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Interview with Hugh Laurie
The star of the TV show House talks about sarcasm, a second career, and why being an actor really is hard work By Margy Rochlin
Cass Bird - Photograph
In the States, Hugh Laurie is known as the ineffably sexy Dr. Gregory House, a whiz diagnostician and dedicated malcontent on the Fox series House. Fans in his native England, though, also know him as a musician, a competitive rower, a critically acclaimed crime novelist, and the long-faced costar of the beloved Brit TV comedies A Bit of Fry & Laurie and Blackadder, as well as the husband (for 17 years) of Jo Green and the father of Charlie, 17, Bill, 15, and Rebecca, 13. On a recent afternoon in Pasadena, California, LIFE met the rangy 47-year-old Renaissance man, who shared disarming insights on all manner of subjects. Here, more from his interview, exclusively on LIFE.com:
LIFE: Draw a line between the cheery nitwits you made your name with in England and a brainy grouser like Dr. Gregory House.
LAURIE: House's principal weapon is sarcasm. If the point of the sarcasm is to illustrate the stupidity of someone else's argument, what he's doing is mimicking the stupidity of his interlocutor. So actually, some of the time, I'm playing a clever man pretending to be stupid in order to mock someone else's position. Maybe that's not so very different from just playing stupid characters. Stupidity forms the basis of a lot of English comedy. We find stupidity very funny. For the most part, Americans don't. I think Americans find wit and intelligence enjoyable to watch.
LIFE: You've played piano for some time. Have you ever fantasized about tickling the ivories full time?
LAURIE: That's my autumnal career! I imagine a particular kind of hotel in Lisbon, Portugal where I've never been and in that hotel will be a bar and I will be the resident pianist there. People will say [shouting], "Autumn Leaves!" and I'll say [coolly] "I don't know 'Autumn Leaves.' " Then they'll say, "Okay, play 'Misty,' " and I'll say, "I'm sorry, don't know that, either." "Fly Me to the Moon!" "No, don't know any Sinatra." That's what I'd love to do, possibly with a trio.
LIFE: Did your not getting nominated for an Emmy this year create drama on the House set?
LAURIE: I don't think so....The show being nominated is a sign that people [are on] a thriving project. It's hard going being on a TV show. [Pauses] Now, the coal miner reading this might find that slightly annoying. "Really, how hard is it?" . . . . My theory is, any job is hard if you care how it turns out. If you don't, it's easy. I could fly a 747 if I didn't mind crashing. I could do brain surgery, if I didn't mind that my patient died. When people say, "Oh, acting is an easy job," I don't think there's such a thing: If you care, it can be almost infinitely hard.