‘The Mysteries of Laura’ Star Max Jenkins on His First TV Role, His Work in Theater and His Love for Debra Messing

By Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Assistant Stage Editor

Max Jenkins has become the break-out, fresh faced star of NBC’s hit television show, The Mysteries of Laura. The show follows Laura Diamond (Debra Messing) as she struggles to juggle her life as a single mother and her job as a detective in NYC.

Jenkins made a splash in the 2011 Off-Broadway musical, Unnatural Acts, which earned him a 2012 Drama Desk Award nomination, and now is cracking jokes on the hilarious comedy The Mysteries of Laura. He has perfectly transitioned from a stage actor to a hilarious and scene stealing television star.

What drew you to The Mysteries of Laura and how did you get involved with the project?

Well, I auditioned. I had never done a television show before and prior to The Mysteries of Laura I did theatre. In fact, before The Mysteries of Laura I only ever had co-star roles, which means I only had one or two lines in any given project so this was the first time I ever had the opportunity to play a lead role in a TV show. I auditioned, I think there was no one else testing and I might have been one of the last people to audition. It’s all kind of blur at this point. Not sure what’s true or false but, I kind of came in and I ruined my Mom’s stick shift car because I was just screaming trying to get there in traffic in the rain. I got there really late and breezed through the sides. I was super nervous and it worked. It made sense. For some reason the character words just made sense to me.

You said you came from a theatre background, so talk about your time Off-Broadway in Unnatural Acts and jumping from the stage to television?

There is definitely a huge shift when you go back and forth between the two worlds. First of all, I was a completely different person when I was auditioning for colleges I only wanted to do musical theatre. I really wished someone had kind of slapped me across the face and said ‘You know you will not book any musicals. You dummy!’ I mean I was pretty good but, now I know people interested in acting should engage in many different forms. If you are focused on one form it could be very narrowing. That being said, I went to NYU and I studied at a lot of different studios at NYU and got a different perspective at each one. I am fortunate to be from New York and I lived with my parents out of college as I struggled to find a job. I went to every workshop and reading I could possibly find and in the process of doing that I met a lot of the people who have given me jobs today. Unnatural Acts came about after I did a summer workshop at City Company and I met people through that who introduced me to this guy named Tony Speciale. Unnatural Acts was his passion project. It was something he discovered through his travels to Harvard University and looking into their archives and finding this locked file that said “The Secret Court of 1920.” And through those documents he constructed a play with a bunch of actors from the community and I was fortunate enough to step in for an actor who quit. For years we worked on this play, we worked on writing the play and ultimately we performed in 2011. It was the best experience to be able to stay with that character for so many years.

Debra Messing and Max Jenkins in The Mysteries of Laura. Photo Credit: NBC
Debra Messing and Max Jenkins in The Mysteries of Laura. Photo Credit: NBC

So, going off of characters, what do you love most about the character of Max?

I think the character originally was constructed to be really, really smart. While my interpretation of the character may be focused differently and how he is really dumb in a lot of ways. That’s just something I find funny and he’s kind of a bumbling fool. And I think it came about because it’s true to my personality, being spacey and a little neurotic. These are things I can’t help but be and they are things I bring to the character. I am obsessed with my character. It’s so amazing that my first series regular job on TV is something where I get to be myself and be weird and act stupid. Also, the procedural verbiage we get to use on the show is amazing. I love doing that stuff. I’ve always imagined being in a crime procedural because I love saying things as though I know what they mean even if I don’t know what the hell they mean. This is a dream come true for sure. I get to be funny and be in a crime procedural.

What separates The Mysteries of Laura from other crime-procedural shows on the air right now? 

I think the main thing that separates it is Debra Messing herself. She is a brilliant comedic actor. She is the core of the show, her sensibility kind of trickles out to all the rest of us. She sets the tone. What we have is a leading actor who is brilliantly funny but also utterly committed to the circumstances of the story. Also, she’s a single Mom in the city, Debra is just Laura Diamond and she’s committed to creating a real role. With Debra as our guide we know what to do. We have this world that is really funny, but, it’s also real. I don’t think there has ever been a crime procedural on network TV where the actor is this brilliantly funny. Columbo was around but it was done in a completely different way. Columbo was its own thing and we are kind of a more screwball comedy. So, I would say that Debra is kind of the main element that separates us from everything else. It makes us our own animal entirely.

Debra Messing and Eric McCormack in The Mysteries of Laura episode "The Mystery of the Exsanguinated Ex." Photo Credit: NBC
Debra Messing and Eric McCormack in The Mysteries of Laura episode “The Mystery of the Exsanguinated Ex.” Photo Credit: NBC

If your twitter account is any indication, you are a huge Will & Grace fan. How was the recent episode where Debra Messing and Eric McCormack reunited? What was the set like that day?

I am just a huge Debra Messing fan in general. I just thought it was amazing that Debra Messing and Eric McCormack were just acting like it was another normal day at work. Very chill and just old friends hanging out. They were of course super professional and calm and everyone around them was acting like ‘How do you think this is normal? Are you guys insane?’ We were like throwing confetti into the air but they were just like ‘We are working like we’ve done since we were 22 years old. So relax.’ Eric McCormack is the coolest person, just a lovely Canadian man who is so sweet and told me stories about when he was on Broadway in The Music Man and he’s just a real actor. He’s so cool. I was in a room with the two of them at one point and I didn’t get a picture of them together which is just devastating. I should’ve just stood beside them and gotten an awkward selfie or something. My part in the episode where I want to take Eric’s character as my fiancee to a wedding was amazing. I am so grateful to the writers for giving me that moment. Really what I was struck by when filming this reunion was the ease with which they fell into their job together and how easy the rapport was between them. They fell into their old habits and they knew how to work with each other so fluidly. To them it was cake. It was pure fun. We were also shaking each other and screaming at the top of our lungs and Eric and Debra were at the center just not affected by us at all.

As a New Yorker myself, I love the idea of filming in NYC, what’s it like filming on location in NYC?

It’s amazing! People constantly remind me of how amazing it is to actually be filming in NYC and not in L.A. And I’m glad people do because, it being my first television experience, I tend to forget. I’m a native New Yorker, I’ve never lived anywhere else so to me it’s just another day. I’m living with my parents right now on the Upper West Side and I just pop down to set. It’s so easy and fun. Actually, when I first read the script it was set in Los Angeles. The opening scene was on the Santa Monica Pier. Then, they were fortunate to get Debra Messing who lives in New York. They were so intent on casting Debra they were willing to switch out all of the locations like, Mad Libs and just put in New York locations into the script. It’s so cool because who knows if I would’ve gotten the part if it were set in L.A. Circumstances made it so that I was in the right place at the right time. It’s incredible. Every time I’m shooting on locations whether it’s on Madison Avenue or downtown in the Financial District, I always put up a Facebook status like “Hey guys. I will be here acting with the gorgeous Debra Messing. Just come by and slap me to remind me that my life is perfect.” I just need someone to come shake me and remind me my life is perfect right now. It’s incredible. It’s so cool that we get to give New York actors jobs. It’s bizarre how much talent comes onto the set. Every morning I go into the makeup room and I see some genius theatre actor who I am in love with. Like, when Kerry Butler spun around in the chair and I screamed. I started singing her songs to her from Xanadu and Catch Me If You Can. She was quite frightened. I am the mascot for all the incredible theatre actors as is Debra because she is a New York theatre actor and is part of that community. I am the one quietly freaking out in my make-up chair and staring at them in the mirror. It’s such an amazing way to start my television life. I just love New York.

Where would you like to see Max go the rest of the season?

The actor who played the bartender in last weeks episode [“The Mystery of the Exsanguinated Ex”], Brennan Taylor and I would love to see him return. I don’t know if he will come back in season one. Maybe in the finale. Max Carnegie is so well written and writers really have fun with him. When he’s in a scene they throw out some new information about his history. It’s really special that they keep adding stuff and they obviously care about the character. I just want to keep doing it. I just want to keep doing it and we haven’t found out about season two yet. I trust the writers and I know they will keep throwing me little bits like similar to last week with him going to the wedding. At the beginning all the characters were just outlines and not real and through the work of the writers and what we do on set, we become these people and it takes a while for you to feel like you know them, as an actor and a fan. I just want to keep going and get to the point where Max has family members, unrequited love and ex- boyfriends and new boyfriends. I just want the tree to keep growing branches and for new situations to arise. I want it to keep going forever.

The Mysteries of Laura airs Wednesdays at 8/9c on NBC


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