Instead, he focuses on bringing his best work to the role of Max Wolfe and doing the job he was hired to do. That’s not to say stepping into a show that was so culturally iconic and influential to millions of people wasn’t “nerve-wracking.”
In the reboot’s second season, Max Wolfe is turning over a new leaf. The once “pansexual playboy” is ready to settle down — with two of his best friends. The season kicked off with Max, Aki (Evan Mock) and Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind) in a committed throuple, aka triad. Over the course of the first five episodes, fans get a glimpse at the hurdles the three face as they’re figuring out how to make their relationship work, which was interesting for Doherty.
Season two of Joshua Safran’s show was the first time audiences saw Max bring his walls down, despite how “scary” that is for him. “He’s very open and very, very vulnerable, and you can see that kind of struggle that he has with the comfortability that Audrey and Aki have,” the actor tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It kind of triggers him, and it’s almost like his walls want to automatically come up, but he’s trying to keep them down.”
In the first half of the season, Max is doing his best to make Aki and Audrey as comfortable in their relationship as possible, despite it coming at a “great expense” for him and his sense of identity, but the second half sees that reach a breaking point, Doherty teases.
“He truly does care about them and wants it to work,” he explains. “[But] I think it’s dangerous to be in a relationship where you’re like give, give, give, and compromising yourself for the benefit of other people’s insecurities or problems.”
In a conversation with THR, Doherty continues to open up about Max’s arc this season, why it was important for the throuple to face obstacles together and why he wanted to be a part of the reboot. The actor also reveals his dream Gossip Girl cameo and what inspiration he took from the original series for the remake.
Talk to me a little bit about Max’s journey so far this season and what we can expect from the second half of the season.
I mean, it’s really interesting coming into this season two, and then the first time we’re seeing Max with all of his walls down. We left off season one where he’s decided he’s going to make this commitment, and that’s really scary for Max because he’s lived his life almost playing the character of Max. This is the first time where he’s let his walls down. He’s very open and very, very vulnerable, and you can see that kind of struggle that he has with the comfortability that Audrey and Aki have. It kind of triggers him, and it’s almost like his walls want to automatically come up, but he’s trying to keep them down, keep them down.
For the next five episodes, I guess you just get to see this battle with his walls and trying to appease the people that he loves and cares about and tries to facilitate an environment where they feel comfortable and that will work for everyone. But I feel like it comes at a great expense for Max and his own sense of identity. Every action has a reaction, and I think you’re gonna see that reaction.
Max has been working toward a major character arc this season. He kicked things off by wanting to go public with his relationship with Aki and Audrey and not initially realizing they’re scared to come out, but that it wasn’t because of him. Then there’s this really beautiful scene in episode one with Luna reminding Max what it was like for him before he came out. Why do you think it’s important to have that scene sort of kick off the season?
In the context of Max, he is a very liberated, liberal-thinking-feeling individual, who expresses himself sexually. He’s been brought up in a house where being part of the LGBT community is just the norm. He’s got the two dads, and so for him, it’s not such a big thing, and he struggles to understand almost like people can’t just be themselves and just be free and open and embrace who they are. He’s obviously forgetting Aki’s father and what he’s like and how conservative he is. So, it’s just a nice reminder. It’s important to give Max that perspective, so he doesn’t run away with his liberal, free-thinking mind and try to project that onto the relationship and force the relationship or forcing the people in the relationship to be something that they’re not or something that he wants them to be.
In episode two, we see Max try to keep up his appearance as season one’s “pansexual playboy” to throw people off the idea that the Max Wolfe might be taken. He’s clearly not into it but is keeping up appearances for Aki and Audrey’s sake. What does that say about his feelings for them?
He truly does care about them and wants it to work. That’s kind of what I was saying previously about how every action has an opposite reaction. I think it’s dangerous to be in a relationship where you’re like give, give, give, and compromising yourself for the benefit of other people’s insecurities or problems. It reaches a breaking point in the next five episodes, and we definitely do see that.
The scenes where Max and Audrey are following Aki around to figure out what he was up to gave off major Chuck (Ed Westwick) and Blair (Leighton Meester) vibes from the original series. What was it like mirroring them in that way?
I feel like there’s a lot of little Easter eggs in Gossip Girl, either they’re glaringly obvious or kind of throwbacks to the original characters and other episodes. It’s cool. It’s cute. It’s nice. I think it’s important as well. The younger generation may not have seen the original, but for people older, who grew up with it, I think it’s just interesting and nostalgic for them to see that.
The triad hasn’t exactly had it easy this season. It feels like in every episode, they’re facing a new hurdle in their relationship and trying to figure out how to be together. Why do you think it was important to show their struggles in that way?
You can’t just base a relationship on the good times. You have to see if it can stand the test of time. It’s important for relationships to go through challenges and the trials and tribulations because it shows we can get through things together. You also learn a lot about someone else when you’re in certain situations and circumstances. Everyone can put on a brave face, but I think when the going gets tough, that’s when people reveal their true colors and who they are.
Going back to your audition, what made you want to be a part of the reboot?
Well, I originally went for Eli [Brown’s] part, for Obie, and I remember just being like, “Nah, this isn’t it. This isn’t the one for me.” But then I read the Max, and I was like, “Yeah, this is me.” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it because I didn’t want it to be a part of The CW, but the fact that it was part of HBO Max was really, really cool. It’s Gossip Girl, you know. It’s so culturally and socially influential and iconic, and to be able to film in New York and get to meet some really cool people. There was a lot of factors, and I spoke to Josh [Safran] a lot about the character, about Max, and his journey, where he’s coming from and where he could go.
As you said, Gossip Girl is a big part of the culture. Did you feel any pressure to be a part of this reboot that was probably going to have a lot of fans but also maybe some critics?
All I can do is work and do as best as I can do. I genuinely pay no attention to critics because, of course I mean, I always say there’s nothing more terrifying than the power of nostalgia. People are not gonna like it, so I try to steer clear and just kind of do the best job I possibly could. There’s always going to be people that don’t like your stuff or like your stuff, or whatever, but I try not let that sway me, and it’s why I’m doing acting in the first place. I was either consciously or unconsciously influenced by that. I mean, it was nerve-wracking to step into the shoes of people that have been so influential in millions of people’s lives.
Did you take any inspiration from the original series in any way?
You have to understand the tone. So, you’re automatically gonna end up adopting some when you do play the part. I spoke to Josh a lot, and I know Max is kind of modeled off of Chuck, but I wanted him to be cheeky. I wanted him to be more light. I wanted him to be, not comical, but just lighter, and have that energy with Max, as opposed to a little bit like Chuck. Ed played Chuck a little bit darker, which was amazing, but I just wanted it to be different in some way. So, I kind of went with that, and I’m glad I did. I enjoy the dynamics of it. It gives me the freedom to play a lot more. I remember I had a teacher, and he was incredibly enthusiastic and colorful. He always used to say, “It’s called a play because you play!” And I’ve always kind of thought about that whenever I’m playing characters, to remember that this is play. It’s important to inject as much nuance as you possibly can into whatever you’re doing.
What is your dream arc for Max over the course of the reboot?
I’ve never really thought about that. I try to take it season by season. As we get older, and as they grow up, I think just that natural evolution, that natural discovery that every teenager has, those big moments in life. I mean, there’s nothing specific. I think it’s important to get them and get these moments and get these changes, but nothing more specific than that. I trust the writers.
Who would be your dream Gossip Girl cameo?
I think Ed. I was actually with him like two weeks ago, and he’s a lovely, lovely guy. I think that would be fun, or [Leighton]. I really like her character in the original.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
New episodes of Gossip Girl hit HBO Max every Thursday.