Don’t expect “Simpsons” actor Hank Azaria to ever lend his voice again to Kwik-E-Mart proprietor Apu.
In a new interview with the New York Times, the actor explains his decision to step away from the iconic character after so many years.
Controversy has surrounded the long-running character after the release of comedian Hari Kondabolu’s 2018 documentary “The Problem With Apu”, which explored the negative impact from the stereotypes it perpetuates, including the over-the-top Indian accent used by Azaria.
“Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” Azaria told the Times. “It just didn’t feel right.”
Producers have not yet confirmed whether the Apu character will continue to appear without Azaria voicing him.
“What happened with this character is a window into an important issue,” Azaria said. “It’s a good way to start the conversation. I can be accountable and try to make up for it as best I can.”
Azaria also talked about the origins of the character, including taking inspiration from Peter Sellers’ brownface role in the 1968 comedy “The Party”, which many Indian people found offensive, unbeknownst to him.
“That represents a real blind spot I had,” he said. “There I am, joyfully basing a character on what was already considered quite upsetting.”
The actor added that, despite stepping away from the character, he is proud of his work on “The Simpsons”, which includes voicing a number of other characters on the show.
“I love this show,” he said. “I have tremendous pride in doing the show. And the character of Apu was done with love and pride and the best of intentions. My message is, things can be down with really good intentions and have negative consequences.”
Azaria appeared at the Television Critics Association press tour in January to promote the upcoming season of his IFC comedy “Brockmire” and, after the session, was asked about Apu’s future.
As Slashfilm reported, Azaria told reporters that he would no longer be doing the voice but didn’t want to speculate about the future of the Apu.
“All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore, unless there’s some way to transition it or something,” Azaria told reporters.
“What they’re going to do with the character is their call,” he added, referencing the show’s producers. “It’s up to them and they haven’t sorted it out yet. All we’ve agreed on is I won’t do the voice anymore.”
According to Azaria, his stepping down from voicing Apu was a “mutual decision” between him and the producers, claiming, “We all feel like it’s the right thing and good about it.”
Last year, “Simpsons” showrunner Al Jean addressed future plans for Apu, cryptically describing it as a “work in progress,” adding: “That’s all I can say.”