Smurf hunter feeling blue
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