Parenthood Post: Peter Krause and Max Burkholder discuss Asperger's, Vending Machines And More

It's been a difficult year for Peter Krause, who plays Adam on NBC's "Parenthood" (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST). The actor has had to fight cancer both on screen with the series' most emotional Season 4 storyline, Adam's wife Kristina (Monica Potter) battling cancer, and off screen with his father and mother's simultaneous battle with the disease.

Krause opened up to HuffPost TV via phone about his personal connections to cancer, the fear of loss and finding the humor in the most difficult times. He also assures "Parenthood" fans that what looks like a harrowing Christmas episode this week is "uplifting ... in the end."

What was your reaction when you found out about the cancer storyline for Season 4?
It put a big lump in my throat. I lost my dad to cancer in February and my mom was diagnosed with cancer in December so she's been undergoing chemotherapy. So it's been a year full of dealing with cancer both in my life and on the show.

I'm so sorry.
Yeah. It was interesting though, having it all go on at once. And my mother survived breast cancer 22 or 23 years ago.

How did being so close to the disease serve you in filming this season? Did it make some of the scenes more difficult to do?
It's difficult to go through, but that's part of the job of being an actor. Certainly, going through the things the characters did on "Six Feet Under" was challenging and difficult, but the reward was a well-told story. You know, I guess I'm saying it comes with the territory of being an actor so it wasn't especially hard or demanding or anything like that; it was just some difficult work and I think, if anything, it helped me play some of the scenes with a sense of what it's like to be with somebody day in and day out, who's going through chemotherapy treatments and how, as much as you can, you try to have some humor about things.

There was the end of the episode where Max had a sleepover with a friend and the last scene was written exactly how we played it with [Adam and Kristina] laughing in bed about the couple who'd gone to Vegas and was talking about "Zumanity." So having some humor surrounding it all is definitely something that you experience in life when you're trying to keep your spirits up and the spirits of your loved one that's going through it.

Another funny scene that came out of all of this was in that same episode when Adam went to Crosby -- with the kids in tow -- to try to get pot for Kristina.
[Laughs.] Holding Jasmine's G-string, yes. That was a very funny scene. Having those lighter moments is part of the journey and it's a funny thing because it can go from laughter to tears pretty quickly.

This season has been very well-received by both fans and critics, but was there a time when you worried that that wouldn't be the case because of the storyline?
I did at first. Sometimes in television, if there are storylines that are oft-told, people can be hypercritical of them. But I think the way that we do things on "Parenthood" is different from most shows. I don't feel like we've milked it for emotional effect. I think we've tried to follow the characters as believably as possible as they move through this in their lives and I think that that's something we've continued to do pretty well on "Parenthood" since we started. But I had some concerns that it would be, at times, melodramatic or too overwrought. I've tried, certainly, my hardest to keep it from being that way and I think that there are other times where we serve our audience by allowing them to go through something honestly. We walk across that emotional turf honestly and not try to make more of it or less of it.

We shot a scene recently for the upcoming episode (Season 4, Episode 11, titled "What To My Wondering Eye") where one of the themes is fear of loss and in this case, Adam is really afraid he's going to lose his wife. And it's my job as an actor to allow myself to really feel that fear so that's a scene coming up where I would be worried heading into it, "Oh gosh. I hope this isn't going to be too much," but I think that for those people who've experienced that fear -- certainly someone who's young and in their prime being taken before their time so to speak is something really difficult and I have some friends who've gone through that with siblings and spouses and it's a particularly difficult thing, not only losing them, but the fear that you feel at the prospect of it.

What can you tell viewers about what to expect in this week's episode?
Well, I don't want to give anything away. It's a tough episode, but I think it's really uplifting. You're going to have to travel some tough terrain with the characters, but in the end, it's an uplifting episode.

A lot of the "Parenthood" cast members talk about the freedom Jason Katims gives you with the scripts -- even though everything is written -- to ad lib and such if you want. Is there anything that stands out to you that you added this season?
It's all there and if we do anything, we put a little spin on it. The map is there and everybody follows the map of the story. It's not like anybody's adding a story or taking one a way. Sometimes, because it's a collaboration, you don't even know who ideas come from anymore, whether it's the director Larry Trilling or even another actor.

Something I particularly enjoy about working with Dax Shepard is we're constantly giving each other suggestions, running with it and seeing what happens. Not this week's episode, but the one after, which Dax Shepard directed -- and I directed the one after that --- there are some things in the wood shop that I added that were kind of funny and then he let me go crazy when we're in the bathroom of this hotel and I'm in a smoking jacket, which was just meant to be funny. So in that episode, you'll see some comical additions to the script on my end. If it's included in the script, I'm not sure it will be in the final edit, but there's something that I'm just going to refer to as the Johnson file that comes into play, which I was happy about. [Laughs.]

What's your favorite scene you've shot so far for Season 4?
I think the favorite scenes that I've filmed this year have been as a director while working with Miles Heizer. It'll be the thirteenth episode this season and it's a particularly dramatic episode for the character of Drew. As an actor, there have been many scenes I've had with Monica and Max [Burkholder] that have been very meaningful to me, but as a director, working with Miles Heizer this year has been a special experience and it's a really strong episode for him and I'm really proud of the work he does in the episode.

Max Burkholder On Kristina, Asperger's, Vending Machines And More.

"Parenthood" viewers have been fearing this week's Christmas episode (Tues., Dec. 11 at 10 p.m. EST on NBC), which sees Kristina's (Monica Potter) health taking a turn for the worse after being diagnosed with cancer earlier in Season 4.

Max Burkholder -- who plays Max, the son of Kristina and Adam Braverman (Peter Krause), on "Parenthood" -- told HuffPost TV via phone that he "cried so much" when he read the script for the NBC series' Christmas installment, titled "What to My Wondering Eyes." Below, 15-year-old Burkholder talks about Max's journey with Asperger's, Kristina's fate, missing his TV sister Sarah Ramos, seeing his TV mom smoke pot and that damn vending machine.

Max has really come a long way this season. What do you love about playing him?
I like seeing Max whenever he's in a social situation, seeing how much he's grown since the first season.

Jason Katims' son, who has Asperger's, partly inspired the character of Max. Have you met him or anyone else with Asperger's?
I have met him and I have met a few people with Asperger's. It's always an enlightening experience for me because before the show, I really didn't have much of an idea about what autism or Asperger's was. And since starting the show, I really feel like it's been a learning experience for me.

Do people come up to you who can relate to Max to thank you?
They do. When someone comes up to me and they say, "My son has Asperger's or my nephew or a friend of mine," it just makes me feel like what I'm doing can make a difference.

What goes into ensuring that Max's behavior and lines are true to someone with Asperger's?
When I was first auditioning, they brought in a doctor who specializes in children with Asperger's and he told us the basic stuff. Then, since we started shooting, every couple of episodes I have a meeting with the executive producer, and the director of the episodes, and sometimes some of the writers, and a doctor specializing in Asperger's and we just talk about what Max would be doing in certain situations, like how he would react to certain things and if everyone was over here doing this, what would Max be doing?

Is it difficult playing Max or has it gotten easier now that you're in Season 4?
It's still definitely challenging, but I feel that I've worked out who Max is so much better than in the first season so it definitely has gotten easier.

We've seen a little bit of him working with his classmates as school president. Will we see more of that in Season 4?
We won't see as many of the interactions with his classmates, but we still see a little bit of that.

Do you miss working with Sarah Ramos this season?
I do! I do miss her. A couple of times, we've been shooting a scene in the kitchen with me and Monica and Peter, and I've just been like, "Something is missing. Oh! It's Sarah."

I was crying watching the promo for this week's episode. It looks like the saddest Christmas ever.
Seriously. I almost never cry at movies or when I'm watching TV and I haven't seen the episode yet, but when I read the script, I was crying so much.

How will Max deal with Kristina's health issues during Christmas?
For Max, his connection to her and her cancer specifically is that he does not register it so much on an emotional level, more so on a practical level, like, "If Mom is not around anymore, she won't be able to drive me to school or make me eggs the way I like my eggs."

So I imagine in this week's episode, Max will struggle with her being in the hospital and Adam being there with her also.
Well, everyone in the family sort of pulls together and one of the jobs that they have to come together to do is make sure Max does not break down and have a meltdown. He has traditions on Christmas that he always does and if Mom's in the hospital, he can't do those, so some of the members of the family have to help him with that. I think it's going to be a really good episode. It's a really good family-coming-together motif.

Watching the promo, you're just thinking, "They can't kill Kristina."
[Laughs.] [Monica] is just so great on the show.

Especially this season.

The scene where Kristina was smoking pot and then Julia came over in last week's episode ...
That was hilarious! It was ridiculous!

What do you hope for Max in the rest of Season 4?
I want him to get the vending machine back!

How many times do you think Max has said vending machine this season?
Probably a good 50 times.

What do you think he'd do if he got it?
He'd get everything from that vending machine!

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What did you guys think of this week's episode? I loved Crosby and Jasmine and the brood.