can park in any lot, any street. There are no street signs. There is no street cleaning. It’s just a much easier way of life. But, it’s a lot slower. It doesn’t have as much of the eclectic melting pot and culture of LA. And the opportunities to do what I wanted to do were not there, so I had to move. So I came here after high school, at eighteen, with the support of my family. And that’s what is pretty cool now, because they saw how hard it was and how there were a few times when I thought, “This is not working out. I’m broke. I should go home.” And every time that would happen, something else would happen. I would get a gig, or an agent. Something would keep me here. So now, for them to see me on TV each week is a really cool full circle.
Molly: What was it like shooting Glee while you still worked at Studio Café? Max: I remember one of the first gigs I got was "Ghost Whisperer." And I shot with Jennifer Love Hewitt, which was amazing. She’s gorgeous. You know, I had a crush on her for like 10 years. We were shooting one night until 4:00 in the morning. And I had to work the next day, here, at a 10 AM shift. On set, everyone was knocking on the door of your trailer, “Can I get you any food, Mr. Adler? Can I get you any coffee, Mr. Adler?” The whole thing. And then I come in here, and it’s like, “Hey! More lemonade!” It was weird. Ten hours ago, I was hanging out with Jennifer Love Hewitt. It was pretty crazy.
Molly: As far as Glee goes, what was it like being a heterosexual actor playing a homosexual character on TV? Max: I never really thought of it like that. It was just a tortured, tragic, and closed off guy who was very uncomfortable and unhappy with who he was. And he tried to mask that from society and from the world. So I kind of related it to... hmm, I’d say 99% of human beings, that have something going on inside that they’re uncomfortable with and don’t want the world to see. What mask do you have to show? What bravado do you have to put up? What front, to cover the fact that you are not as secure as you seem underneath? You know, that makes it relatable.
But, I think it was just a really smart, timely move on the producer’s part and the writers part, to tackle it. It was at the height of all the teen suicides and the cyber bullying and in the news with Anderson Cooper every week. I think what they really did was shine a light on the bullies and what makes them bullies, and the insecurities that they have. It shined a light on the other side. If anything, you almost felt sympathetic and understanding towards why someone would put someone down. And I think, in a way, that helped the victims of bullying. It showed, “Look, your tormenter isn’t as cool and as confident as he appears. He’s got some issues. He’s got some problems going on. So I think it helped a lot of people. And I was just honored and lucky to be a part of it.
Molly: It really was a powerful role. I know you got involved with the It Gets Better Project because of the show. Can you tell us more about the cause? Max: Yeah, I was always a big fan of 'It Gets Better' and 'The Trevor Project.' I was very aware of it. But right after the episode when my character kisses Chris Colfer’s character, 'It Gets Better' reached out to me and said, “You know, we’d like for you to do a video.” And I said, 'Perfect.' I just watched Chris’ video. I had watched Obama’s video. I was flying out to DC the next week to speak at the Kennedy Center on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League and 'It Gets Better' happened to be in DC. So they came to my hotel room and set up a camera, and then they told me to just speak from the heart for a couple minutes about what you want to tell people. And I did. And the video got out there and, you know, I’m still a huge supporter. I go to all the GLAD events and fundraisers, and The Trevor Project shows. I think it’s amazing what they’re doing. They’re using social media to reach out to the people that need it; that don’t have awareness in their communities and environments; their homes and schools. We especially find less awareness in middle America where - well you know, here [in Los Angeles], you see two guys walking down the street, kissing, holding hands, and you don’t think twice. But I think it’s not as common in other parts of the country and the world. To get that message to gay people– that look, there’s a whole world out there where this is accepted and there is nothing strange or weird, and you don’t have to feel uncomfortable or insecure – to get that message out, was really important. It’s an amazing organization, and, again, I was just glad to be a part of that and contribute.
Molly: Absolutely. Well, we already love your new character, Tank, on "Switched at Birth." How has shooting episodes for this new show been different than shooting "Glee?" Max: It’s been an amazing experience. The producers, the crew, the cast- they’re all so cool. They’re so friendly. They’re so passionate. They’re so talented. They come to set prepared. They embraced me with open arms and welcomed me into the crew right away. And I love getting to play this character, because, oftentimes I get cast as the bully or the mean guy, because of my size, and being intimidating. So it’s been a pleasure being the opposite: a caring, vulnerable, romantic guy. It’s a pleasure working with Vanessa and I’m just having a lot of fun. It’s different, because "Glee" was kind of like every few episodes - I’d shoot episode three and not come back until episode ten. It was kind of a very inconsistent thing. This is nice, because I’m there every week and there’s a nice, fluid storyline, and it’s very grounded in reality. I’m really having a good time. The finale is a cliffhanger. So dramatic.
Molly: Can you tell us any secrets?! Max: No, no. It’s going to have to do with...you’ll have to watch. I don’t want to say anything. But man, it’s very dramatic.
Molly: I guess we will have to stay tuned! How would you describe your personal style? Max: Personal style? These red pants are pretty bitchin’! Awesome casual!
Molly: Yes, we coined a new term today during the shoot. Can you define “awesome casual”? Max: Um...It’s awesome….and casual. It’s something you wear anywhere, but its very presentable and stylish. It’s not shlubby or grungy. It’s in between Venice Beach and Beverly Hills. Awesome Casual. I like the layered look. I like plaids. I like hoodies. Yeah, awesome casual is probably the best answer I could give you. I do like dressing up. I like suits. But day-to-day is awesome casual.
Molly: Awesome. Max: Exactly.
Molly: Other than these red pants, what else are you excited about in the upcoming future? Max: The main focus is "Switched at Birth," because I’m working a lot and there a lot of different emotions that Tank goes through over the course of the episodes. But I did shoot a couple movies in August and October, and they’re in post-production, so I’m excited for them to come out. One is a college comedy. It’s got Christopher McDonald and Alex Russell from Chronicle. I think it’s really funny. And another one is a comedy drama. We shot that in Michigan. A friend of mine from high school directed it. Another director I knew played my costar in the film. We had a blast. Those will come out. I think those will do some good things. Everything’s good!
Molly: You’ve got a lot going for you right now! What advice would you give to all the aspiring actors out there who are still waiting tables and anticipating their big break? Max: First of all, huge kudos just for going for it. Because I knew a lot of friends who never even thought it was possible, or didn’t have parental approval. I was very lucky in that my family said, “Go follow your dreams and do what you want to do.” I’m just a big believer in living for the day. I love that James Dean quote, ‘Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.’ I live that. And I think you have to live for the day. We’re all on this planet for a very short amount of time, and tomorrow is promised to nobody, so you’ve got to do what you want to do while you’re here. So first of all, I think going for it is awesome, and then, just sticking with it. Persistence, passion, patience pays off. If there is anything from this piece that people should take away, it’s that I was here for five years, and it was very tough, but the reward now is very nice. It’s sweet. Go for it. Follow your dreams and live for the day.