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Henry Albert Azaria (born April 25, 1964) is an American actor, voice actor, comedian and producer. He is known for his voice characterizations as a variety of characters in the animated sitcom The Simpsons, which has included Moe Szyslak, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, Snake Jailbird, Carl Carlson and others.

Biography

Azaria was born in Queens, New York City, the son of Sephardic Jewish parents, Ruth Altcheck and Albert Azaria. His grandparents on both sides were Thessalonian Jews from Thessaloniki, Greece, whose ancestors had been expelled from Spain following the Alhambra Decree. His family's spoken language at home was Ladino (also known as Judaeo-Spanish), which Azaria has described as "a strange, antiquated Spanish dialect, written in Hebrew characters."

Azaria's father ran several dress-manufacturing businesses, while his mother raised him and his two older sisters, Stephanie and Elise. Before marrying his father, Azaria's mother had been a publicist for Columbia Pictures, promoting films in Latin American countries, as she was fluent in both English and Spanish. During his childhood, Azaria would often "memorize and mimic" the scripts of the films, shows and stand-up comedy routines that he enjoyed. As a child, Azaria attended Camp Towanda in Honesdale, PA and now visits annually for the camp's annual Olympics as a 'judgie'.

Azaria attended The Kew-Forest School in Forest Hills. He decided to become an actor after performing in a school play at the age of 16, becoming, at the expense of his academic studies, "obsessed with acting." Both of his parents loved all forms of show business, which further spurred him to become an actor. He studied drama at Tufts University from 1981 to 1985, where he met and befriended actor Oliver Platt and noted that "Oliver was a better actor than I was in college, and he really inspired me." Together they both starred in various college stage productions, including The Merchant of Venice, before Azaria trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Although he did not expect the endeavor to be successful, Azaria decided to become a professional actor, so that later in his life, he would not regret not having tried. Azaria's first acting job was an advertisement for Italian television when he was seventeen years old. He also worked as a busboy. Azaria originally intended to work predominantly as a theatrical actor, and he and Platt set up their own company, named Big Theatre, although Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter was the only thing they ever performed. He decided that television was a better arena and offered more opportunity so, after being offered work with talent agent Harry Gold, Azaria moved to Los Angeles.

Azaria got along with Gold, who was lukewarm about working with him, but after a woman Azaria had "worked with in New York got really furious with him because he said he'd work with me and then didn't," Gold sent him out for auditions. He made his television debut with a role in the pilot episode of the 1986 ABC comedy-drama series Joe Bash, with Peter Boyle. His part—a one-line role as the police officer Maldonado—was edited out before the show was broadcast, although the role secured him admission to the Screen Actors Guild. Azaria appeared in the TV film Nitti: The Enforcer, about the gangster Frank Nitti, and appeared in the failed pilot Morning Maggie alongside Matthew Perry, with whom he became good friends. He played Joe in an episode of the sitcom Family Ties in 1988 in which he had one line, and the following year he played Steve Stevenson in an episode of Growing Pains. Azaria has described his career progression as being gradual; he did not achieve overnight recognition or fame. In Los Angeles, Azaria was trained by acting coach Roy London. Between acting jobs he performed as a stand-up comedian, and worked as a bartender for a catering firm.

Azaria became famous for his voice work in the ongoing animated television series The Simpsons. He joined the show having previously performed only one voice-over—as the titular animated dog in the failed Fox pilot Hollywood Dog. The first voice he performed on The Simpsons was that of town bartender Moe Szyslak, replacing Christopher Collins who had initially recorded the character's voice. Having known him from Hollywood Dog, casting director Bonita Pietila called Azaria and asked him to audition for the voice of Moe. At the time he was performing the role of a drug dealer in a play, utilizing a voice based on actor Al Pacino's performance in the film Dog Day Afternoon. He used the voice in his audition for The Simpsons and, at the request of the show's executive producers Matt Groening and Sam Simon, made the voice more "gravelly". Groening and Simon thought the resultant voice was ideal for Moe and took Azaria over to the Fox recording studio. Before he had even seen a script, he recorded several lines of dialogue as Moe for the episode "Some Enchanted Evening", dubbing Collins' voice.

With the continuing success of The Simpsons, Azaria began taking on other, principally live-action, roles. He was a main cast member on the show Herman's Head playing Jay Nichols, alongside The Simpsons co-star Yeardley Smith. He regularly recorded for The Simpsons and filmed Herman's Head during the same day. Following the series' cancellation Azaria unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of Joey Tribbiani, one of the lead characters in the sitcom Friends. He was instead cast in the role of the scientist David, one of Phoebe Buffay's boyfriends in the series. From 1995 to 1999, Azaria had a recurring role in the sitcom Mad About You as Nat Ostertag, the dog walker. Azaria was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his roles in both Mad About You and Friends. Azaria had the lead role in the short-lived sitcom If Not For You in 1995, playing record producer Craig Schaeffer.

Since Huff's conclusion in 2006, Azaria has continued to make multiple film appearances. He played the smooth-talking Whit in David Schwimmer's directorial debut Run Fatboy Run. During production he became good friends with co-star Simon Pegg, performing The Simpsons voices on request, frequently distracting Pegg when he was supposed to be filming. He worked with Ben Stiller on 2009's Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian in which Azaria played the villainous pharaoh Kah Mun Rah, utilizing a Boris Karloff accent. Although the film received mixed reviews, critics praised Azaria's performance. He appeared as Abraham in Year One, Dr. Knight in 2010's Love & Other Drugs and played Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano in Lovelace.

Azaria played Gargamel in the computer-animated/live-action adaptation of The Smurfs. Azaria wore a prosthetic nose, ears, buck teeth, eyebrows and a wig, as well as shaving his head. He spent approximately 130 hours in the make-up chair over the course of the production. Azaria considered Gargamel's voice to be the most important part of his performance. Azaria disliked the cartoon when it first aired, and considered Gargamel too one-dimensional a character and "just this straight villain"; he opted to make Gargamel "more sarcastic" than in the cartoon, but "discovered that there's no way to play Gargamel without screaming your head off at certain points – ramping him up and getting him very upset over Smurfs".

In the early 1990s, Azaria was in a relationship with actress Julie Warner. His relationship with actress Helen Hunt began in 1994; they married in a traditional Jewish ceremony at the couple's home in Southern California on July 17, 1999. The two had appeared together in Mad About You and "Dumbbell Indemnity", an episode of The Simpsons. After a year of marriage, Azaria moved out of the couple's home, and after a six-month separation, Hunt filed for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences". The divorce was finalized on December 18, 2000.

Azaria began dating former actress Katie Wright in 2007, and the two later married. They have a son together, Hal, who was born in 2009. In 2013, the family moved to New York, renting a home on 80th Street, with plans to make a final decision on where to live in two years. They previously lived in a four-bedroom house in Pacific Palisades, which Azaria bought from his The Simpsons' co-star Dan Castellaneta and his wife Deb Lacusta in 2011. Several weeks earlier, Azaria had sold his home in Bel Air. Azaria previously owned the fifth-floor co-op loft at 84 Mercer Street in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood, which he bought in 2005 from photographer Cindy Sherman, before selling it in 2013.

Azaria is the godfather of Oliver Platt's son, George. He is also a regular poker player, appearing twice on Celebrity Poker Showdown and competing at other events, finishing a few places short of the bubble in the main event of the 2010 World Series of Poker. Azaria is a supporter of the Democratic Party. He enjoys the music of Elvis Costello, and has stated that he would have been a therapist if he were not an actor. He considers The Godfather Trilogy to be what inspired him to become an actor, and counts Peter Sellers and Walt Frazier as his heroes. Azaria co-founded the educational support charity, "Determined to Succeed".

On May 22 2016, he was awarded the Honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) from Tufts University.

Filmography

Animation Dubbing

Animated Series

Animated Films

External Links

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