Image Credit: Peacock
For millions of viewers over 7 seasons, Max Burkholder blossomed as Max Braverman in Parenthood. Nearly a decade after the show ended, Max is stepping into leading man status in Peacock’s Ted prequel series. The 26-year-old actor plays a young John Bennett, the character originated by Mark Wahlberg in the Ted movies.
The Ted series, premiering January 11 on Peacock, explores the origins of John’s relationship with the cuddly, foul-mouthed teddy bear. Hollywood Life spoke exclusively with Max about working closely with Seth MacFarlane, how “racy” the show will be, giving the world “another look” at him after Parenthood fame, and more. Read our Q&A below.
First off, we have to talk about the Boston accent. What was the process to really try and ace the Boston accent for Ted?
Max Burkholder: It’s definitely a tough one. I actually had to learn it for an audition way back around 9 or 10 years ago, like right around when Parenthood was ending. For an audition, I had to learn the Boston accent, and I kind of still had the beginnings of the workings of it, but the studio set me up with a dialect coach who was super helpful. He helped me get my feet on the ground for a few months going over the scripts and everything like that. Once I was on set actually doing it and bouncing off back and forth with Seth and we had like the pattern down, it started to take sort of its final shape.
(Photo: The Riker Brothers)
When you are acting in scenes with Ted, are you alone? Is there a teddy bear you’re acting alongside? What is the process?
Max Burkholder: Seth is in the room. He’ll be nearby in a different room actually doing the lines in real time, which is insane because he’s also directing at the same time. But in the room with me in the scene would be completely empty space. You fully have to imagine the bear there, all of his movements, stuff like that. Just before we shot every scene, they called it a stuffy patch, and they would take a doll on sticks, like a life-sized version of Ted, and just sort of walk him through all of the motions that he was going to do for camera that would allow camera to follow him properly when he wasn’t there. But when it came time to shoot, yeah, it was just empty space.
For the majority of your career you’ve acted alongside real people and fed off their reactions. How has this role and this experience strengthened your skills as an actor?
Max Burkholder: It’s kind of wild. The whole thing of acting to me anyway is imagination. Just imagining that you’re in a different situation than you are definitely stretches that skill quite a bit. I feel like it’s definitely grown and changed and evolved. After the first 3 weeks or so of shooting with a bear in empty space, you started to be able to see him in a weird way. Almost like you’re hallucinating, but like, I’m at home right now and I could look at a chair and imagine him physically as if he were going to be sitting there.
It must have been really helpful to have Seth with you reciting lines, rather than just acting with yourself.
Max Burkholder: It would have been a nightmare. Ninety percent of my scenes are with the bear. There was so much room for improv, and there was so much room for play. I’m really excited a fair amount of that made it in, but that would have been impossible had Seth not been right there and ready to react at a moment’s notice.
It’s an interesting chemistry because you’re acting alongside a bear, who is played by an actual person. You have to have chemistry with the actor. What was that journey like working with Seth and making sure you had this really strong bond like John and Ted do in the movies?
Max Burkholder: I did a lot of research and watched those movies until my eyes bled. But I will say, I grew up doing voices on Family Guy and The Cleveland Show, and brief as it was, there was an episode of The Orville I was on. Seth’s sense of humor, Ted’s sense of humor, is very foundational to my own, so we slipped into a dynamic really easily I would say. I was all hopped up and anxious and nervous when we were just starting out, but once those nerves calmed down, which didn’t take very long, it was a wonderful set. Everybody was so kind and welcoming. It was very simple to sort of just flip into this dynamic that I know is so close to my own sense of humor.
I didn’t even realize that you two had worked together before. You’ve pretty much known Seth your entire life.
Max Burkholder: I think my first episode of Family Guy, I was like 6 to 7, something like that. I’ve been working with him in some capacity for almost 20 years, which is wild. I was actually at the table read of the first Ted movie because they needed a kid to play the creepy kid at the table read.
Did Seth call you up and say that he’s making a TV series out of Ted, or was it a full-on audition process?
Max Burkholder: Weirdly neither. It’s a rarity, I know, in the industry, but I submitted a tape at the end of January 2022. I submitted a tape and by March I had gotten the roll just off the tape, which doesn’t usually happen. I was really nervous and calling my representatives being like, “Do they need me to come back out to LA? Do they need me to read again? Do they need me to meet anybody? Do they want me to change anything?” Because usually the audition process is like 5, 6, 7 auditions before you get in front of a decision maker or anything like that. But the tape just kept getting kicked up the ladder. I think that it’s part of his tremendous success. When Seth has an instinct and knows what he wants, he just goes for it.
Your parents are played by incredible comedic actors Alanna Ubach and Scott Grimes. What was it like having that family dynamic in the show?
Max Burkholder: I gotta say, it’s not since Parenthood that I have been a part of the cast that was this loving and lovely and game to play. We had a little bit of a rehearsal process before we started properly shooting where we all got together as a cast and really sketched out the big, long family scenes with the family dinners and the scenes in the living room and stuff like that. That was really helpful in terms of getting to that family dynamic that you’re talking about. I will also say it was tremendously frustrating shooting any scene one-on-one with either Scott or Alana because they’re too funny. I can’t keep a straight face.
The Ted movies are obviously very racy. How racy are we getting in the show?
Max Burkholder: It is Ted. It is 100% Ted. There’s nothing else to say about that. It definitely gets racy. It definitely pushes some boundaries, but anybody who enjoyed the Ted movies is absolutely going to enjoy the show. No worries there.
You’ve been acting since you were very young. You basically grew up on Parenthood. After Parenthood ended, did you always want to continue acting? I know that the transition from child actor to adult isn’t always the easiest. Talk about your journey with acting.
Max Burkholder: That was definitely a thing in my brain around the time Parenthood ended, which was like, what’s next? What do I want to show people next? After it ended, I did a few things here and there. I graduated high school. That was when I took a gap year before going to college and did some indie movies that I’m very proud of that didn’t get a crazy amount of press in the intervening years, like summers in between years of school, stuff like that. And then what really happened was that I did theater for the first time in my life when I was in college and absolutely fell in love with it. Before getting Ted, which is obviously a massive boost to my career, I really was looking towards opportunities to do theater professionally, which I’m still very interested in. There was a bit of time where I was sort of a little further back from the public, which I think was nice, but I’m also really excited to give people another look at me and what I can do in a way that is so different from Max Braverman. This is a wildly different character, and I’m glad I get to show my chops a little bit in something new.
There are very few shows that have touched my soul, and Parenthood is one of them. We live in an era of reboots and revivals. Would you have been down for a revival someday?
Max Burkholder: I’d be down for some way to get back into that world. Max is a very near and dear character to my heart. I grew up on that show. I grew up with that character. I grew up with those lovely people around me. I will say now that we’ve sort of come into the present era, I’ve done more research, I’ve interacted with content creators who are actually autistic and stuff like that. I think the time has come where those stories — obviously, I was 10 when we started, and I didn’t have the wherewithal to think about this — but I think it’s time for those stories to be told and represented by the people who have actually lived them. I truly love Max. I love that I got to play him for so long. That’s sort of where I’ve come down on things in recent years. But I love the impact that I was able to make with that character. I remember people coming up to like me and my mom when we were out in public and talking about how it allowed a cousin of theirs to self-diagnose and finally get the care that they’d been needing, how it allowed them to see themselves and be like, oh my God, this is my day to day. That was the most special thing about playing that character is giving people something to look at.