American actor and renowned voice artist Hank Azaria is perhaps best known for his voice work on Fox’s popular animated series The Simpsons (1989-), gaining attention for his oddball interpretations of Moe the Bartender, Apu the Kwik-E-Mart owner, Police Chief Wiggums, Comic Book Guy, Cletus, Professor Frink and Snake. Due to his outstanding contributions, Azaria was garnered two Emmy Awards in 1989 and 2003. He also took home an Annie Award for his bright voice-over work for character Bartok in the animated film Anastasia (1997).
As an actor, Azaria also has solidified his career both on TV and film. He won a Screen Actors Guild award and earned raves for his performance as Agador Spartacus, the scene-stealing Guatemalan houseboy, in the Mike Nichols-helmed remake of La Cage Aux Folles, The Birdcage (1996), and is well-known for playing roles in such films as Robert Redford’s Quiz Show (1994), Great Expectations (1998), Tim Robbins’ Cradle Will Rock (1999) and Mystery Men (1999). His recent film credits include Shattered Glass (2003), Nobody’s Perfect (2004), Along Came Polly (2004, with Ben Stiller), Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004, opposite Stiller and Vince Vaughn) and Eulogy (2004). On the small screen, Azaria was nominated for a Best Actor Emmy and a SAG for his portrayal of psychiatrist and family man Craig Huffstodt in the series “Huff” (2004-2005. He delivered the most layered and sensitive work of his career as sportswriter Mitch Albom, opposite Jack Lemmon, on ABC’s movie Tuesdays with Morrie (1999), in which he earned a Golden Globe and Emmy nomination. In addition, Azaria received two more Emmy nominations for his recurring turns as dog walker Nat in the series “Mad About You” and Phoebe’s love interest David in “Friends.”
The owner of two dogs, a terrier-cross named Annie and a white Samoyed named Johnny, Azaria was paid $100,000 per episode (2002 season) for The Simpsons. As for his private life, the tall, attractive, dark-haired actor once tied the knot with movie and television star Helen Hunt, but they later divorced in 2000. Before the marriage, he was romantically involved with Julie Warner (together in early 90s, reportedly became engaged).
Childhood and Family:
Hank Albert Azaria was born on April 25, 1964, to Sephardic Jewish parents from Greece. He grew up in Forest Hills, in Queens, New York, along with his two older sisters, Elise and Stephanie Azaria. Hank attended Kew Forest School in Forest Hills and was trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He went on to pursue a B.F.A degree at the Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and was awarded a Light on the Hill Award in 1999 by Tufts. Hank also attended Columbia University and the University of California at Los Angeles, in Los Angeles, California.
On July 17, 1999, Hank Azaria married his long-time girlfriend, actress Helen Hunt (born on June 15, 1963) in a traditional Jewish ceremony following a two-year engagement. However, the couple became estranged and filed for divorce on December 18, 2000.
Hank Azaria moved from his hometown of Forest Hills, Queens, to New York City to pursue a stage career, where he also bartended at the restaurant Arcadia for a few years. Trained at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, Hank had a chance to display his craft by playing the title role in a production of “Hamlet” at Columbia University. He went on to hone in on his talent at Tufts University, where he played roles in such plays as “Uncle Vanya,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “The Ballad of the Sad Café” and “The Dumb Waiter.” Seeing little progress, Azaria headed for Los Angeles to pursue an onscreen career.
Arriving in Los Angeles in 1987, Azaria got his start as a stand up comedian and worked with the Comedy Store for six months before realizing it wasn’t his true calling. In 1988, he moved on to TV after landing a small role in his TV movie debut, Frank Nitti: The Enforcer. A luminous mimic since childhood, Azaria got his first brush toward fame when he finally received a chance to parlay his ability for voices on the hit animated series “The Simpsons” (1989- ). Voicing such characters as Moe the bartender, Apu the Kwik-E-Mart owner, and Police Chief Wiggums, among others, Azaria won attention for his eccentric interpretations. For his brilliant work, he was handed two Emmys for Outstanding Voiceover Performance.
Azaria made his feature film debut in Cool Blue (1988), opposite Woody Harrelson, but the film was released direct to video. His second chance to play a role in film arrived two years later when he was featured as a detective in Garry Marshall’s blockbuster comedy Pretty Woman (1990). However, it was the Fox live-action sitcom “Herman’s Head” (1991-1994) that delivered Azaria’s first onscreen breakthrough as the creepy best friend Jay Nichols. After the series ended, Azaria returned to film and received notice for playing venal TV executive Albert Freedman in Robert Redford’s Quiz Show (1994). The same year, he also voiced characters in such TV shows as “Beethoven” and “Street Sharks.”
In 1995, the versatile actor brought allure and hilarity to his portrayal of Craig Sheffer and displayed onscreen chemistry with co-star Elizabeth McGovern in the short-lived romantic comedy “If Not for You.” He was then cast in the small roles of Bud Kent in the drama film Now and Then (1995) starring Christina Ricci, Rosie O’Donnell and Thora Birch, and detective Alan Marciano in the Al Pacino and Robert De Niro vehicle Heat, directed by Michael Mann. He turned critics’ heads in the following year with his tour-de-force, scene-stealing performance as the hot-pants-wearing, Gloria Estefan-worshipping, gay Guatemalan houseboy of Mike Nichols’ The Birdcage (1996), opposite stars Robin Williams, Nathan Lane and Gene Hackman. Azaria’s bright supporting turn was critically applauded, and he, with other costars, nabbed a Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Cast.
After appearing in the comedy Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) starring John Cusack and Minnie Driver, Azaria teamed up with animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman to provide the voice of Bartok for the animated feature Anastasia (1997). His bright contribution garnered the actor a 1998 Annie for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Male Performer.
Next Azaria was memorable as Gwyneth Paltrow’s lackluster fiancé Walter in a modern-day adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel, Great Expectations (1998), and played one of a trio of hapless marijuana growers (with Billy Bob Thornton and Ryan Phillippe) in Stephen Gyllenhaal’s low-budget caper Homegrown (1998). He was then seen as New York cameraman Victor ‘Animal’ Palotti in Godzilla (1998), had a bit part in Woody Allen’s Celebrity (1998), was seen as the former resident of Mystery, Alaska (1999) and gave fine portrayals of composer Marc Blitzstein in Tim Robbins’ Cradle Will Rock (1999) and The Blue Raja, a ”B-team” silverware-hurling superhero in Mystery Men (1999).
In between his busy film schedule, Azaria also worked on several TV projects. He joined the cast of the NBC series “Mad About You,” which starred wife Helen Hunt, in the recurring role of Nat Ostertag, a thickly New York-accented dog walker. His performance was nominated for an Outstanding Guest Actor Emmy in 1998. He continued to make an impression in the subsequent year when he portrayed sportswriter Mitch Albom to Jack Lemmon’s uncontainable, wheelchair-bound Morrie Schwartz in ABC’s movie Tuesdays with Morrie, for which he received a Golden Globe and Emmy nomination. Azaria also re-dubbed the voice of Eric in the primetime, animated TV series “Stressed Eric” (1998).
After portraying Prof. Groeteschele, an academic advocating tactical nuclear victory over the Russians, in the made-for-TV film Fail Safe (2000), Azaria costarred as Mordechai Anielewicz in the fact-based NBC film about the Warsaw Ghetto resistance movement during WWI, titled Uprising (2001), and played Hector Gorgonzolas, a Spanish actor in love with a popular movie star, in the Joe Roth-directed film America’s Sweethearts (2001). He was cast in the starring role of John Miller in the Seth Kurland-created sitcom “Imagine That” (2002) which was axed after only two episodes, played the supporting role of Sam in the comedy film Bark (2002) and earned an Emmy nomination in the category of Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 2003 for his recurring role as David, one of Phoebe’s boyfriends, in the popular series “Friends.”
2003-2004 saw the actor play roles in films like Shattered Glass (2003), Nobody’s Perfect (2004), Along Came Polly (2004), Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) and the black comedy Eulogy (2004). On television, Azaria one again attracted attention for playing psychiatrist Craig Huffstodt, who re-examines his life after a teenage patient commits suicide in his office, in the Showtime drama Huff (2004-), in which he received SAG and Emmy nominations for Best Actor.
Returning to his theatrical roots in 2005, Azaria starred as a homosexual version of Sir Launcelot in “Spamalot,” Eric Idle’s Broadway musical version of “'Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” For his role, he was nominated for a 2005 Tony Award. In 2008, Azaria’s voice can be heard interpreting various characters in the upcoming The Simpsons.