Hank Azaria

Active - 1988 - Present  |   Born - Apr 25, 1964 in Forest Hills, New York, United States  |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Rubber-faced comic actor and vocal artist extraordinaire Hank Azaria initially plied his trade on the stand-up circuit, then subsequently landed stage appearances and tackled bit parts on television. Azaria scored his breakthrough in 1989 when he began providing a multitude of voices for the Fox network's groundbreaking animated series The Simpsons, an assignment that imparted the performer with an enviable degree of cult stardom. In 1991, Azaria nabbed a major role in the Fox live-action sitcom Herman's Head, which ran until 1994 and gave audiences a glimpse of the man responsible for the vocal intonations of some of the most famous characters to ever corrupt an animator's storyboard.

A native of Queens, NY, where he was born into a family of Sephardic Jews on April 25, 1964, Azaria commenced film roles in the late 1980s, coincident with his Simpsons stardom. Work on that program (which, after graduating from a series of crude sketches on The Tracey Ullmann Show to its own animated sitcom, quickly shot up to qualify as the Fox network's most popular enterprise) easily outstripped Azaria's screen work in popularity and visibility for many years. Recurring parts included Indian convenience store owner Apu, quack doctor Nick Riviera, dim-witted bartender Moe, and the idiotic, pig-nosed Springfield Chief of Police, Clancy Wiggum.

Though his Simpsons work continued unabated over the years, beginning in the mid-1990s Azaria branched out somewhat, placing a heavier emphasis on live-action portrayals. Even in that venue, however, his work tonally mirrored his animated contributions; he specialized in adroitly handling goofy, over-the-top character parts, often with an ethnic bent. The performer attained visibility and memorability, for example, as the klutzy and scantily-dressed gay houseboy Agador in The Birdcage (1995), Hector, a goofy Hispanic paramour with a permanent effeminate lisp, in Joe Roth's underrated showbiz comedy America's Sweethearts (2001), and Claude, a Gallic beach bum with no qualms about taking off with other men's wives, in John Hamburg's gross-out romantic comedy Along Came Polly (2004).

Azaria has also departed from the boundaries of screen comedy from time to time, doing

memorable work across genre lines in such films as Great Expectations (1998) (which cast him as Gwyneth Paltrow's lackluster fiancé), Mystery Men (1999) (as the superhero Blue Raja), and Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock (1999), a historical drama about art and politics in 1930s New York that cast Azaria as leftist playwright Marc Blitzstein. In 2005, Azaria presided as one of the many off-color monologuists in Penn Jillette's stand-up comedy showcase film The Aristocrats; the performer subsequently provided at least seventeen voices (including his usual series roles) for The Simpsons Movie (2007) and voiced both Abbie Hoffmann and Allen Ginsberg in the animated sequences of Brett Morgen's offbeat documentary Chicago 10 (2007).

He appeared in the pre-historic comedy Year One, and provided several voices in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. He played an ethically challenged doctor in Love and Other Drugs, and portrayed Gargamel, the bad guy in the big-screen hit The Smurfs. He was in family film Hop, and lent his prodigious vocal talents to Happy Feet Two. In 2012 he acted in the biopic Lovelace.

In July 1999, Azaria married actress Helen Hunt, with whom he co-starred in several episodes of the sitcom Mad About You. The two divorced within eighteen months.

Movie Highlights

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  • First voice he provided for The Simpsons, Moe the bartender, was inspired by Al Pacino's character in Dog Day Afternoon (1975).
  • Made his film debut as a cop in the blockbuster Pretty Woman (1990).
  • Nominated for a 1997 SAG Award for his role as the gay houseboy in The Birdcage (1996), a part he based partially on his grandmother Esther.
  • Befriended Oliver Platt when both were students at Tufts University; the two co-starred as onscreen pals in the Showtime drama series Huff (2004-06).
  • Made his Broadway debut in the 2005 musical Monty Python's Spamalot and earned a Tony nomination for his performance.
  • Has worked with Ben Stiller on comedy films including Mystery Men (1999), Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), Along Came Polly (2004), and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009).