It's been over a decade since Mark Wahlberg played John Bennett in Ted, a heartwarming flick about a boy and his bond with his beloved teddy bear who comes alive. Now, Max Burkholder is taking on the role in the Ted prequel series, premiering on Peacock on Thursday, January 11.
This time around, the story takes place in 1993, and Burkholder plays John, who is 16 years old and living with his parents, Matty and Susan (Scott Grimes and Alanna Ubach) and cousin Blaire (Giorgia Whigham), with Ted, his loyal companion who is not always the best influence.
Nabbing the role of John certainly came as a surprise to the actor, as he just sent in a self-tape and had no follow-up auditions. "There were no six or seven rounds with producers and executives. It was just a one-off tape, which was very nerve-wracking because I sent it in and went back to New York, where I live, and over the course of a month and a half, I kept getting more and more information of like, 'This person saw it and they liked it.' It's moving up the ladder. I was like, 'Do you want me to fly to L.A.?' They were like, 'No, no,'" the star, 26, exclusively tells Morning Honey of the process.
"One night I was sitting in my apartment playing video games, and it was 11:30 p.m. New York time. I got a call from an unknown number, and I picked up, and they were like, 'Am I talking to Max?' I was like, 'Who is this?' He was like, 'It's Seth MacFarlane.' I was like, 'I am so sorry.' He said, 'We'd love to have you be a part of Ted.' That night, I went out and celebrated with all my friends. This is definitely a dream role and a dream come true."
To make things even sweeter, MacFarlane, who plays the lovable and feisty bear Ted in the series, serves as writer, executive producer, co-showrunner and director, meaning the Parenthood alum got to learn from one of the best in the business. "I started doing voices for Family Guy when I was probably six years old — whenever they needed a little kid voice, I would come in and do it. I've been part of his stuff in one way or another for about 20 years now, and I'm a big fan of his work."
"He was incredibly involved in the series, and he directed every episode," he adds. "He was on set doing Ted's voice every single day. He wore about 500,000 different hats — and wore all of them incredibly well. It was wild to work with him every day and see how good he is at just about everything."
Though the character of John had been in Ted and Ted 2, Burkholder wasn't hesitant about reprising a role that's been played by someone else before. "This is my first time being, I call it being second lead to the bear or the human lead. I was a bit trepidatious going into it, but before we started shooting, I was like, 'I'm not trying to copy what Mark Wahlberg did. This is the same guy, but it's a different character; it's a different person, and a lot of his formative experiences haven't happened yet.' This was big, so that is where my nerves came from in the beginning, but that all went away pretty quickly," he shares. "
"It was a great set. Fantastic people, everybody's talented, everybody's down to play and have fun. The nerves melted away pretty fast," he continues.
What did concern Burkholder was nailing down the thick accent.
"I worked with a dialect coach on it, but it's important to have that in your ears constantly. I watched the movies, I watched other Mark Wahlberg movies, I watched The Departed, The Town. I'd listen to a YouTube playlist that is just people talking in Boston accents," he says of getting into character.
Ultimately, the California native is looking forward to people tuning in and watching the "super funny" series. "There's a p--- episode, there's a surprising voiceover cameo, which I think people could be really excited about. I'm also excited for people to meet Will, who is Danny Jolles' character in the Halloween episode, and he says and does some of the most unhinged stuff I've ever had the combined pleasure and displeasure of seeing and hearing," he quips.
"Getting to work with this cast was my favorite part," he gushes. "Everybody is so talented, welcoming and sweet. We were really a family by the end. In the beginning, it was challenging to get used to the CGI, but after a few weeks, you don't think about it."
For now, Burkholder is basking in this time period, especially now that Hollywood is officially back in business after the strikes ended in 2023. "Being at the forefront of this series is definitely different than anything I've done in the past. I was a series regular on Parenthood, but I was a child. A lot of people really connected with that role, but this is different. I'm happy people are going to see this side of me. I've never really done comedy in a professional context before, so I'm excited for people to see that — and I think I did pretty well!" he boasts.
"I'm excited to get back to work because it's my favorite thing to do — and I'm excited for whatever the future has in store," he concludes.
Ted premieres on Peacock on Thursday, January 11.