As FBI director Ed Cochran on Showtime’s Ray Donovan, Hank Azaria is a long way from his much-celebrated work on The Simpsons, Family Guy and the new Bordertown. Azaria has long been recognized for the brilliance of his voice work, but as Cochran in season 2 of Ray Donovan, he embodied an unlikeable sociopathic rogue who enjoyed some raunchy sex and even some singing. Azaria says of the role, “It was fun to not be hampered by human emotions like compassion and pity.”
Season 3 of Ray Donovan is coming up – will we see more of Ed?
I don’t think I’m supposed to say for sure or not, but it’s certainly possible that he’ll be back.
He’s something of a sociopath – what drew you to that role?
Well, it’s pretty well-written, and I liked the show already. I’m a fan of the show, and I always thought they needed to bring somebody in who could sort of call Ray on his bull***t and push back, and so it was fun that they were doing that at all, let alone to be the guy to do it, and this guy’s purely motivated by power.
You’ve joked the rest of the cast were standoffish when you joined them, but was there immediate chemistry?
Well, that’s just on camera, not at the craft service table. No, you know what? It really is very nice. In TV like that, it’s like shooting an indie film. You’ve got to get the work done. So it’s really all about concentrating, then going at it in the scene, shooting it as quickly and as well as you can, and moving on. There’s not too much time for playing around. That said, it was really fun doing that with all those guys, and everybody was very welcoming and creative, and it was definitely one of the more fun jobs I’ve had for sure.
Sex scenes and singing – how did you approach those?
Well, not being a porn performer and not being a professional singer, I was more worried about the singing than the adult film acting, but the guy doesn’t really need to sound like a rock star. I needed to sound like an FBI guy with a weekend band. So that I figured I could handle. As far as the sex stuff goes, every once in a while in your career, if you’re lucky or unlucky enough, you get to strip down and go for it, and I attribute this line to Tom Hanks, but I think somebody said it before him. I think that he said whenever he’s about to do a sex scene, he turns to the actress, usually it’s an actress I guess, and says, “I apologize if I do, and I apologize if I don’t.” I’m sure you can glean what he’s talking about. What’s funny and true about that is it’s just about getting though an extremely awkward day as best you can. It’s our job to forget cameras are there, but that gets a little harder when – and pardon the pun – when you’re naked and pretending to have sex. It’s just really weird.
Do you have a favorite moment from Ray Donovan?
It’s funny. I like the stuff towards the beginning before you knew what a psychopath he was. I really enjoyed just playing the guy in charge. In the first couple of scenes, that first scene with Jon Voight where I just told him he was going to go to jail unless he did what I said, that was a really well-written scene. I was happy with how Jon and I were able to both navigate through that, and then I also really enjoyed coming unglued later interrogating Jon. He was really great in both those scenes. He’s completely present always. So any new little thing you try, he notices, and he responds in kind, and he was pretty creative and brave, and those two are my favorite bookendy scenes.
Had you met Sherilyn Fenn before?
I had never met her before. I was never a huge Twin Peaks fan, but I knew her from that, and again, it was an awkward little relationship on camera. She’s a very sweet woman. You’re playing a couple who are very devoted to each other in their own really weird way, and so you just want to connect with that person as a human being as best you can, and she’s very easy to do that with. She’s a very loving, sweet, open person. So that was easy to do.
What’s up next for you?
We’ll know whether it’s picked up or not the next couple of months, but it’s about a baseball announcer who has a nervous breakdown. It’s from a short for Funny or Die. We based a series on it. I also did this movie called Oppenheimer Strategies for this really great filmmaker named Joseph Cedar, an Israeli filmmaker, and his last two films were nominated for Oscars for ‘best foreign film.’ This one has Richard Gere and Steve Buscemi. It’s a very New York story. I think it’s a really good movie. That’ll be out next year, and then I’m thinking about another Broadway show – a musical version of The Honeymooners television show. So that’s what I have.
I don’t have to sing too much!
You’re so well known for your voiceover work – what do love about it?
I’m really a mimic at heart. So, to be able to use all those voices to some good purpose besides annoying my friends or teachers was a great thing, but it’s really not all voiceover things I love. It’s being able to be a part of The Simpsons, which is a tremendous, iconclastical thing, that has been amazing. It’s been really genuine fun.
And you’ve got Bordertown too now?
Yes. That’s Seth McFarlane and Mark Hentemann, and it’s very Family Guy-esque. It’s a very similar sensibility. It’s about a border agent who’s extremely prejudiced against Mexicans working on the Mexicali border there, and it’s pretty funny. It’s pretty out there.
What roles are on your bucket list?
I would pretty much kill to work with Martin Scorsese in anything. I wouldn’t be bummed to be working with Steven Soderbergh. I love Will Ferrell, I love Zach Galifianakis. I’d love to work with either of those two guys in whatever way. You know who I’m a huge fan of and I actually wrote them a fan letter? Key & Peele. I love them.