Hank Azaria is more often heard than seen, given that he’s about to start his 25th season as the voice of Moe, Apu, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, et al. on “The Simpsons.” But he has a long history in front of the camera as well. He can currently be seen, under impressive makeup, as Gargamel in “The Smurfs 2.” The flipside of his talents can be seen in “Lovelace,” a biopic about the making of the legendary box office juggernaut porn “Deep Throat,” in which he plays the film’s director, Jerry Damiano.
You were very young when “Deep Throat” came out. How aware of it were you then?
You heard about it. It was a big deal. I remember hearing “Deep Throat” and confusing it with Watergate. I knew it was sexual, but I obviously never saw the film, at least back then.
What attracted you to the project?
People were asking me if I had second thoughts doing it. I could imagine why Amanda [Seyfried, who plays star Linda Lovelace] might have second thoughts, with all the nudity. But I can’t imagine why anyone else would. Post-“Boogie Nights,” why would anybody hesitate? You’d think I’d been asked to do a porn.
How did you prepare for the role?
There was a lot of interview footage of this guy. He’s much like I portray him — he was very sweet and open and enthusiastic and thinking he was making art. He loved making movies, and loved pornography. It wasn’t “Oh, s—, I wanted to be a filmmaker and I got stuck here!” This guy really loved making adult movies and wanted them to be as great as they could be, almost in a childlike way.
Was it easy to get into that ‘70s vibe?
The wardrobe and the hair really did that for us. It’s hard not to feel like you’re in the ‘70s when you’re dressed head-to-toe in polyester. I found myself very grateful we’re no longer in the polyester era, even though I wore it as a kid. Boy, is that stuff uncomfortable and ridiculous. It’s like wearing plastic. It doesn’t breathe.
How do you handle that tonal switch as an actor?
You just try to play things honestly. I was depicting jerry very much as he was, how he sounded. He had his sense of humor and what he was earnest about. They did a smart thing in editing: They made it two very clear sections — here’s the happy version of what happened, and here’s the more realistic not so f—ing happy version of what happened. By doing that they avoided anybody saying this film has tonal problems. It’s true that, like life, both extremes existed at the same time. But they were smart in the way they cut it to give you one version of the story, then another.
The directors are documentarians. How is it like working with them as an actor?
I admire their documentaries. I like working for guys like that because — and maybe I was just imaging this — you get the feeling they want your performance to be very realistic. They want it true and simple. That’s always the way I like to work. You run into that in places, like television. “Who cares if it doesn’t make sense? It’s funny!” To me, it’s not funny if it doesn’t make sense. These guys never wanted to cheat the reality of the situation.
What are some of the major differences of creating a character in voicework versus live action?
With that, you’re really only revealing yourself through your voice. There’s no facial expressions or body language. There’s no memorizing. You don’t have to look a certain way. It’s easier to experiment. You just do something without discussing it first. It’s really fluid. Tape is cheap, as we like to say in the voiceover world.