Brockmire‘s Hank Azaria talks to Awards Daily TV about bringing the Funny or Die creation to full series and working with the great Amanda Peet.
When talking to Emmy®-winner Hank Azaria, the first impulse is to ask him to conduct the interview entirely in the voice of Moe Szyslak, one of the many voices that brought him Emmy Awards for his work on The Simpsons. Of course, you don’t usually indulge that impulse. You bury it and let professionalism rule the day.
And yet, I could not resist. I expressed my sincere disappointment if he would not consider it, tongue firmly in cheek. He did not disappoint. For a minute, anyway.
“Then you’re in for some serious disappointment,” Azaria/Szyslak shared, “because that’s about as far as that’s gonna go.”
Ahhh. Bucket list item checked.
He came back with this incredibly well observed, unsentimental, yet highly romantic, alcohol-fueled, deep psychological character study between two people who fall in love with each other because they have the exact same level of functional alcoholism.
Still, Hank Azaria’s career evolved far beyond his legendary voice work on The Simpsons. Last year marked his second Emmy Award for a non-voice performance, a surprise win for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for Showtime’s Ray Donovan.
Now, he returns to the Emmy conversation with IFC’s Brockmire with a scathing, hilarious, and poignant turn. Critics raved about his performance and his on-screen chemistry with co-star Amanda Peet. As a result, any list of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series risks irrelevance by leaving Azaria off the table.
Born Of an Early Love Of Baseball… And Baseball Announcers
Sports fan Hank Azaria can’t help it. One minute into our conversation, he immediately lapses into a second voice: that of baseball announcer Jim Brockmire. Once a famous for his professional delivery, Brockmire experiences a complete on-air mental break after discovering his wife cheated on him. A “sexual astronaut,” he calls her.
The remainder of the series illustrates Brockmire’s drifting through life, eventually landing at the Morristown Frackers. To call the Frackers, owned by Jules James (Peet) a rag-tag team of misfits would be a disservice to rag-tag teams of misfits. The outfit emerges as Brockmire’s idea of hell, yet he remains out of a fascination with it all. And he has no where else to go.
The IFC series initially began as a Funny Or Die sketch. Azaria recalls the genesis of the project through discovery of “the voice.”
“This voice is what Bob Costas calls ‘generic baseball announcer voice of the 70’s.’ It’s a voice as a mimic growing up… It’s one of the voices I latched onto as distinctly hilarious and interesting and found I could imitate very well,” Azaria explained. “That voice seemed to also exist as a pitchman voice. I just got fascinated with this voice that seemed to tell you about sports and sell you things in our culture.”
That initial voice led Azaria to wonder if announcers ever turn it off. Do they go home at night and still talk like that? At the dinner table? During sex? Imagining they did led to direct moments for a Funny Or Die sketch and, eventually, Brockmire. Once considered for feature film status, it took 20-plus years to develop the voice as a series on IFC.
The series as it stands now seems perfectly suited for cable television.
“It’s a story better told in eight episodes. It takes more time to breathe with the characters,” Azaria said. “In cable, you can creatively from a language or sensibility standpoint be as raunchy as you like. You can be as serious or not as you want. So, it was the right home for it.”
Fleshing Out the Brockmire Character
Over its 20-year gestation, the Brockmire character appeared on various sports programs, providing actual commentary. Eventual producing partner Joel Church-Cooper scripted many of those appearances, fleshing out the character in unexpected ways.
“By the time it was a movie, we had a pretty clear idea of who the guy was. By the time it was a television series, we even had a stronger idea. I’d given so many appearances as Brockmire that I learned how he was funny and why. What worked from what didn’t. We were ready by the time we started shooting.”
Experimentation with the character revealed that the humor hit best in real world scenarios. Plus, Brockmire needed a comic foil. Someone who, according to Azaria, would help ground him. Church-Cooper immediately understood the interaction required between Brockmire and the now-proposed female owner of the Morristown Frackers.
“He came back with this incredibly well observed, unsentimental, yet highly romantic, alcohol-fueled, deep psychological character study between two people who fall in love with each other because they have the exact same level of functional alcoholism.”
You literally couldn’t describe the series any better.
Enter Amanda Peet.
“We honestly didn’t think we’d get her, but I think she saw in it what we did,” Azaria related. “[The character] is kind of unique, very well written woman who isn’t just The Girl or supporting the male lead. She’s a character in her own right with her own desires and agenda.”
Expanding Brockmire in Season 2 and Continuing With Other Great Roles… Including The Simpsons
Brockmire received an extremely positive public and critical reaction. As a result, IFC immediately ordered a second season. Thanks to the expansive pre-work done for the character, Joel Church-Cooper and his writing team already have Season 2 in the can.
“I love Season 1. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done. I love the show on several levels, and it gets quiet darker and more interesting,” Azaria revealed. “As Brockmire’s career advances, his alcoholism and womanizing advances pretty aggressively.”
Aside from Brockmire, Azaria co-stars in HBO’s recent Bernie Madoff TV movie The Wizard of Lies. His performance as Frank DiPascali also garnered significant Emmy buzz. DiPascali held a critical role in perpetrating the Ponzi scheme with Madoff. In researching the role, Azaria spoke with FBI agents who worked the case.
“While they found him deplorable, they also kind of liked him. Liked his personality,” Azaria said. “So that was a challenge. To try and create a guy who seemed kind of lovable on one hand, but just a horror show monster of a human being on the other.”
And, as with Jim Brockmire, Hank Azaria immediately picked up on the voice. He had a strong familiarity with the very specific accent having grown up in Queens, New York. Finding and using that voice helped further flesh out the character.
And what about The Simpsons? How much more Moe Szyslak (among many, many others) does Hank Azaria have in him?
“Oh, I can keep going as long as they care to. Knock on wood, I’m in good health. I’ll keep going. I know we’ll do at least through year 30, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we went beyond that.”
Just to prove it, Azaria bid goodbye in that fantastic Moe Szyslak voice. You can’t possibly ask for more than that.
All eight Brockmire episodes stream on IFC’s website.