It may be a good omen for the chemistry between “Free Agents” stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn that they’re already finishing each other’s sentences.
“It's really like an anti-romantic comedy in that these two people, they've lived through romantic comedy,” says Azaria of their new sitcom. “It didn't work out. They lived in the fantasy--”
“--with other people,” adds in Hahn, “and it didn’t--”
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“…go so nicely for them,” says Azaria. “And now they have to kind of really deal with--”
“--second acts,’’ Hahn finishes.
Based on the darkly funny British TV series of the same name, “Free Agents” casts Azaria as public relationship strategist Alex, freshly divorced and emotionally fragile, and Hahn as his office colleague Helen, a little too outwardly together after the recent death of her fiancé, and how they navigate the aftermath of a drunken one-night hookup.
Azaria concedes that, at least at the outset, his character actually appears more emotionally vulnerable than Hahn’s. “I think it might be reflecting society,” he suggests. “Men are more and more being allowed to, in a real way, show their vulnerability and admit that they have no idea what they're doing. Our generation was raised being allowed to have our feelings, and I think that is now being reflected in adult performances now. And my guy in this, he JUST got divorced. He's just a wreck. Temporarily, when I was divorced, I was doing worse than my character.”
“The fun part about this role is that her armor is so polished and she's so together,” agrees Hahn. “She takes a lot of pride in that, and underneath she's just a mess, just a mess. Still kind of can't quite reconcile it – she’s in total denial about losing her fiancé. I think that kind of push/pull is really fun to play against.”
Azaria admits it was the impressive pedigree of the series – the quality of the British version, the scripts crafted by “Party Down” scribe John Enbom, the direction by Emmy winner Todd Holland (“Malcolm In the Middle,” “30 Rock”) – that lured him back to network TV. In person, that is – his many voices have, of course, been a staple of “The Simpsons” for over two decades.
“It’s actually just me talking like myself, a lovely departure for me,” Azaria chuckles. “I had kind of sworn off network TV a long time ago. It didn’t really seem to go well for me, except when I just came in and guested, apart from animated series. But it was John, the script, the producers – it was all such good people, and I liked the script so much I was like ‘Ah, I don’t think I can turn this down.’ The schedule of shooting network stuff is one of the reasons I prefer cable, because you get a little more creative freedom and you only shoot 13. It’s more of a livable schedule. And this you have to fall in line more with certain creative restrictions, and there are 22 of them if it’s successful, neither of which thrilled me. But this thing was so good, I was like ‘All right – it’s worth taking a shot at.’"
Azaria says he expects that “reality will dictate” the evolution of Alex and Helen’s maybe-romance. “We have certain ideas, but we just want to commit to every beat of it being played real. They definitely become each other's touchstones and each other's best friends, but it's a lot of what if you hook up with the seemingly right person at the exact wrong time and the wrong place? Then what do you do?”
“It's gonna get messier and messier,” answers Hahn, “which I'm very excited about.”