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As “The Simpsons’ ” gruff barkeep Moe Szyslak — and several other Springfieldians — Hank Azaria has been a part of the longest-running American TV show almost since its inception. He’s now wrapping a run in quite a different role, as the overly ambitious head of the L.A. division of the FBI on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan.” In fact, it was a part as an FBI agent in the 1988 TV film “Nitti: The Story of Frank Nitti, the Enforcer” that landed him his first Variety credit.

What do you recall of the movie?

I remember being tremendously excited that I was going to be on television. I think it was actually the second job I ever got, but it was the first thing to actually air.

Do you remember the first time you did see your name in Variety?

I definitely remember the first time I was like a story. The first time you see yourself as like a headline in Variety. That is a moment in your life. I think there might have been a feature on me or some attention I got for like “The Birdcage” or, if not, it might have been connected to like a pilot I did right after that, which I think was a CBS show called “If Not For You” with Elizabeth McGovern.

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Did you enjoy that time in your life?

It was definitely a learning experience. It was the first year I was in L.A., and I was still adjusting. It’s funny — I loved L.A. the first year, and then I started getting really homesick for New York. The jury was still out on whether I’d have a career or not. The bulk of my time I was catering with a company in Pasadena.

Is this when you decided to become bicoastal and stay in LA, but keep the theater thing in New York?

No, [New York] wasn’t even an option. I was definitely in L.A. for the long haul. I guess at that point, I was still seeing what would work. The jury was still out on whether I’d have a career or not. That was my second job and it took about six to eight months to get those two jobs. I know the first two or three years I was out here, I’d work two or three times maybe. That’s a lot of rejection. I was catering. That’s what I was doing with the bulk of my time. I was catering with a company in Pasadena.

What was the best thing about that time in your life?

There wasn’t too much to brag about back then. I was about to get that “Simpsons” job but that was about a year away. It was probably the friends I was making, the support group.

Was it tough to land acting jobs?

Things were different then. I’m old enough to say that with confidence and with accuracy. There were only three channels doing programming. Fox didn’t exist yet. NBC, CBS and ABC did a lot of pilots every year because they could afford to. And any actor worth his salt would get a pilot. Only about 10% of them went to series, but they paid pretty well. And if you did a pilot a year, your quote would go up each year. By the time you did your third or fourth pilot, you’d make enough to live off for a year. And back then, if you did TV, you didn’t do movies and vice versa. There were movie stars and TV stars and if your TV show was super popular then you’d have one chance at a big movie. If it worked, like it did for Michael J. Fox, then … if it didn’t, then you went back to television.

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Who were your mentors?

My acting teacher Roy London was the main one. Even my voiceover work benefitted from what I learned in Roy’s class. I actually got a lot funnier — and he wasn’t teaching comedy.

Did you have any sense your big break was just around the corner? 

You hope there’s going to be a break or three that go your way. Otherwise you should stop doing it. I always say show business will tell you what it wants to do with you.

Would you describe your memories of that time as nostalgic?

I just turned 50 and that time was my youth, so whatever I was doing — if I was pursuing acting or growing grass or whatever I was doing — I would look back on it with nostalgia. Even the music back then. ‘80s music I wasn’t particularly a huge fan of at the time, but now when I look back on them, they remind me of life back then. I really am grateful that I was in L.A. at a time when it was a little bit easier to get around in the car. Because you’re going to three auditions a day — one in the Valley and one at Fox and one in West Hollywood. You lived in that car. It was a lot easier just to jump around. That was mostly what your job was — just to show up and get rejected. It was really hard. I was aware that, whether I failed or succeeded, at least I was following my dream.

If you could go back to that time, what would you do differently?

Mostly I wouldn’t worry, but that’s easy to say now, isn’t it? The hardest part of it was the anxiety of, is this going to work out for me or not? I always tell young actors to definitely have a Plan B. I thought if it didn’t work out by the time I was 29 or 30, I’d go back to grad school and become a therapist.