At 16 years old, Maxwell Jenkins has spent the majority of the past decade working as an actor on both the small and big screens. Viewers first became aware of the young star when portraying the recurring role of Oliver in ABC’s drama television series Betrayal in 2013. Since then, Jenkins has remained booked and busy, landing more jobs in shows such as Sense8 and most recently Lost in Space. At age 16, Jenkins is on the rise and there seems to be no stopping him.
Maxwell wears a full look by Amiri provided by FWRD
Maxwell wears a bomber jacket by Boss with sweatpants by Balenciaga provided by FWRD
Maxwell wears a full look by Iceberg
Whether he liked it or not, Jenkins was born into the world of entertainment. His mom, Julie Greenberg, is a former actor, and his dad, Jeff Jenkins, was a Ringling clown. They are now both co-founders and directors of the Chicago-based Midnight Circus, which is where their son’s introduction for performing began. Despite his family’s background, Maxwell believes he would have always pursued something related to the arts, even if it wasn’t acting. “I think I have always been a creative person. I play music. Music is a big passion of mine. I love writing and I think I am a pretty good writer. I love the camera, so yeah, I think I would have found my way into a creative space,” he tells MOOD. “I am also interested in science and politics, so I could have also wound up doing something more mainstream. Somehow though, I think I would find a way to be creative at that too.”
Jenkins isn’t exaggerating when he says he’s always been a creative being. When he was 8, he formed his own band with his friends, Cowboy Jesus and the Sugar Bums. “Getting together with friends in my garage and jamming is one of my favorite things to do,” he shares. “I’m lucky to have grown up around some great musicians who taught me a lot. I play mandolin, guitar, drums, and bass,” he continues, before mentioning they “actually tossed around the idea of a reunion last night.”
Believe it or not, becoming an actor was somewhat unintentional. Jenkins’ mom wasn’t crazy about the idea of her son following in her footsteps and would initially turn down auditions. “I think my mom understood how hard it can be in this industry. Especially for a kid. She recognized from the start of this journey that I only had one childhood and pursuing a career as a kid would mean that I would have to sacrifice and possibly miss out on some things,” Jenkins explains, adding, “In the end, I think she and my dad became really good about weighing whether or not a particular job would enhance my childhood or not. That became the guide for whether or not I pursued certain projects. Plus, my parents are both artists, so I think she was hoping that I would rebel and get a sensible job.” However, after passing on several auditions, his mom took Jenkins to an interview that pretty much changed his life. From there, he found himself on a plane to Los Angeles for a screen test and soon scored himself his first major role.
Maxwell wears a full look by Ferragamo
Nonetheless, Jenkins’ mom is super supportive of his career choice and notes that he is aware his family has had to sacrifice a lot for him to be living the lifestyle that he does. “I’ve met incredible people who have become like an extended family to my family, and I’ve been able to see the world,” he says. With that being said, Jenkins’ parents have made sure to keep him grounded. Unlike most young actors in Hollywood, Jenkins still goes to a public high school when he’s not working. He still has the responsibility to take his rescue pit bulls for walks as well as clean his room. Jenkins insists fame “hasn’t changed who I am, it has enhanced who I am.” Maintaining normality while being famous hasn’t been too difficult for Jenkins as he jokes he’s always got his sister who is “happy to humble” him from time to time.
Jenkins’ evolving resume continues to impress. Most will be familiar with him for his leading role of Will Robinson in Netflix’s hit science fiction series Lost in Space, a reimagining show of the 1965 series of the same name. Jenkins’ character is the youngest member of the family who forms a tight bond with the Robot after saving them from destruction during a forest fire. Jenkins first started playing this role at age 11 and has grown up with his character over the years. This became an added bonus as it only helped him resonate with Will even more. “I‘ve been playing Will Robinson for almost 1/3 of my life. Stepping into his shoes feels like home. I’ve had the honor of working closely with our showrunner, Zack Estrin, and the writers to help develop his arc, and again I’m lucky because they really listened to my ideas even if they didn’t agree with me. Because I literally grew up on that show, the writers were smart to write about that fact. So as Max Jenkins grew and changed, so did Will Robinson.”
He also expresses how blessed he feels to have been given the opportunity to be a part of a show of this status. “Being a part of Lost in Space has been a gift. I got to see beautiful parts of the world, work with incredibly kind and talented people, fly a spaceship, and hang out with my own Robot,” he shares. “It’s been incredible how much the fans have embraced the series all over the world! It’s a show about hope and that resonates on a global level now more than ever. Our fandom is from all over the world and they connect with each other and with us. It’s made the world feel a little smaller, and a little kinder. Both fans of the classic series and new fans have all come together. I hear from people all the time how it has brought together generations. They say it’s one of the few shows that both parents and kids can watch together.”
As for the huge recognition the show has given him, Jenkins admits he’s been “pretty lucky” as there were times he was able to remain lowkey. He explains: “I filmed Lost in Space between the ages of 11 and 16. I was growing like crazy in-between seasons, so a lot of time people didn’t recognize me as the little kid from Lost in Space. There were times I would be having dinner with Parker Posey and fans of the show would come up and tell her how much they LOVE Lost in Space and it would take them a little while to put together that I was not her nephew, but Will Robinson. I guess this afforded me some anonymity which I am grateful for.”
The success of Lost in Space has allowed the show to have three seasons since 2018. Aside from critical acclaim, it also earned a few accolades. Along with its Primetime Emmy Award nominations, Lost in Space cleaned up at the 2019 Visual Effects Society Awards, taking home four trophies. The third, and final season, which premiered on Netflix on December 2, proved the show is more popular than ever, becoming the No. 1 show in 49 countries. “That’s insane to me,” Jenkins says. “It’s a surprise for sure, but I am so grateful to the fans. I heard during the filming of Season 3 that more people had discovered our show during the pandemic. I guess because it’s a show about hope and about overcoming great obstacles and building community… I guess people needed that during the times we are living in.”
Going into shooting the latest season, everyone involved was aware it was going to be the very last, which only motivated the team to make it one to remember. “Saying goodbye to something you love is never easy… and I love being a part of Lost in Space. That said, knowing this was the third and final season allowed the Writers, Directors, Actors, Cast, and Crew to pull out all the stops, to swing for the fences, and we did… in the end, we all looked at it as an opportunity. And we created something really special,” Jenkins reveals
Maxwell wears a full look by Ferragamo
Maxwell wears a blazer by Amiri and leather pants by Saint Laurent provided by FWRD
He continued: “Lost in Space was like filming a movie really. It was a huge budget, green screen, action-adventure. The films I have done are much smaller… more intimate. I think the biggest difference I noticed was that in television, or streaming television, you don’t have as much flexibility or freedom with the words. The films I have done have been more improvisational in nature. I love them both. I’ve been really lucky.”
For those who have already seen or plan on watching Season 3, Jenkins wishes for fans to take away a few important factors from it. “Hope. The importance of family. To never give up. To be kind to other people… especially people who look different than us… like robots,” he says, adding, “And above all, I hope they have fun watching Lost in Space and share it with someone they love.”
Jenkins might be closing a chapter with Lost in Space, but another has already been started as he will be starring as Young Reacher in the upcoming Amazon Prime series Reacher in the new year, which will be based on the books. To prepare for this part, Jenkins made sure to do his homework. “I read the first Reacher book, Killing Floor, to get an idea of who Reacher was. I also watched a lot of interviews with Lee Child who wrote the novels,” he shares. “But probably, for my purposes in the show, the most valuable piece of research I did was to talk to Alan Ritchson about his physicality as Jack Reacher.”
“I am as excited to watch Reacher when it comes out as any Reacher fan. They shot most of the series in Toronto, but all of my work was in LA as I play Reacher in flashbacks. The character is a badass. He’s quick to use his fists and impulsive, but also at his core, he’s a really great person who absolutely hates bullies. I can relate to that. And Alan Ritchson is like a real-life superhero. Let’s just say he’s an enormous presence in the best way. I think Reacher fans will be really excited.”
Jenkins’ hard work has enabled him to work alongside some well-known names and be introduced to legendary actors who have given him some great advice. “There have literally been dozens and dozens of people who have been so generous to share their knowledge and who have impacted me over the years,” he mentions. During our chat, he decides to narrow it down to three stars who have stood out to him the most.
“Lana Wachowski, who I worked with on Sense8 and who many people know as one of the geniuses that gave us The Matrix, told me when I was 10 that I should make sure I didn’t work too much, especially at a young age. Great advice. My parents and I really took that to heart,” he says. “Gerard Butler, who I was lucky to work alongside in [A Family Man], taught me about the economy of emotion. As an actor, I’ve been told that one of my strengths is my access to emotion. Gerry taught me not to overuse that. He said, ‘You get one tear per movie Max.’ Of course, he said it in a really cool Scottish accent. Now, I haven’t always been able to do that, but I think about it a lot and I definitely try. I think it allows me to be a better storyteller… at least I hope it does.”
“And finally Bill Mumy, the original Will Robinson, who has become a true friend and mentor to me in so many ways,” he reveals. “Bill shared his experiences growing up as Will Robinson… the highs and the lows, the great times and the challenging times. And something he told me once really stuck with me. He said: ‘Will Robinson is the role of a lifetime for a young actor. Cherish every moment, in front of the camera and on set with all the other folks who help bring it to life.’ Those are wise words from the other person who knows what it is like to be Will Robinson.”
Jenkins hasn’t reached adulthood yet and has already achieved a career many dream of having. With the industry being so fast-paced, he has already started thinking about where he would like to see himself go next. “I would love to follow up Will Robinson with a grittier, more flawed character. I’ve been involved with a few projects recently that I can’t talk about just yet, but they were really outside the box and totally different from Will. They challenged me and allowed me to grow in different ways. It was terrifying and exciting,” Jenkins explains. “I would love to do a Marvel movie. I’m a comic book nerd at heart,” he adds.
“There’s so much I want to do. I want to continue to grow as an actor by working with great directors on interesting projects. But I guess a career goal would be to develop and produce my own project. I love acting but I also love creating stories, so I am actively looking for ways to immerse myself in the process now.”