Date: Tuesday, February 17, 1998
Not just Mr. Hunt
Hank Azaria building an impressive career in television and feature films
By Louis B. Hobson
CANMORE -- Hank Azaria is a pretty understanding fellow. He doesn't get the least bit perturbed when people tell him they're mad about his girlfriend and it happens all the time.
Azaria is engaged to Helen Hunt, the star of TV's Mad About You and Oscar nominee for best actress opposite Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. "When people tell me how lucky I am, they're just reinforcing something I already know," admits Azaria.
Hunt flew in from Los Angeles Saturday to spend the holiday weekend in Banff with Azaria.
The couple got engaged last fall.
Azaria is filming the Disney movie Mystery, Alaska, in Canmore. He plays a sports writer who helps arrange for the New York Rangers to play a pond hockey game against Mystery's unbeaten community team.
Fellow actors Russell Crowe, Ron Eldard, Scott Grimes and Burt Reynolds have had to spend long hours honing, or even just learning, hockey skills. Azaria has been able to kick back and enjoy the scenery.
"It was my suggestion that my character could not skate. He's supposed to be an outcast, so I figured he would be this one jerk who couldn't skate in a town where every guy was a hockey player.
"It would naturally make him an outcast.
"In my case, it's definitely art imitating life. I don't skate at all and can't imagine ever being able to."
Azaria may plead lack of agility on ice, but when it comes to vocal prowess, he has few peers.
Azaria provides dozens of the voices on The Simpsons and can be heard as Bartok the bat in the animated musical Anastasia.
"I watched a lot of TV as a kid. I found I could imitate everyone from Bugs Bunny to Robert De Niro."
In 1986, at age 22, Azaria moved from his native New York to Los Angeles.
"I thought I'd give myself a couple of years and then head back to New York and grad school to finish my degree in psychology," he recalls.
"I kept getting just enough work to keep me in L.A.," says Azaria, who found himself guesting on such sit-coms as Family Ties and starring in Herman's Head.
Then came the day in 1989 he got hired for The Simpsons.
"It was a dream job. Not only did I get to do voices, but I got to act the voices. It was like a lab in which I could experiment as much as I wanted."
With a steady job and movie offers, Azaria found he had less time to spend with Hunt, so they devised a plan. Azaria was written in as Nat Walker, the Buchman's dog walker, on Mad About You.
"Nat is actually based on someone I know. Helen told me they were planning to introduce a dog walker and I pitched them my ideas for the character."
In 1996, Azaria joined Robin Williams, Nathan Lane and Gene Hackman in The Birdcage. He played the outrageous house boy.
"That was a pretty happy set. Robin is such a generous actor and Nathan is no slouch. I'd have been grateful just to get coffee for that cast."
Azaria is currently starring opposite Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke in Great Expectations and has two more films due this year
Homegrown is a small independent film about a group of marijuana growers. Azaria also stars in Godzilla, in which he plays a cameraman. "I just saw a rough cut of the film and it's absolutely unreal."