Putting a little English on 'House'
Britcom star turns over a new leaf in medical drama
BY JOHN CROOK
April 19, 2005
Hugh Laurie is a huge TV star in his native England, thanks to the runaway success of such comedy hits as "Black Adder" and "Jeeves & Wooster," among many others.
As the star of "House," the medical drama that has turned into a late-blooming Tuesday hit for Fox (9 p.m. Ch. 5), the 45- year-old actor has learned a belated show- biz lesson: Always read the fine print.
"I've never done that before in my life, but this is small print I would have been well advised to read," Laurie says, alluding to the crushing work hours he is putting in as the star of a U.S. drama series.
"It has come as a shock. My wife and I have been talking about where we're going to live, and we quickly came to the realization that even if everybody came to live here, it doesn't solve the problem because they still wouldn't see me for more than an hour or so a week. It's a tough business, and I'm filled with admiration for those who stick with it for a long time. I'm ready to drop, just bone-weary, although it's a great bunch of people and terrific fun to do."
From all indications, Laurie can look forward to a lot more "terrific fun" in the months to come. After a shaky start in November, when generally glowing reviews failed to draw an audience, this quirky series about a brilliant yet cranky and misanthropic physician caught fire, thanks to a powerhouse lead-in from "American Idol."
Since then, the show has risen as high as No. 4 in the Nielsen top 10.
"People don't feel we've been crammed down their throats, so to speak, thrust into their faces," Laurie says of the rapidly growing fan base. "We haven't been marketed to death, so the people who have found the show feel that they have discovered it themselves, so they own it to some degree. That's good for both of us."
Laurie modestly deflects credit for the show's success to series creator-executive producer David Shore, his team of writers and the first-rate ensemble that includes Robert Sean Leonard, Omar Epps and Lisa Edelstein. However, it's Laurie's electrifying performance as the title character, Dr. Gregory House, that drives this unpredictable series.
"Hugh simply came in and read the part far and away better than anyone else did," Shore says. "It's a really tricky, difficult role, and he could come off on-screen as just a hateful jerk. Hugh got all the nastiness - it was all there - yet at the same time, you came away liking him. You sympathized with him and wanted to watch him. There was a reality to it, not cartoonish."
Shore firmly felt that changing the character to reflect Laurie's British heritage would prove distracting for viewers, so the actor has had to cope with sustaining a credible American accent on top of the role's other demands.
"I feel like there is a small elf just throwing pebbles at my face, one at a time, every time I come across a word with the letter 'R' in it," Laurie says, sighing. "It's distracting and painful, and, now and then, one gets me in the eye."
Still, he knows that's a small price to pay for being in a breakout hit. And in this case, success breeds more success: Multiple Emmy winner Sela Ward will appear in this season's last two episodes as a lost love from House's past and is in talks to make recurring appearances in the role next season.
Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.