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Free Agents Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn

This is an interview with Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn on September 12, 2011 about the show Free Agents.

Question:
Hank what would Hope say about Alex? Is there any kind of advice he would offer him?

Hank Azaria:
I think Hope would say that Alex is certainly in touch with his emotions. That's not his problem. So he's definitely feeling the sadness he's going through. Alex might have to work on sticking up for himself and boundaries and being his own advocate.

Question:
We've all been free agents at one time or another for whatever reason. When you were a free agent, what advice would you offer him?

Hank Azaria:
This too shall pass is probably the biggest one. It's such a cliche and you hate hearing those kind of time heals all wounds but I believe that getting over something like that actually is a grieving process and is almost a physical process that does take like nine to 12 months. And you kind of have to ride it out. And you get an opportunity to be on your own which you may not like. But you get to learn about what you like, what you don't like by yourself. And you get to figure out who you'd like to pick next so that it might not happen again.

Question:
Public relations was once described as having sex in public. I'm wondering if that's why it makes such a wonderful business for your two characters on the show?

Kathryn Hahn:
I think it's obviously like a kind of a delicious place to start. And these people their business has been in damage control. And what's of course interesting is to see underneath that very polished exterior at least for Helen their personal lives are total and abject disasters. And it's also putting yourself aside too for the good of your client and your own you're on what is to be an authentic person when you're being the advocate for something that maybe you don't believe in or that has politics you don't believe in. So I think it's an interesting, a really great and delicious place to start.

Hank Azaria:
It's an interesting profession these people have. They're like Kathryn said they spin other people's life very effectively but really can't do it so well for their own lives. And they for better or worse me make a living off of people's crises and tragedies. They're trying to do the same in their own life. They're trying to kind of make lemonade out of lemons of their own life and see what they can come up with.

Question:
I was wondering for both of you it's been a while since you've done television. What brought you both back to television?

Hank Azaria:
The script and John Enbom. We love to party down both Kathryn and I. And it was a tough decision for both of us because of the schedule. And we weren't really looking to do something like this right now but we just kind of couldn't ignore how good the material was and how fun the people seemed to be. And it seemed like a really worthy good shot at the very least we would have a lot of fun doing and we have.

Kathryn Hahn:
We both have young children and the schedule is relentless and so it's definitely not the beggars can be choosers in any way. I was definitely not thinking about a network kind of the schedule. And like you said John Enbom and then also just Hank just that he said yes to this I knew that there had to be something incredibly special because it took a lot to get him to come back to television in this form. The fact that he had vouched for it was a huge proponent of my decision.

Hank Azaria:
I didn't have that luxury of me saying yes first so I felt safe.

Question:
Have either of you seen the English version of the show?

Kathryn Hahn:
Yes I did. We both saw it. I saw it since the job was offered. And it's only six episodes and they're extraordinary. And acting is so incredible and the writing is so incredible and it's has a definitely like a cable sensibility to it. And we both were I think blown away by the scope and the breadth that this kind of scenario could allow us. And we of course God willing get to stretch it out over 22 episodes. They have a shorter season so it's going to take much longer for them to get to different places. And but yes it's extraordinary, it's extraordinary. This is definitely its own bird, the show that we're making now. And it's definitely finding its own voice and P of E. But that's a great touch stone. And obviously just huge, huge, just extraordinary huge fans of it.

Question:
What do you think sparks the chemistry that you two have between each other? Is there a certain personality quirk or combination that you guys bring to the show?

Hank Azaria:
I just knew Kathryn a little bit personally before we start working together and liked her. And I've had a big creative crush on her for a long time and loved her work. I just had a feeling that we sort of would speak the same language creatively. And then once I saw she was a cool person as well I figured well it's like falling out of a boat. You're going to hit the water, you don't have to try too much. It just seems like that kind of thing.

Kathryn Hahn:
Obviously I had just such a talent crush on this man, I mean he's extraordinary. What I was so pleased by was how effortless it has been. I think there was one day in the pilot that we both kind of were kind of tried to figure out who these people were. But I felt like we were in it together I really did feel like we were connected in the struggle of trying to figure out these characters. And it just felt very, very easy. He's a terrific human being and obviously an incredible actor so it's been really effortless.

Hank Azaria:
And Kathryn's very perceptive.

Question:
What you think of the show? How will it appeal to the general public?

Hank Azaria:
It's a good question. I mean it's definitely about real things, about real emotion, real problems, real sadness. And it's also really funny. So it's not your run-of-the-mill thing. So I'm very curious. I'm very proud of it. I know I love it. I like and I would watch it. So I hope people love it.

Kathryn Hahn:
Yes me too. I'm very, very proud of it. And I think about what's appealing is it's not a fairytale. I mean these people have been through it before. They're wizened and a little bit bitter and their eyes are wide open. And so I think there is something about the second chance of it that's really relatable and endearing. It's not the fairytale. It's like Hank keeps calling it an anti-romantic comedy which is I think right on. It's not it's not an easy ending.

Question:
You're both big Broadway stars. Do you have any Broadway plans in the future?

Hank Azaria:
For big Broadway stars we've all done a couple of plays.

Kathryn Hahn:
I've done one on Broadway.

Hank Azaria:
I would love to do Broadway again. I'm sure Kathryn would too.

Kathryn Hahn:
I cannot wait to go back. I can't wait. It was a yes, it was such a beautiful year. But again it's a huge amazing commitment and chunk of time. We have kids and I can't wait for the thing to come around that'll bring me back because I also love that city so much.

Hank Azaria:
Maybe we'll do something together on Broadway, Kathryn. That would be fun.

Kathryn Hahn:
Please let's do it. What should we do?

Hank Azaria:
Well if we wait enough years we can do the gin game like in 20 years.

Kathryn Hahn:
Fine, exactly, the visitor or the visit. Fine.

Question:
Hank, I noticed that you have been tweeting a bit. I was wondering if you're going to amp up your twitter efforts once the show is live to talk to your fans?

Hank Azaria:
I really am trying to tweet because you're supposed to. And I'm trying under the modern era and not just sit there and do oil paintings or something. Yes it's hard though especially on this schedule. You know, it's really I have nothing to say. I feel too embarrassed just to go I just had a couple coffee and now I'm walking down the street. I can't tweet things like that.

Question:
Hank, how do you relate to Alex through your personal dating experiences?

Hank Azaria:
I've been divorced and I had to get back out there be single again and do some of that in the genuinely miserable state where you really do wonder what the hell is going on. And you feel like they're trying to have casual conversation with someone you don't know on the surface of the moon or something. And so I know what it is like to be really either elated or completely depressed within two minutes of a date in your middle-aged. So I bring quite a lot of personal experience more than I care to.

Question:
How did it help to have Anthony Head on the series in the same role he played in the British original?

Kathryn Hahn:
He's so terrific. The British, in the original series he was able to go really raunchy and randy, just the dirtiest, slimiest just depravity all over. We've had to figure out creative ways for that depravity to come out. And he's been amazing. Like he always comes with like a bucket full of alternatives sayings and lines that leave a lot of alliteration and are just as dirty and the mind is real trying to imagine what the things he's talking about means. And he says it as such a gorgeous melodious accent it's just that much creepier. He's fantastic.

Hank Azaria:
Yes he's great. He really works hard at trying to get it right.

Question:
Kathryn, Alex has Stephen, Dan, and Greg to help him. Who does Helen turn to for advice?

Kathryn Hahn:
She turns to the bottle honey. She turns to Mr. Sauvignon Blanc preferably with a screw top. It doesn't matter how cold it is. I think she's trying to become the receptionist in the office, played by Natasha Leggero the other kind of the other woman who definitely comes from a different, completely different point of view. So she kind of like an anthropological experiment I think she tries to investigate how this young woman is handling it. But I think Helen is her borders are real closed I think.

Hank Azaria:
She also turns to Alex.

Kathryn Hahn:
Well more so than more so than any person it's definitely Alex is her touchstone. She's vulnerable to him in a way that she can't be with anybody else.

Question:
Kathryn, were you at all nervous when taking on this role?

Kathryn Hahn:
It's not an easy fit in a really great way. She's a challenge. I'm a person that just wears my heart kind of on the outside. It's a strange expression. I think this person is so bottled up and just and so closed off from her emotional life that that's been a real challenge to kind of find, but a delicious one because I think it's a very, a great place to start comedy-wise is somebody that's kind of a well of untapped emotions. Huge ones too, like great stuff is happening in there that she hasn't been able to let out yet except in small bursts with this gentleman that she works with, this very unexpected and profound connection she has with this man that she works with Alex, played by Hank Azaria.

Question:
You're considered the funny guy. Have you ever gotten in any trouble for any of your antics?

Hank Azaria:
In high school quite a lot. You know, when you mimic everyone sometimes authority figures really don't appreciate it which is not an original story. And pretty much every comedian has some tale of that. And then you know yes I have often gotten in my youth I used to especially with a couple of vodkas in me I just thought I thought I was absolutely hilarious. And the next thing I know there's a fist in my face. So there's been a couple of those too. So yes it would be a big fat yes would be the answer to that question.

Question:
And can you talk a little bit about the new documentary that you're planning on doing?

Hank Azaria:
I started a documentary a few years ago before Katie and I ever got pregnant about fatherhood because I was so fascinated with the whole subject. And then we got pregnant and continued shooting and shot through the birth of my son who's now 2 years old. And so we're looking actually for funding to finish up. It's about fatherhood and what it means to be a dad in this crazy modern era.

Kathryn Hahn:
I'll throw in 20 bucks.

Question:
Will any of that tie into Free Agent?

Hank Azaria:
Only in that I bring my character has older children than I do. But you really that's the kind of thing you only know can relate to once it happens to you being a father. So I certainly in the fact that Alex is a very caring nervous father I definitely relate to.

Question:
You've both done so much creatively that I'm always interested to hear what when you have free time, what do you like to watch on TV?

Kathryn Hahn:
I know I just saw the Wire which I know I'm like a step behind. I think it was off the air like ten minutes. I'm a little bit behind the times but I loved that series. The first episode I thought oh my God the next 40 hours of my life are going to be I was just hooked immediately. And then I love My Hoarders and intervention, shows that make me feel better about myself.

Hank Azaria:
Yes I also loved The Wire. I tend to not watch things that are current. And then if everybody swears it's amazing then I'll like watch the whole series in a weekend kind of thing. And then now especially with a little baby as opposed to a big baby I tend to watch mindless stuff that I can just escape into like I'll watch Jersey Shore and I'll watch Survivor and Big Brother and well did you say porn? Healthy amount of porn and really just silly things that are completely mindless and you could fall asleep to after 20 minutes and not really care.

Question:
Is there anything set on either of your VCRs and DVRs right now?

Kathryn Hahn:
A lot of Dino Dan, I have two young kids. So my VCR like you kind of have to sift through a lot of like Animal Mechanicals, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, like there's a lot of and then what did we have on, oh I love the Office and Parks and Recreations. And I love the two Greg Daniels shows. I was see the Hour, that BBC show. It's supposed to be incredible too.

Hank Azaria:
Yes I miss The Killing. I can't wait to like watch all of those in a row. I also watch a lot of really nerdy like I love Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole and The series The Universe and Naked Science. I love Naked Science all those Novaesk shows. It's just really cool like anatomy of a hurricane and killer volcano's and just really good documentaries on things like that.

Question:
Your characters certainly seem to have their own little issues and quirks. What do you find each of their most endearing and troubling characteristics to be in terms of both their general person and the relationship manifesting between Helen and Alex?

Hank Azaria:
I think Alex his greatest strength is also his biggest problem. He's very in touch with his emotions and honest about how he feels which is good and healthy. However it can slip very easily into whiny annoying. You know, there's a fine line between healthy expression of emotion and wallowing which he hasn't quite figured out yet.

Kathryn Hahn:
I would say there is something, what do I think is enduring about her? There's something to me that is appealing about how she's neurotic. She has her shell is so well-defined. Like her she's just polished. I like her little micro chord shift and her shoes and her hair is fantastic. And I love how much energy she spends on the outside where her inside is just like a total disaster. She's actually really paranoid I think like very concerned with how people see her which it just doesn't sound really appealing. It really doesn't sound that cute. I mean I could say like oh she's a lush. Like she loves her liquor.

Underneath it there is there's a women that keeps her pictures of her dead fiance on her walls. I mean there's something about her that's just really sentimental and kind of an old-fashioned romantic in there that has had her heart just trampled on. So she's in their she's a little softy.

Question:
Obviously the two of you film a lot of scenes together. But how is it to go from just the two of you and then jumping to other scenes with the rest of the incredible cast?

Hank Azaria:
It's great. We're still all learning each other. It's almost like I to use a sports analogy it's like a team trying to find their chemistry with each other. It takes a little while to gel like it didn't happen overnight in Miami for Lebran and Wade and Chris Bosh. I mean so you have to sort of the uses some of these rhythms and but it's really fun to do. I mean they're all really wonderful and we're really lucky on this one. Everybody is genuinely a good person, fun to work with, tries really hard, is very generous. So we're all having a good time.

Kathryn Hahn:
Yes.

Question:
You guys both come from comedy and then this is a remake of a British show plus you have John Enbom behind it. I'm just curious if you could talk a little bit about the style of comedy and maybe how it compares to some other things you've done?

Kathryn Hahn:
It's a different kind of comedy then I feel like the pilot it's so interesting. The pilot kind of sets this very grounded foundation I think that is now going to enable us to go kind of off into a surprising comedy, just comedy I think moments and scenarios. Like I think you needed to ground these people first before they can do what we know we can do and like our wheelhouse comedy-wise because the cast is so genius. And John Enbom is such an unbelievably funny writer and true writer, but yet he's able we're able to do these very surprising and hilarious things. So I think it's extraordinarily funny. It's just the right amount of lowbrow and highbrow that just hits me right in the funny bone.

Hank Azaria:
Yes it's based on it's definitely starting with reality. And the emotional and the logistical reality of these people's lives especially Alex and Helen's and the reality of there where they are emotionally. And then still starting from there Phil Rosenthal is a good friend of mine who ran Everybody loves Raymond for years. And the way he used to describe it was the big rule is you just can't take the train to crazy town is the way he described it. You can't be funny for funny's sake. You try to get as farsticle and outrageous situation as you can but it always has to be believable and based in real character motivations and what people would really do. So it's hard. It's hard to execute, and it's hard to get the right tone. But it's a worthy effort.

Question:
Kathryn you're such a scene stealer in all the movies you do. How does it feel to finally break out into the lead?

Kathryn Hahn:
Well it's so easy because I'm just as in denial as Helen but I really do feel like it's another amazing gig. And I'm surrounded by this incredible it just feels like an ensemble to me. So I can't quite see it as lead or else I think I that would put a weird thought in my head that would take me away from actually just doing the job. I just want to show up and be as true to her as possible and to be able to work with Hank.

He is I mean so unbelievable as I'm sure you know. He's an incredible actor. And he's so that makes it so easy because I know you're only as funny as the scene that you can't really just be funny in a vacuum. And so I thank God have someone to play with that's as open and effortless as I like to work. It feels really, really freeing. And she's a different part. It's not like if you definitely not as broad as some parts. So it's been really fun to try to find the comedy because God knows I did write a book called Making Faces with Kathryn Hahn. It's been really fun to find. It's funny.

Question:
You're working with Hank Azaria.

Kathryn Hahn:
My job is taken care of. I just kind of like stand there and like he's so brilliant. I feel like I'm being taken to school too. It's like just he's so brilliant and so like a mathematician about it. And I feel sometimes like I just take these wide broad like sweeps and maybe some is funny and some is not. But he's such a technician that it's really humbling. I'm learning a lot.

Hank Azaria:
This is my favorite call so far.

Question:
On the PR tip like how involved like are you in your own PR through the years? And did you talk to publicists or your people to like research the roles and that type of thing?

Hank Azaria:
That's separate from getting roles really. You whine at your agent about different roles you want to do. And with PR I've gone in and out. It's something that PR you definitely have to make peace with. Most actors if you really gave them the choice they would say I just don't want to deal with it. But you absolutely it's a big part of our business and you have to at least have some working knowledge of it and understand that it's necessary. And as important as the work you do as an actor is how you participate in promoting it. And so and promoting yourself. I mean it's just that's the way it is. You can't deny it. I try to keep a watchful eye on it without getting obsessive about it is what I'm trying to say.

Kathryn Hahn:
It's like I'm such a grandma. I don't even I don't tweet, I don't have a Facebook page. I mean I'm so like but I will say having gotten this job I work with a really great PR firm only like when we're ramping up for certain jobs. It's not like I need one all the time because I have no I have no life. I have had a lot of empathy watching her through this process because you really do as appearances they're themselves, like their self is so hidden, like they're so about the person that they're representing that it's been interesting to watch like just how much BS they have to just swallow. I mean myself I would be the worst. Like I was the worst waitress, I would be the worst because I have no poker face. So I it's been very interesting to a lot of empathy for someone that just, actors can be such whiners. It's been really interesting to watch her through this.

Question:
I read somewhere that Agador Spartacus' accent really came from your grandmother?

Hank Azaria:
That is pretty true. I actually worked on a Guatemalan accent and then was pretty meticulous about it and sort of had it narrowed down to two different sort of versions of the voice and the character and then picked one. And then not long into rehearsing I realized I sound exactly like my grandmother. I could have just skipped all of that and then I did and I kind of embraced that. She was a very loving maternal sweet woman. And my character in the Birdcage was so Faye and so feminine that it gave me very specific way to be sort of mothering and girly.

Question:
The Flying Dutchman is mentioned in the show and I'm wondering if this was the first time an opera by Wagner is mixed in with a sexual act?

Hank Azaria:
Probably not would be my guess.

Kathryn Hahn:
No.

Hank Azaria:
And you can ask grandma that. She was game.

Kathryn Hahn:
I doubt it. Exactly.

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