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About Henry Albert (Hank) Azaria
Trained as a stage actor, Hank Azaria had an almost empty film and television résumé, and earned his living mostly as a bartender, before he became one of the principal voice actors on the animated television series The Simpsons (1989–present) for which he is most noted. He performs the voices of Moe Szyslak, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, Carl Carlson and numerous others.
He was born Henry Albert Azaria on April 25, 1964 in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, the son of Sephardic Jewish parents from Thessaloniki, Greece. His father, Albert, 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 often "memorize[d] and mimic[ked]" the scripts of the films, shows and stand-up comedy routines that he enjoyed.
Azaria attended The Kew-Forest School in Forest Hills. He did not consciously decide to become an actor until he performed 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 until 1985, before training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. At Tufts he met Oliver Platt, with whom he became best friends; Azaria 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.
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.
After arriving in Los Angeles in 1986, Azaria met with Harry Gold. The agent was lukewarm about working with him, but 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," so Gold began sending him out for auditions. He made his first television appearance with a role in the pilot episode of the 1986 ABC comedy-drama series Joe Bash, which starred 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. Between acting jobs he performed as a stand-up comedian, and worked as a bartender for a catering firm.
Despite his unique talent for mastering a wide variety of voices, Azaria never considered a voiceover career. That all changed when he voiced the title character in the semi-animated, "Roger Babbit"-esque Hollywood Dog. The casting director for that failed pilot was also casting for The Simpsons (Fox, 1989- ), the long-running, fully animated series about the comically dysfunctional Simpsons family. Initially brought in to replace the voice actor for Moe Szyslak, owner-operator of Moe's Tavern, Azaria created a colorful palate of characters over the years, most notably Chief Wiggum, Apu Nahasapeemaptilon - owner of the local Kwik-E-Mart - and the dubious Dr. Nick Riviera.
Alongside his continued voice acting on The Simpsons, Azaria became more widely known through his live-action appearances in films such as The Birdcage (1996) and Godzilla (1998). He has continued to star in numerous films including Mystery Men (1999), America's Sweethearts (2001), Shattered Glass (2003), Along Came Polly (2004), Run Fatboy Run (2007), Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) and The Smurfs (2011).
He also had recurring roles on the television series Mad About You and Friends, and starred in the drama Huff (2004–2006), playing the titular character, as well as appearing in the popular stage musical Spamalot. Originally primarily a comic actor, in recent years Azaria has taken on more dramatic roles including the TV films Tuesdays With Morrie (1999) and Uprising (2001).
Azaria was married to actress Helen Hunt from 1999 to 2000. He began dating former actress Katie Wright in 2007, and the two have one son together, Hal, who was born in 2009.