Last heard as Chief Wiggum, Apu, and Moe in The Simpsons Movie, this fall Hank Azaria appears in the flesh in Aaron Sorkin’s new play, The Farnsworth Invention, about the patent war over the invention of TV. And he gets to be something of a bad guy: David Sarnoff, a Murdoch-ian communications mogul.
This is one of Sorkin’s first big projects since Studio 60 flopped. Did you watch the show?
Much of it.
And—what did you think?
You know, I thought it was brilliant. But ultimately, I felt similarly to how I felt about Sports Night—you could see the brilliance in it, but I don’t know that it exactly applied to the subject matter in a way that was satisfying. Focusing on the specific inner workings of a comedy or sports TV show clearly couldn’t sustain a series.
The Farnsworth Invention is also about TV, though. Is that worrisome?
Okay, I went in with a skeptical eye myself. And granted, I’m a geek, so when I read it, I was kind of like, I’m a geek, so I’m going to like this, but I don’t know that everybody will.
But now, after having seen it performed, you think people will like it as much as you do?
Well, I feel that this play—and not just ’cause I’m in it—this is Aaron’s instinct focused correctly. He’s taking a historical event and humanizing it, like he did with A Few Good Men. That’s when I think Aaron is most resonant.
You’re always so likable in your performances—is it going to be a challenge to play a bad guy?
My good friend Oliver Platt gave me this advice: “Even though you’re playing a dick, you got to play the role like you’re making the case before God why you deserve to be in Heaven.” So I don’t see myself as the bad guy, like, at all.
The Farnsworth Invention
Music Box Theatre; opens November 14.