Smurf hunter feel­ing blue

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - MOVIES - NEALA JOHN­SON

IT’S not easy be­ing mean. At least that’s what Hank Azaria dis­cov­ered when he signed on to play Gargamel, bring­ing to life the cartoon sor­cerer for a new- mil­len­nium take on The Smurfs.

Azaria, renowned for his quirky char­ac­ters and end­less ar­ray of voices, found play­ing Gargamel an of­ten lonely and phys­i­cally bur­den­some ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s so weird be­ing in this make- up that I feel a bit like a gar­goyle and it’s hard to en­joy any­thing, re­ally,” Azaria said.

“It’s great fun when you’re act­ing be­cause you look like Gargamel but it’s just too weird, walk­ing around as Gargamel. It’s eas­ier just to go and hide.”

Azaria’s vil­lain ( and his cat, Azrael) was un­doubt­edly the best thing about The Smurfs, the re­vamp mix­ing live- ac­tion and an­i­ma­tion that hit cinemas in 2011.

And the char­ac­ter does have its up- sides, the 49- year- old added. Like the fact the per­pet­u­ally Smurf- chas­ing bad­die gives him per­mis­sion to be an­gry – even if the lit­tle blue crea­tures he’s chas­ing aren’t ac­tu­ally there.

“I’m al­most a liv­ing spe­cial ef­fect in th­ese movies,” Azaria said. “The stuff I’m do­ing is all so con­nected to spe­cial ef­fects, even the gags, it’s crazy. You sort of know in your head what the end re­sult is gonna be, but you’re not sure.

“And the crew, they’re just look­ing at you like you’re nuts … so you’re al­most in your own lit­tle world. It’s a lit­tle lonely and a lit­tle de­press­ing.

“But it’s also cathar­tic. I’m a lit­tle bit more re­laxed be­cause I’m scream­ing in char­ac­ter so much it’s like, ‘ I re­ally got it out nicely there’.”

For the first Smurfs, Azaria hit the streets of New York in full Gargamel get- up, walk­ing sev­eral blocks in the open to get from make- up to set. But, he laughed, “no­body no­ticed”.

“No­body said any­thing, ex­cept for one guy who just walked by me and very ca­su­ally, as if it hap­pened ev­ery day, went, ‘ Whas­sup, Gargamel’.”

Things had changed by The Smurfs 2, when Azaria went pub­lic in Paris.

“There was more recog­ni­tion, es­pe­cially from chil­dren. One lit­tle child in par­tic­u­lar, he kept try­ing to pull my nose off. It be­came a se­cu­rity is­sue.”

While play­ing Gargamel clearly didn’t pro­vide the most fun Azaria could have on a film set, there are worse ways to spend a few months.

“When I did a holo­caust drama, I started get­ting de­pressed. When I did Tues­days With Mor­rie and watched Jack Lem­mon pre­tend to die, I fin­ished the job and won­dered why I was sad – ‘ Oh, be­cause I spent the last two months do­ing some­thing pretty sad’. That will get me, but not this kind of stuff.”

Azaria will be back if the third Smurfs story goes ahead. In the mean­time, he’ll soon be seen in Lovelace, the biopic in which Amanda Seyfried plays porn star Linda Lovelace.

“It’s pretty raunchy and crude, and harsh and dis­turb­ing,” Azaria said, not­ing he would keep his four- year- old son away from it “un­til he’s old enough”.

And, of course, The Simp­sons ( in which Azaria voices Apu, Moe and Chief Wig­gum among oth­ers) is an on­go­ing con­cern.

“I don’t think I imag­ined I would play wildly ac­cented, strange- talk­ing char­ac­ters and half of them would be naked,” Azaria said of the dreams he had as a teenager.

“I was a huge fan of Peter Sell­ers, but I wor­shipped guys like ( Al) Pa­cino and ( Robert) De Niro as well. I wish I could play roles like that but it’s just not the way my ca­reer has gone.

“I re­ally do feel like – and I don’t mean this to sound cocky or over- confi dent – if early in my ca­reer I had got­ten a role like that, rather than say The Bird­cage ( as a flam­boy­ant gay house­keeper), then maybe my ca­reer would have gone more that way.

“Peo­ple know me so much as th­ese silly, wild char­ac­ters, it would be hard for me to over­come the im­age I’ve cre­ated.

“But what­ever, I’m just glad to be work­ing. Maybe I’ll get lucky later in my ca­reer.” THE SMURFS 2 Opens at Vil­lage Cinemas on Septem­ber 12

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