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Date:  Monday, May 18, 1998

Serious Hankerin'
By Louis B. Hobson

NEW YORK -- Hank Azaria was the perfect actor to cast in Godzilla.

The entire cast and crew of Godzilla had to sign contracts which forbid them to discuss the highly guarded plot of the film and the new design of the creature.

Azaria has proven he can keep a secret. What little has leaked out about his four-year relationship with Helen Hunt is not his doing.

"Helen and I don't talk about each other in the press. It's a rule we agreed to from the beginning," explains Azaria.

The couple was engaged last year but it's no use enquiring about wedding plans.

"Your invitations will soon be in the mail."

Hunt, 34, accompanied Azaria, 34, to the recent press screening of Godzilla in New York. He admits, "I enjoyed watching a monster movie that I was in with Helen. She really enjoyed the movie."

No use hunting for more. That's all he'll say about Helen.

But when it comes to talking about his 400-foot co-star in Godzilla, Azaria really sharpens his razor wit.

"This is Godzilla's first American movie so he asked for a little advice. I told him not to let them get him into a thong," says Azaria referring to his revealing romp as the gay houseboy in The Birdcage.

Godzilla did not attend the press premiere. Azaria feels it was because "he couldn't find a star big enough to accompany him. There was word he'd go with Barney but then because it would be a same species thing, he was afraid it would turn into a Ellen DeGeneress/Anne Heche thing."

He does envy the king of the monsters: "For such a large creature, he sure has been able to hide well. There are days I wish I could do that."

Azaria concedes it was easier working with Godzilla than it was with Robin Williams on The Birdcage.

"Godzilla is 99% computer generated so he wasn't really around that much on the set. With Robin, he was always on the set and you always knew exactly where he was."

Though Hollywood trade papers claim Azaria has signed for The Birdcage 2, he's still being cagey.

"I hear the rumors but I haven't seen any contracts."

Next to The Birdcage and his recurring role as Murray the dog walker on Hunt's Mad About You, Azaria is best known as more than half the periferal voices on The Simpsons including Moe the bartender and Apu the convenience store clerk.

"Knowing the creators of The Simpsons, they'll find a way before the year is over to have Godzilla make a guest appearance on our show."

Azaria and his fellow Simpson cast members are rumored to be getting $100,000 an episode this season. This is another well-guarded secret with Azaria.

"Vocal talent is traditionally underpaid in our business. Robin Williams made that clear with Aladdin.

"Like every one who works on a Disney cartoon, he was paid $25,000.

"By asking for a raise, we were just trying to make things a little more equitable."

Azaria says the new Simpsons contract is for three more seasons but explains. "We'll be working year by year. We know we're doing this season but beyond that we don't know what's happening."

Azaria says he was always a good vocal mimic.

"I did voices as a child but put it aside until I started doing stand-up comedy in Los Angeles about 10 years ago."

Now voices are his stock and trade though he hopes to change that by becoming a more high-profile film actor.

"I think Godzilla was a good move in that direction."

In Godzilla, Azaria plays a gung-ho photojournalist named Animal who is determined to get video footage of the rampaging mutant creature.

At one point, Azaria gets trapped between the toes of the creature.

"I loved that moment because the foot was actually there. For once I didn't have to do so much imagining."

At another point, Godzilla chases Azaria and his friends as they careen down the streets of New York in a cab. "That sequence took us three weeks to film and we had to be soaking wet the entire time."

Both Godzilla and Azaria come away from the film with their own action figures.

"We're not allowed to have an action figure of Godzilla until after the movie opens. It's all part of the secrecy agreement but I got to see my action figure. Boy that was surreal because it actually looks like me a bit."