By Adam Cailler
Max Schneider has the world at his feet. The 25-year-old New Yorker is an actor, dancer, singer and is touring Europe with rock giants Fall Out Boy, this month.
But somehow, the son of Jewish Dan and Irish Charlotte — who converted to Judaism — remains far more grounded than most young stars.
And it’s all thanks to his Jewish upbringing.
Max, who was the face of Dolce & Gabbana alongside Madonna at the age of 17, told me: “Being Jewish meant everything to me growing up.
“My dad’s family was like a classic Jewish community and it was always important to him that we saw them.
“He has about 100 cousins and we would alternate Passover seders between our house and my uncle Lenny’s house.
“There would be tons of fold-out tables and chairs with about 150 people at these events.
“What is always so beautiful about it is the community side of it, which expands outside of being religious.”
Max, who was raised in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, was educated at a Hebrew school, but, in a strange turn of events, he didn’t have a barmitzvah.
He had an “African coming-of-age” ceremony instead.
Max explained: “There was a big Guinean African drumming community in Woodstock, New York.
“I was doing this drumming with them every day, and it was clashing with my Hebrew studies, but my parents could see how much I loved it.
“They said ‘we know people who have had a barmitzvah in their 80s, so you’ll do it eventually’.
“So I had this ceremony, when I was 13, which involved a lot singing and celebrating life.
“In the actual ceremony you’re supposed to survive in the jungle for three days, but we skipped that part and just celebrated as if I had done that.
“It was special because there were a lot of Jews there too and everybody was coming together for it.”
Max isn’t afraid to hide his Jewishness. As he was keen to point out, he is proud of where he comes from.
But he has experienced antisemitism during tours.
He recalled one gig in Pennsylvania where, while performing with his “half-Jewish friend” Ryan, he sang a Christmas/Chanucah medley, which included parts of Adam Sandler’s Chanucah Song.
To his surprise, members of the audience began booing.
But, he said, it is moments like that which have built up his strength and resilience.
“It was one of those moments where I felt fear,” he told me. “It’s good to experience hate because it informs why you fight for what you believe in.”
Confusingly, Max’s father is often confused with Dan Schneider, who produced programmes for Nickelodeon — a channel Max has been associated with.
Max married long-term partner, Brighton-born Emily Cannon, in 2016.
He is, he joked, carrying on the family tradition of marrying a “classic shikse”.
Emily’s first experience of Yom Kippur was at the Actor’s Temple — also know as Congregation Ezrath Israel — in New York.
It wasn’t exactly a traditional service.
He explained: “It’s a very Reform temple, with a female rabbi.
“The head of the place is a former Playboy model and the Three Stooges used to go there.
“It was a very interesting set-up and I had to explain to Emily that this is not how a service normally goes!
“Our wedding ceremony was a hotchpotch — a beautiful mess.
“My Jewish family members had yarmulkes on, read a few prayers and we smashed the glass.
“But I also had one of my best friends do the ceremony.
“The most Jewish part was my dad being the most neurotic and freaking out about it all day. He was so nervous about it!
“There’s also this picture of my uncle Lenny — who is like the head of the Jewish mob — giving me the approval for her to join the Jewish band.”
Max’s love of performing began at the tender age of three, when he went to see Beauty and the Beast.
“I went to a lot of musical things growing up,” he recalled. “I got home and re-enacted the whole show for my family.
“I think that they could tell at that point I loved music, and I started doing theatre shows from there. I’ve always loved performing.
“I feel really comfortable on stage; it’s always been a second home for me. I kind of caught the bug early and didn’t stop.”
Music has been a constant theme in his life. Growing up he listened to soul music. James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Rod Stewart were some of his favourites.
But, despite playing leading roles in Nickelodeon’s How To Rock, television film Rags and Brian Wilson’s biographical film Love & Mercy, Max always knew his would have a career in music.
Max has released two albums —NWL and Hell’s Kitchen Angel — and his song Lights Down Low was written for his now-wife.
He said: “It’s beautiful to have the other things incorporated, like the Nickelodeon stuff.
“I was always a yes guy because I didn’t want to turn down a great opportunity, but I was always pretty decisive that I would go down the music route.”
Max, during his modelling days, had a damascene moment — courtesy of some tough love from his best friend . . . and a slap to the face.
“I was in a lift with my best friend and someone else who said ‘Oh, I heard some Dolce & Gabbana model lives on the top floor and I was like ‘Yeah, that’s me’.
“I had this cocky grin and I thought I was the s***.
“So, we got off at the top floor and my best friend Madeline slaps me in the face and said, ‘You’re becoming someone I don’t want to be friends with’.
“It was a really transformative moment where I thought about what I was doing.
“It really changed everything from then on and I realised that you have to be grounded and love the people around you — it’s your roots that will define you forever.”
And now, coming full circle, Max will be playing at the Manchester Arena on Thursday as support for Fall Out Boy. The UK leg of their tour to support new album Mania also visits Birmingham, Cardiff and London.
Fall Out Boy’s guitarist Joe Trohman is Jewish, and does a “fantastic” old Jewish man accent, according to Max.
He said: “We always have little jokes. He’s always asking about my dad, who is the most Jewish New York guy ever.
“My dad is always taking about opening a knish shop, but I have to remind him that he knows nothing about making knishes.
“Both of my parents will be coming to our Manchester gig which is really exciting.”
The future for Max looks bright. But could a show in Israel be on the cards?
“I’d love to perform there,” he said. “My whole team, because a few of us are Jewish, call ourselves the ‘en-torah-ge’.
“I would be honoured to perform there because I’ve heard there is an incredible energy there when it comes to music.
“It really is such a special place for our people.
“I feel like I just want to keep doing what I’m doing now —putting out music that I’m passionate about, supporting causes I’m passionate about and making time to see my family.
“There are a lot of sacrifices to be made when you’re more and more successful and I’ve thought about it a lot.
“If I keep riding this roller-coaster, and maybe do a little more, I’ll be happy.”