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Source: Toronto Sun
Date:  Thursday, March 7, 1996

Animated Mr. Azaria
Bob Thompson

NEW YORK -- Unemployment doesn't work for actor Hank Azaria, and neither does desperate selection.

Luckily, Azaria is never unemployed, and rarely desperate. He has a lucrative TV gig on The Simpsons to fend off the realities of both.

Can't place the face? Betcha some of his voices are familiar.

Azaria is Moe The Bartender -- "a lousy Al Pacino" -- and the Quickie Mart clerk Apu on the cynical Fox animated series.

The job might seem like a pastime for some, but for the 32-year-old actor, it's a relief.

"Because I have The Simpsons," he says candidly, "I don't need to work, and I don't have to work just for the money."

That consistent cash flow gives Azuria the luxury few actors enjoy. Quite frankly, he says that he picks and chooses film roles based on his wants and even whims.

 "It is a unique position to be in for an actor at my level," says the former standup comic.

Certainly, he's done some interesting portrayals in Quiz Show, Now And Then, Heat and in the latest Mike Nichols film, The Birdcage, the American remake of the 1978 French farce La Cage Aux Folles.

He's also earned recent recognition as the dog walker on the hit TV show, Mad About You.

"All of it helps to get your passport stamped," he says. "I'm actually starting to feel like I'm being accepted into the club of actors."

The Forest Hills, N.Y., native got his break at L.A.'s Comedy Store, not an actors' workshop. He admits that those days were tough.

"If you made the midnight crowd of mostly drunks laugh," he recalls, "you kinda worried about the material."

Things started going Azaria's way after he landed the role as the sex-addicted cad Jay on Herman's Head, a Fox TV comedy show. Soon after he was doing voices on The Simpsons.

Azaria has had his share of disappointments, however. For instance, If Not For You, a TV comedy series with Azaria and Elizabeth McGovern, died a quick death.

He also admits that he's lost movie parts he yearned for, although he won't 'fess up to what they are.

But Azaria is proud of his Birdcage role as the swishy Latin housekeeper opposite same-sex couple Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

"I wasn't totally sure I could pull it off," he says of the campy, almost absurdist-type performance. "But Mike must have thought I did, because he expanded the role while we were shooting."

Some say Azaria steals scenes from veterans Williams and Lane, but you'll never hear Azaria say that.

"I idolized the people I worked with on The Birdcage. Robin, Nathan, they are like the same hilarious person. Then there's Mike Nichols, and Elaine May who wrote the script. These guys are comedy gods."

And maybe after the release of The Birdcage Azaria might be considered a supporting comedy actor angel?

Azaria cringes. "It's very ambitious to think you are always on people's minds," he says.