by Showtime Networks Inc.
Former classmates and friends find themselves
starring together in a new television series.
When Oliver Platt met Hank Azaria at Tufts in the
early ’80s, it was love at first laugh. Hank walked
into the Balch Arena Theater one day—“this
goofy guy from Queens,” recalls Platt, A83, who was
already an established star on campus. “He was incredibly
precocious and bright, with an encyclopedic compendium of
comedy routines.” Azaria, A87, was equally amused,
but for different reasons.
“At that age, you imagine a leading-man guy to be a
young Brando,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting
this big, hulking, really talented comedian. Even back then,
his personal style and charm were very original. He was hilarious.”
Now, after more than two decades’ friendship and equally
credentialed résumés, Platt, 44, and Azaria,
40, are working together for the first time, co-starring
on Showtime’s bold new drama, !Huff. Set to air on
November 7, the show is slated for the 10 p.m. timeslot on
Azaria stars as Dr. Craig “Huff” Huffstodt, an
earnest psychiatrist whose world collapses when one of his
patients, a 15-year-old boy, commits suicide in his office.
Platt plays Russell Tupper, Huff’s lawyer, best pal,
and ex-running buddy from their single days. Rounding out
the exceptional cast are Paget Brewster as Huff’s understanding
wife, with Blythe Danner as his manipulative mother-in-law
and Anton Yelchin as his sensitive teenage son.
Azaria “was on a very short list of people we thought
would be perfect for the role,” says Robert Greenblatt,
president of entertainment for Showtime Networks Inc. “He
has such charisma, and he’s equally real in the way
he delivers funny and dramatic stuff. He’s eminently
As part of the deal, Azaria was also named a producer. When
he pitched his old Jumbo compadre to Greenblatt, “I
thought, ‘He’s perfect,’” Greenblatt
says. “I didn’t know they were college friends.
Their relationship on-screen is like their relationship in
real life. They’re very much in sync, creatively. They
Given Platt’s and Azaria’s past experience with
broadcast-network TV, Greenblatt figured he didn’t have
a shot at either actor. Azaria’s NBC sitcom Imagine
That crashed and burned after two episodes in January 2002.
Ditto for Platt’s Queens Supreme, on CBS in January
2003. Platt’s NBC drama Deadline lasted five episodes
in fall 2000. Azaria and Platt were both dubious, to put it
mildly, at first. What convinced them to re-enter the ring
was the artistic freedom and absence of ratings pressure offered
by premium cable.
“I had tremendous hesitation,” says Azaria, who’s
won three Emmy Awards for voicing such characters as bartender
Moe Szyslak and Chief Clancy Wiggum on Fox’s animated
The Simpsons. “I almost guarantee that I will never
work in broadcast TV again.
“You can’t put the same level of truth or harshness
or reality in a broadcast show. The best performances you’re
going to see are on cable.”
Platt, an Emmy nominee for his guest role as intense White
House counsel Oliver Babish on NBC’s West
“I’d be extremely gun-shy about a broadcast-network
series. If you’re lucky enough to accidentally make
a good show, but you don’t put up decent numbers right
away, you’re off the air. I believe all the intelligent
material is on cable these days.”
After just five of 13 ordered episodes were produced, Showtime’s
Greenblatt renewed !Huff in July for a second season, an
unprecedented four months before its debut. Showtime only
produces two or three original series each year, so each
takes on heightened importance. Unlike broadcast networks,
cable doesn’t have the luxury of tossing shows that
aren’t working and replacing them at midseason. Besides,
Showtime’s crazy for !Huff, according to Greenblatt.
Azaria’s and Platt’s characters are almost mirror
opposites of their real-life personas. Huff is a devoted husband
and father. Azaria, briefly married to actress Helen Hunt,
is currently not dating. Tupper is a lone-wolf sex addict
and drug abuser, in addition to being a great lawyer. Platt
has been married for 12 years and has a son and two daughters.
(Azaria is godfather to his son, George, born in 1997.) During
production, Platt commutes from New York to L.A. rather than
relocate his family to the West Coast.
Tupper “is not a bad guy,” Platt insists. “Actually,
he’s scared and lonely. You could say he’s following
his bliss. I’ve known people who are incredibly good
at what they do, but are given to all kinds of compulsive
behavior. The main facilitator of their denial is their talent.”
Believe it or not, Azaria was the psychology major (along
with drama.) For Platt, a drama major from Windsor, Ontario, “all
I ever wanted to do was be a working New York stage actor.”
Tufts’ drama department “very much prepared me
in a real-world way,” says Platt, a career diplomat’s
son who was raised in China, Japan, and Washington, D.C. “They
made us do everything—act, direct, design sets, work
backstage. It really got you ready for the collaborative
nature of acting.”
Azaria’s Tufts experience became a drama in itself.
A self-described “very good student,” his grades
dropped after he fell in love with acting. “I lost my
concentration for academics. My heart was into pursuing acting
and theater. I missed classes, got incompletes,” he
says. “I was a mess. But I showed up for rehearsal on
Azaria marched with his graduating class in 1985 but was
two credits’ shy of a diploma. A year later, after
moving to L.A., he was complaining to his mother “about
how there was nothing going on” in acting.
“She said, ‘I don’t think anything will
be going on until you get your degree,’” he recalls. “I
asked her to remove ‘the mother’s curse’ on
my head, then took classes at UCLA and completed my drama
The diligence paid off. In 1999, Azaria was given Tufts’ Light
on the Hill Award.
Dr. Huffstodt is his first psychiatrist. “I have a
fascination with shrinks,” says Azaria, who’s
been in therapy, on and off, for 15 years. “They listen
to people’s innermost secrets all day long. There’s
a whole science devoted to how people think and feel. It’s
the most mysterious thing in the world to me.”
Platt, however, is no stranger to smarmy lawyers, having
played them twice in feature films, A
Time to Kill (1996)
and Indecent Proposal (1993).
“I’m not sure if I’m attracted to the role
or the roles are attracted to me,” he says. “A
good lawyer role is usually a pretty good role. And a dissolute
lawyer on cable is so dissolute.”
After production on !Huff wrapped in early September, Platt
flew to Venice to begin work on the big-screen Casanova.
Heath Ledger stars as the legendary lover in director Lasse
Hallstrom’s “loose, postmodern” adaptation.
Platt co-stars with Sienna Miller and Jeremy Irons.
For Azaria, his next project is Mike Nichols’ Broadway
version of Monty Python’s Holy Grail, expected to debut
in February 2005. (In Nichols’ film The
Azaria won raves for his scene-stealing performance as Guatemalan
houseboy Agador “Spartacus.”)
“Mike called in January and asked if I wanted to do
this,” Azaria remembers. “I said, ‘Are
Azaria is loyal to those loyal to him. Astute viewers will
notice that the diploma hanging in Huff’s office is
from Tufts. Azaria swears it wasn’t his idea. “Somebody
very clever did the research. I was quite charmed by it.”