Hank Azaria in Free Agents
(© NBC)
Hank Azaria in Free Agents
(© NBC)
Hank Azaria has thrilled Broadway audiences in Monty Python's Spamalot and The Farnsworth Invention, starred in such films as The Birdcage, and Along Came Polly, and has earned four Emmy Awards for his work in television, which includes Huff, Tuesdays with Morrie, and The Simpsons, for which he has created over 30 characters including Moe, Chief Wiggums and Apu.

On September 14, Azaria returns to the small screen in NBC's new comedy, Free Agents, co-starring Broadway veteran Kathryn Hahn, and which follows the romantic ordeals of two public relations executives on the rebound. Azaria talked to TheaterMania about returning to TV, his views on office romances, and crying for the camera.

THEATERMANIA: Free Agent is based on the cult hit U.K. series of the same name. Were you a fan of that show?
HANK AZARIA: I really loved the UK version. I almost loved it too much because we can't do exactly that, and we have to turn it into a network American version. We've been working really hard to transpose it into American-ese.

TM: The show's premise centers around an office romance. Do you think they're a good idea?
HA: The blanket statement is, it's a horrible idea. In fact, "blanking where you eat" is the term that comes to mind. You can really ruin a work environment and you're stuck there. If you have a romance that goes bad you have to sort it out because it can make everyone else miserable too. It can be harder for the people around you.

TM: But there are always stories about actors having romantic relationships on the set, right?
HA: It comes up a lot with actors because your job is to flirt and have chemistry and pretend to have sex with each other. It gets confusing to know where real life begins and pretending ends.

TM: Your character Alex is highly emotional. Is that something you could relate to?
HA: I relate more to that than I care to admit. He's a recently divorced man and he's very, very sad about that. He has no idea how to be single or that sad in public. He cries a lot in public. As much as people enjoy the pilot, they're a little upset about the crying. Which is one of the things I like about the show. It pushes the envelope of what you might be comfortable with emotionally. I can relate to him. When I was in a similar state, perhaps I didn't cry as much in public, but I understand what it's like to feel that way.

TM: So those are real tears we see you cry?
HA: It depends on the shot. If you have to break down and cry you really have to do it, and those are rough days on the set. But if you can, you do the menthol boo-hoo fake-it version.

TM: In a lot of your previous comic roles, you use accents and flamboyant mannerisms, but this character's humor is based in a more natural approach to the laughs. Is that more or less of a challenge for you?
HA: It's both. Being funny with a funny voice is more my comfort zone. But playing characters that are so out there and high strung is physically exhausting. It's easier to be someone closer to myself. So this is easier to do, but I have less practice at it.