Max Burkholder, star of the new Ted streaming series on Peacock, admitted he was not able to talk with Mark Wahlberg ahead of filming the series.
In 2021, Peacock announced a straight-to-series order for Ted. While based on the original Mark Wahlberg 2012 movie (and its 2015 sequel), none of the original cast would be returning—aside from Seth MacFarlane as the voice of the crude living titular Teddy Bear.
Instead of Wahlberg, Burkholder was brought aboard to embody a younger, high school-aged 1993 version of John Bennett. He is joined by a cast including Scott Grimes, Giorgia Whigham, Alanna Ubach, and more.
Max Burholder on Taking Over Mark Wahlberg's Previous Role
In an exclusive interview with The Direct’s Russ Milheim, Ted star Max Burkholder talked about his new Peacock series and if he ever reached out to Mark Wahlberg.
Burkholder shared that Wahlberg was not involved before or during the series production in helping craft this younger version of John Bennett, but Burkholder “did watch Ted and Ted 2, ad nausea:”
“I did not reach out to Mark Wahlberg. I didn't get the chance to communicate with him about the role at all. But I'll tell you, I did watch ‘Ted’ and ‘Ted 2’ ad nauseam until you know those smoothies were in my bones for sure.”
When asked if there was anything specific he wanted to put into his version of the character, the actor admitted he was “very careful to not do a Mark Wahlberg impression:”
“I don't know if there was anything specifically going in that I was like, 'Oh, this is how I'm going to make it different.' Because it is still a character that we all know and love. But I did want to be very careful to not do a Mark Wahlberg impression. Like, I didn't want to do his voice, exactly. You know, this is the same guy, but it's a different period of his life. He's not nearly as confident. He's just as brash. He's just as stupid, but it's a different stage in his life.”
Series creator Seth MacFarlane told SYFY in 2022 that he "would love to find a way to see [Wahlberg] in a cameo role" in the series.
As for making it clear that this is a younger version of the same character, Burkholder pointed out that “a lot of it’s in the script, in the writing:”
“In terms of, like, making it clear that this is like a younger guy and a younger version of the same character, a lot of that's in the text. A lot of it's in the script, in the writing, you know, in the situations. As as far as the first episode goes, he's not a stoner yet like. His first time smoking weed has yet to come. It's a show about a lot of firsts. And I feel like that does a lot of the heavy lifting in differentiating these two periods in his life.”
“I had never worked with any CGI elements before,” admitted Burkholder, and it was “the biggest thing” that worried him going into Ted:
“I think the biggest thing I was worried about going into it was, number one, I had never worked with any CGI elements before. That was pretty new. And I didn't really know what that was going to be like. It ended up being fine. You get used to it after a week or so.”
Another key hesitation was “the Boston accent,” which turned out great thanks to “a fantastic dialect coach:”
“But the other thing that I was definitely concerned about was, for sure, the Boston accent. You know, the studio set me up with a fantastic dialect coach, who I owe a lot of the success to in terms of the accent. I know that Bostonians are very particular when they're judging somebody's fake Boston accent, and I had to make sure that I wasn't gonna get ripped to pieces.”
When asked how Ted is handled on set, Burkholder shared how “it’s largely the same team” as the original two movies, which helped it go “smoothly:”
“It's handled pretty well and pretty efficiently. It's largely the same team. So, they had two movies worth of experience to fall back on in terms of how to make it go smoothly. On the acting side, it's pretty wild for the first little bit having to look at empty space, and really, really try and visualize the little guy being there.”
The actor continued, exclaiming how he can basically “hallucinate [Ted]… on command:”
“Like I said, after a couple of weeks, it gets smoother, and you start to be able to, like almost, on command, hallucinate [Ted] a little bit. And there's still some bumps in the road every now and then. But mostly, like, you know, I can look at my couch right here in my apartment where I'm sitting and picture him sitting on it and, like, know where his eyes are. And if he were to get up and like run into the kitchen, I know how fast he would be going.”
But how involved was Seth MacFarlane (a.k.a. the original voice of Ted) in the day-to-day operations of the production?
The actor, writer, and director was there “every day,” confirmed Burkholder, as not only did he "[do] the voice of Ted live,” he also “directed every episode:"
“Every day. He directed every episode and was doing the voice of Ted live. You know, he'd be either in another room or on the other side of the room off camera looking at the monitors and doing the voice right there in real-time, which was a godsend because we could improvise, we could bounce stuff off of him. You know, the timing was there.”
When it comes to the rest of the cast for Peacock’s Ted, Burkholder admitted how most of his scenes “were with Giorgia [Whigham],” and he wishes he could get “more scenes with Scott [Grimes] and Alana [Ubach]:”
“So, most of my scenes were with Giorgia [Whigham], who plays Blair, and with the bear. So I do wish I had gotten scenes, more scenes with Scott [Grimes] and Alana [Ubach], because they are two of the funniest people on the planet... They can take it to this level that almost no one else can.”
Previously, Burkholder played a key recurring role in the highly successful and popular show Parenthood, where he played Max Braverman.
Comparing the experiences between working on Parenthood and Ted, the actor explained the two have “different vibes,” but that the pressure and amount of work on Ted ended up being greater due to his heightened responsibility as the lead of the series:
“Wildly so. Definitely different vibes In terms of the content. I would say the biggest similarity is how close everybody got over the course of shooting. You know, 'Parenthood,’ we were this massive family type. We're a smaller family. But we still all got very close. We saw each other all the time offset, which was great. But in terms of subject matter, it's crazily different. And also in terms of sort of how much was expected of me. In terms of the size of the role. You know, I had a fairly big role in parenthood, but not something that could be considered a lead, per se. And in this, it was a lot harder work, longer days, more days. A lot more responsibility for sure.”
The show follows John Bennett and Ted as they take on high school together—a period of life that most have heavy experience in.
When asked if he utilized any specific experiences while filming, the actor recalled casting his mind back to his “first few times getting stoned,” legally, while growing up in Los Angeles:
“Yeah, sure. I mean, I grew up in Los Angeles, so I was certainly smoking weed legally in high school. So, I definitely drew on that a little bit and tried to cast my mind back to, like, my first few times getting stoned, especially for, like, the smoking sequence in the first episode, before they become proper stoners. Yeah, definitely, definitely cast my mind back to those nights.”
The first season will come with seven episodes, with Burkholder’s “favorite episode” being “the Halloween episode:”
“For me, my favorite episode might be the Halloween episode. It has my favorite joke in it, which is Ted doing the Milgram experiment joke. And also, the stuff that I got to do with Danny Jolles, who plays Will, was so unhinged, those were probably the hardest scenes to shoot throughout the entire event series. Just because he is like a lovely, very sweet guy who's playing an absolutely insane person, and those scenes were really fun to shoot. Also, I got to throw eggs at people from a roof. That was pretty dope.”
But what surprised Max Burkholder the most while working on the new Peacock comedy?
The actor pointed out that he didn’t expect to “[get] over the whole CGI bear of it all” so quickly:
“What surprised me the most? I think the first thing that surprised me was how quickly I got over the whole CGI bear of it all. And it became less of like an obstacle to overcome and more of just like, oh, yeah, I'm having a chat with my best friend, who happens to be a teddy bear. Also, you know, I was pretty nervous coming into it just because, as I said, this was, you know, a big sort of leap forward for me in my career. It was a big step up in terms of like being a lead in a show.”
He continued, praising the “efficient” production and the “very kind and open and accepting set and group of people:”
“And what surprised me was how quickly those nerves went away. After the first two or three days. It's such an efficient, well-run, but also like very kind and open and accepting set and group of people whether it's the cast, whether it's the crew, whether it's staff or the producers, everybody was so down to have fun and play that it took any pressure off of my shoulders immediately.”
The full interview can be seen below:
Ted debuts all seven episodes on January 11, 2024, exclusively on Peacock.