Laurie succeeds by doing a 'Little' of everything
From: Chicago Sun-Times | Date: July 26, 2002 | Author: Luaine Lee
Actor Hugh Laurie may have started in sketch comedy, but legitimate acting sneaked up on him when he wasn't looking.
The man who plays the head of the family in both "Stuart Little" and "Stuart Little 2" seems puzzled by the outcome, though it didn't come without its share of turmoil.
"I was an annoying kid who talked back and made a fool of myself in class," says the British-born comic. "Acting is not an 'English' thing. It's not a thing that schoolteachers ever advise kids to look into or take seriously. In fact, generally speaking, they probably frown on it. 'Sure, you want to play around with it, but grow up and get a proper job.' Which is something I plan to do very soon."
It may have taken decades, but Laurie finally claims his "proper job."
He first jumped the Atlantic as part of a comic duo with fellow thespian Stephen Fry. A series of successful skits metamorphosed into the roles of the meticulous butler Jeeves and his flamboyant charge, Bertie Wooster, in a TV series based on the P.G. Wodehouse books.
Laurie, who makes his home in London, is married to a former theater administrator and is the father of three kids, ages 13, 11 and 8.
Though his wit seems permanently at attention, he recalls when he stumbled through a rough patch.
"I had a period of mild depression, which caused me to see an analyst, which is of no great note in this state, but in England is a rather remarkable thing to do--the English don't do that," he raises his eyebrows in mock disdain.
"Analysis helped enormously, and it affected my ability to perform because I just eased up a little," the 43-year-old Laurie says. "The thing that was inhibiting, the thing that was holding me back in terms of my work was the feeling that everything hangs on this. What happens in the next five minutes will determine everything, and it has to be perfect and nothing less than perfect will do.
"That, of course, is an impossible frame of mind to do anything-- hit a tennis ball, tell a joke, anything. What this very brilliant woman [psychiatrist] allowed me to do was to see that that was a nonsensical frame of mind and that things just unroll, people's lives unroll. We go with things, we make mistakes, we forgive ourselves for things."
Though he obviously bears the seeds of perfectionism, Laurie claims he can't do anything very well. "I think I'm a jack-of-all- trades." Pausing, he asks, "Is that an expression over here?
"I'm sort of reasonably good at a lot of things but not great at anything yet. I'm a reasonably good writer. I don't write like Martin Amis, but I wish I did. But I can probably act better than Martin Amis. But I can't act as well as Kenneth Branagh, but I can probably play the piano better than Kenneth Branagh, but I can't play the piano as well as Dr. John. I may be able to cook better than Dr. John."
He thinks a moment. "I rowed for Cambridge. I was pretty good at that."
Laurie figures he was attracted to acting because he sported a certain facility as a kid. "Secondly, I have an active--might even say overactive--fantasy life. I find it frighteningly easy to imagine myself in other [lives]," he says.
"I remember a very strange thing happened to me when I started doing it professionally. Up till that point, as a teenager doing school plays and amateur dramatic stuff, I'd always thought of the audience as being female. I don't mean made up of women. I mean in its character, an audience was female. An audience was a thing to be sort of flirted with or seduced in some way, and there was a sort of exciting flirtation between the performer and the audience."
That changed once he went pro. "The audience almost instantly became male in my head. And all I could picture was this big lump of an audience sitting there going, 'OK, make me laugh.' Then it became a question of competing with the audience and I said, 'OK, I'm going to get you,' and it became a sort of battle. ... Every performance became a sort of aggressive act, almost like being a prizefighter. That lasted a good 10 years. And gradually--for what reason, I can't explain--the audience returned to the female state."