Hank Azaria and Nicholas Gonzalez have come together in lending their voices to two lead characters on ‘Bordertown,’ a new show from Family Guy producer, Mark Hentemann. It’s a new animated comedy about two families living in a southwest desert town on the US-Mexico border, and the series takes a satirical look at the cultural shifts occurring in America. Azaria and Gonzalez spoke about what it was like working together, character development, and more.
What was it about the premise of the show in general and about your characters in particular, both of you, that turned you on and made you want to be part of the show?
Hank: I always wanted to work with the Family Guy producers because I really love the show, and this show seemed to have very similar sensibility, although it’s about different stuff. When I first heard about it a year or two ago, it seemed timely then, and now, I mean, happily or unhappily, it’s even more timely. So, it’s fun to have that. When comedy is really relevant to genuine concerns, it’s always interesting.
Nicholas: I think you look at the top echelons of animation, whether it be TV or film, and Seth MacFarlane and Family Guy and those producers are just at the top, and that’s what you wish for. God, it would be great to have an animated series. Well, what would your top choice be? Well, I’d love to work with the guys at Family Guy. And that’s the thing that led you into this. This wasn’t like a twisting of an arm here, definitely not for me. But I think also, I agree that for me, it felt—on top of that, what really attracted me to this role was being able to make commentary in comedy and satire about things that do actually matter and things that are deciding our presidential election, funnily enough, things that seem like common sense, and yet there’s a global argument about them, and we get to tackle these issues every week. So, easy deal there.
So, Hank, tell us, and Nicholas, tell us in your own words about your role, your character, who is Bud and, obviously, as a border patrol agent, Hank.
Hank: Yes, Bud, as you just said, is a border patrol agent. He’s not the brightest bulb in the box. Pretty simple guy, and he’s a pretty unhappy guy. Life has not really treated him as he hoped it would. He takes his job personally and seriously. He really wants to keep aliens out of the country, and he’s extremely upset by it. Lives next door to a guy who’s more successful than him, who happens to be Mexican American, and that really—he doesn’t like that at all, I think is an understatement.
He is also living in a town in the world where he’s becoming a minority as a white male. In fact, there’s an episode of the show where there officially is a census taken, and Caucasians are officially a minority in the town he lives in. That drives him insane, and he is not shy about expressing this opinion, and he’s quite tortured by it.
Nicholas: And I play Ernesto Gonzalez. He’s in some ways been described as the heart of the show, although I think at the bottom of all these characters, whether acts are reprehensible or crazy stuff they get involved with, there’s still such a heart at the base and lessons learned as well between the characters. There’s this constant hate, but there’s also a lot of love between Bud and Ernesto. Ernesto’s his next door neighbor who has a successful landscaping business. He’s a good family man. He’s just a really fun, lovable guy that, I think, all the more fun and lovable he is, the more it rankles Bud. There’s even an episode at one point where Bud is a super fan of Ernesto’s. For as much as he doesn’t like him, it really turns out that he just wants to be like him so much.
Did you have any input or anything you saw twisted in maybe adding a couple of improvs to your characters that may have not been in the script?
Hank: Nicholas probably did more than I did, if he did. I really kind of came in—this thing was a pretty fully formed vision by the time I came on board, and I was really just there to give voice to Bud. I just really wanted to—I focused mostly on finding, literally, the right voice, something that would play comedically and also play the right emotional beats that needed to be played and just really make the vision of this thing that Mark Hentemann had come to life as best I can. And that was really a large job. I didn’t get in there and, “Shouldn’t we change this or change that?”
Nicholas: You’re pretty beholden to the lines. You say it as they’re supposed to be said, but sometimes you have a little fun or you make some suggestions, and they humor you and everyone laughs and you think it’s going to end up in the episode and then it doesn’t.
So, you have a lot of fun with it, and sometimes we’ve been able to improv and find something that wasn’t there before. That way the job is constantly alive. But there’s a lot that just kind of has to fit into its own. If you do your work beforehand with finding where your character stands in all these different situations, then you can just fully flesh it out, which is what, like when Hank came to Bud just really brought a lot of life to it, and that’s your improv within the confines of the show.
Just like The Simpsons and Family Guy, will you guys be pushing any boundaries?
Hank: Let’s put it this way, there are some lines I said as Bud that I was glad it wasn’t—it was just my voice and not my face associated with the line. I was, like, wow, this is quite something to say. And Family Guy goes there; so does South Park. And yes, the show, part of the point of the show is not—sometimes it’s just there for comedic shock value. A lot of times it’s there to make a point as well.
What was the funniest thing you have done so far with this new series, Bordertown?
Nicholas: I guess the most fun thing because of it has really been a lot of the publicity, you know, with Comic-Cons and those kinds of things with the cast, finally getting in a room with Hank Azaria and Alex Borstein, Missi Pyle, Judah Friedlander, for all of us to be together, because we’ve all been so spread out and have never even really been together for a table read. So, that’s been, honestly, the most fun for me has been hitting the road with those guys and getting to play to live audiences and talk to people.
Don’t forget to check out the show on Sunday, January 3rd at 9:30/8:30 Central on FOX.