Max Jenkins Talks ‘High Maintenance,’ NBC’s ‘The Mysteries of Laura’ And Debra Messing
Max Jenkins might not be a household name just yet, but give it a little bit of time and we’re sure he will be due to the impeccable humor and style he brings to his characters. From Vimeo’s original series High Maintenance, on which the 30-year-old portrayed a sarcastically arrogant New Yorker, to NBC’s procedural comedy-drama The Mysteries of Laura (where he stars as Max Carnegie), Jenkins is riding the wave of television success and growing as an actor in the process.
With only five episodes remaining this season, fans are not only anxious to find out if the series will be renewed, but what awaits the beautiful and multitalented Laura Diamond (Debra Messing) and her comical sidekick, Max Carnegie, on Wednesday nights. While the former question was left unanswered by this native New Yorker, Jenkins did reveal to us some possible lip-locked action that he is counting on for his character and his thoughts on the dynamic between Max and Laura (and his and Deborah Messing’s), as well as hinted at his upcoming guest role in Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.
GALO: Your role on the “Olivia” episode of High Maintenance was one of the highlights of the Vimeo Web series. Though your character was self-absorbed, judgmental and unapologetically rude, thanks to a touch of sarcastic humor, you embodied all the things that people love to hate about entitled snobs effortlessly — and I personally loved it! Based on the popularity of this episode, I have a feeling that many would petition for a series based on that character alone. What was the inspiration for him and his demeanor — was he perhaps inspired by the idea of an entitled hipster or a struggling pseudo artist?
Max Jenkins: Oh my gosh, thank you! We all know assholes like that. It’s kind of a part of me that I love to let out, because it’s really therapeutic. It’s just such a joy to be able to be a total bitch, unapologetically. I would like to think we all have that in us — maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. It feels so good to just be angry and to not give a shit what anyone thinks. Also, I had the brilliant Heléne Yorke to work with. We just went there together and backed each other up. In that sense, it was easy, because we had each other to fall back on. It might have been a little bit more nerve-wracking if it had been just me. I’m really proud of it. It’s such a great show; I hope to work with them again soon.
GALO: I’d love to see you there again.
MJ: I think you’ll see that character again on High Maintenance.
GALO: Every episode of High Maintenance focuses on a new character and a different story. This allows the creators, Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, to explore different themes. Some of the themes in the “Olivia” episode seemed to be about the general attitude of millennials, or commentary on the lifestyles of young artistic New Yorkers, wouldn’t you agree? What other themes would you say were being explored in the “Olivia” episode?
MJ: If I recall, Katja had a very specific New York archetype in mind: the gallery girl. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the [Bravo TV] reality show Gallery Girls, but it’s a pretty accurate representation of this very particular New York construct of someone that is so full of him or herself and is into fashion, working in some nebulous part of the art world, if he or she is employed at all. That’s what we were trying to explore, at least initially. Heléne and I just tapped into the dark side of our souls. [It was about] more than millennials in particular, it was just about people who really suck the energy out of you; it was a comment on that.
GALO: Let’s talk about your role on NBC’s Mysteries of Laura. Typically detective shows are drama heavy, this series, however, seems to have found a great balance between comedy and drama. What part does your character, Max Carnegie, play in that balance?
MJ: Fully the comedy side! It’s such a perfect playground for being ridiculous — he is fully the comedy side, all the way. As long as I’ve been acting, aka my whole life, I have just been trying to make people laugh. I’m interested first and foremost in being funny. Fortunately, that was what was asked of me when I came on the show. Max is just a weird guy that works in the office and is obsessed with Laura Diamond, played by Debra Messing. If I can contribute to the comedy side of the show, I’m very happy. But also, he has grown and developed as a character through the work that I and the writers have been doing; he has become multidimensional and he has an inner life now. That’s something that I have to honor — in addition to making people laugh, I have to respect this character that we’ve made.
GALO: There are a ton of detective shows on television right now. What do you think it is about Mysteries of Laura that will help maintain its appeal with audiences?
MJ: First of all, I think its Debra. I don’t know of any other procedural with an actress this brilliantly comedic who can also deliver in dramatic scenes — there’s never been anything like it. Sure, there have been other comedic crime procedurals, but what makes this one its own animal is Debra Messing. She’s our leader. Her dynamic spreads outward to all of us and we try to follow as best we can. That’s the main element that sets us apart. What’s great about the show is that it’s really easy to watch. The case of the week flows organically; it has a great pace, and it’s really fast.
GALO: Most networks have always had an outstanding cop drama, but with the success of shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and now Mysteries of Laura and Battle Creek, it seems audiences are embracing comedic cop shows. Why do you think that is? Do audiences need a break from the harsh realities of their lives, or is there just too much drama on television?
MJ: Every character is real, funny, but it’s also about real people struggling and living in New York, and I’d like to think that comes through. Laura Diamond is a single mom, and I think people are responding to her coming from a place of truth. We’re all committed to it coming from a place of honesty.
GALO: Max Carnegie is funny, spouting off style advice and some of the best witty one-liners on the show. What is one of your favorite quotes of Max’s? And why does that one stand out as a favorite?
MJ: Thanks. Oh my God, so many! I’m so bad at remembering, because when you’re doing the show, your brain kind of throws the last episode’s lines in the trash, so that it can make room for the new ones. But one of my favorite [scenes] was when Meredith Bose [Janina Gavankar] and I went to an auction to investigate a suspect, and all of a sudden Max stands up and starts bidding on a painting. It’s not a one-liner but I just loved that because he became a real character in that moment. That’s a scene in particular that I think I’ll always remember when I think of Max Carnegie and how he developed.
GALO: Laura Diamond, Debra Messing’s character, relies on Max for help when she is in a tricky situation. Max lends advice for her personal life and researches and follows up on leads. I’m left wondering what Max’s aspirations are. Does he himself want to be a detective? In upcoming episodes will we see Max get more involved in solving cases?
MJ: It would be so delicious if Max was handed a badge and a gun, I can’t even deal with that. That would be so funny. We actually had a moment in a recent episode where I drew a “hand gun” on someone, not a handgun but a gun [made] with my fingers, and I said, “Freeze!” They cut it (the scene) for time, but I hope I can draw a finger gun on somebody in the near future, because that would be the beginning of his training as a detective. He is completely fixated on Laura and so admires everything that she does, and ultimately would love to be her protégé. I think he thinks of himself as her protégé, but clearly that’s not reality — he’s her gopher. I think the more missions he nails and the more he helps her crack the case, the more responsibilities she’ll give him. I would love in season four for him to start going to — what is it, detective school?
GALO: Police academy?
MJ: Yeah, police academy. Sure, that makes sense. I’m not a detective; I don’t even play one on TV. Max just Googles stuff.
GALO: What is the dynamic like between you and Debra Messing’s character? Would you say he is more like her BFF than assistant, perhaps like her darling younger brother?
MJ: Yeah. He is her right-hand man all the way. He does it her way. He facilitates any kind of shady way she wants to solve the case; he doesn’t feel that it’s a conflict of morals or ethics because he trusts implicitly in Laura’s judgment. As for my dynamic with Debra Messing, it’s been love since the pilot. I think that’s transferred over to the characters — me and Debra are a little bit obsessed with each other and I think it feeds the characters as well. We’ve now kissed on the lips at least once, and I think we’re going to do it again. I think it’s been written into the next script. They [Max and Laura] care about each other for sure.
GALO: Going off of that, the brilliant ensemble cast really makes the show. I imagine that you are all beginning to form a bond that is reflected in the relationships that your characters have with one another. What is the group dynamic like on set — are you all like siblings, joking and pulling pranks on each other? Or does it stay pretty calm and focused?
MJ: It’s a really chill, cool environment. It’s my first job as a series regular, so I have nothing to compare it to, but everyone keeps telling me how lucky we are that there’s no drama [on set] — or weird, not nice people. Everybody’s very relaxed; [these are] veterans of television, so they know the job and they are happy to be there and grateful for the work. I am so grateful to get this break. I’m just trying to soak everything up. We’re all just trying to cuddle up in the New York cold, so I think that helps — we’re all commiserating over that. Debra and Josh [Lucas] have kids and they bring them on to the set, and we hang out with their sons. It’s really fun. It’s a lot of good vibes. I’m not sure if that translates to the show as the characters are at odds a lot of the times. Overall, there is a trust in the precinct, and that’s how they solve every case, through teamwork. It’s a true ensemble, for sure, so I hope that comes through.
GALO: Laura Diamond is newly divorced, raising twins, a detective in New York City, and starting her journey back into the dating scene. Wearing many hats and playing multiple roles can lead to all kinds of drama — sometimes, the lines between work and play get crossed. What kind of problems can we expect for Laura’s professional life in upcoming episodes — maybe she is personally affected by a case, or someone she knows get involved in one of the mysteries? Will we see Laura handle it all like a pro or have a major meltdown?
MJ: I’d like to think that she always has a bit of a personal connection to each case. We always have these scenes in the interrogation room where she connects with the perpetrator of a crime or a victim of a crime. For me, they’re the moments in the show where I think, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I could be so emotionally affected by this.’ I always think of it [the show] as a comedy, and then you have these powerhouse scenes with Debra where she looks right through the person. As far as the future, we don’t really get the scripts until we start working on them. For the most part, we’re like the viewer — just waiting to see what happens next. But I would say that as the season goes on, she’s definitely going be more affected and her personal life is going to mesh with her professional life in more and more ways, to the point where something is gonna have to give and she’s gonna have to figure it out. I think they [the writers] have a lot of really exciting stuff for us in store. I try to get the scoop as best I can!
GALO: I’ve seen on IMDB that you’re credited as Dracula in the upcoming film Those People. The film is described as a drama-romance, so I’m wondering is this Dracula a vampire?
Max Jenkins: You saw that? No, I play this boy who is dressed up as Dracula at a Halloween party. It’s a great movie; it stars Jason Ralph (Brightest Star). It’s a movie about an unrequited love between two childhood friends. I, as Dracula, get all up in-between them and kind of threaten to screw up their relationship even further. It’s an excellent film.
GALO: Aside from playing Dracula, what other projects do you have lined up? I hear you’ve landed a role on a show where the women wear a lot of orange. Is your character in the prison or outside the gates? Any details or clues you can share?
MJ: I’ll be in the third season of Orange Is the New Black. I’m so excited. I’m an outside person, I can say that. I don’t want to give away anything.
GALO: Maybe instead of divulging season three secrets, you can speak to the experience that you had on the set of OITNB?
MJ: It was an incredible experience. Honestly, I loved hanging out with the cast and I loved making the crew laugh. If I can do a scene and make the crew laugh, I’m happy for the rest of the day.
Catch Max Jenkins Wednesday’s on NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura” at 8/7c. Episode 17 premieres on March 25th.