Hugh Laurie taps into his curmudgeon
By Marco R. Della Cava
By Marco R. Della Cava
LOS ANGELES — Hugh Laurie rolls into the Petersen Automotive Museum on a rainy Saturday afternoon looking every inch the guy whose latest 16-hour work day ended at 2 a.m.
Stubble-strewn face. Weary eyes. Sloped shoulders.
No rest for the weary, eh, Hugh?
"Right." Beat. "Which is precisely why I'm resenting every moment of being here right now."
Whoa. How perfectly, wonderfully, deliciously House.
That's Dr. Gregory House, part ogre and part genius, who saves lives with withering putdowns, a razor-sharp wit and the political correctness of Attila the Hun. He once sent a black colleague to snoop around a patient's home for drugs, noting with an arched eyebrow, "There must be a reason for the stereotype, no?"
All this venom and victory over death has added up to a mushrooming hit for Fox. It also has brought laurels to Laurie, its previously unknown British star (unless you're a big fan of "Stuart Little 2" or Rowan Atkinson's "Blackadder" series). He recently won a drama Golden Globe over nominees such as "Lost" hunk Matthew Fox and "24" stalwart Kiefer Sutherland.
Laurie is opinionated yet polite, funny yet complex.
"I have my moments," he says quietly. "Ever since I was a boy, I never was someone who was at ease with happiness. Too often I embrace introspection and self-doubt. I wish I could embrace the good things."
It's that sort of self-analysis that allows Laurie to shape House into a fascinating train wreck of a doctor.
" 'House' is one of the most provocative programs on right now, largely because of this acerbic lead character who walks around with a cloud over him," says Ron Simon, curator at the Museum of Television and Radio, whose recent Paley Festival included a tribute to the show. House "is just one big mystery."
Gruff has many prime-time antecedents. But where Ed Asner's Lou Grant and Jack Klugman's Quincy were cuddly grouches, House seems as huggable as a cactus.
Yet House and his prickly demeanor are red-hot. "House" is often a top-10 show that averages 14 million viewers a week. Whether it's a thumb in the eye of the PC police or just a response to our war-weary times, it seems a relief to see someone vent their spleen, even as they deftly revive a heart.
"Everybody has idiots at their job, and those idiots are talked about when they leave the room. House just calls them idiots before they leave the room," series creator David Shore says. "But it's not about what House says, it's about what he does. He's heroic, but he doesn't care what people think. And those blue eyes don't hurt."
Actually, they're the show's magnets, twin orbs that pull viewers through visually antiseptic scenes that, by and large, amount to a bunch of attractive folks in white coats hunkered down in hospital offices talking about such things as whether encephalopathic syndrome is linked to lithium toxicity.
What could easily have been a jargon-filled snoozefest is instead must-wince TV. Laurie is mesmerizing as a misanthrope, yet he shrugs off praise.
"I'm just in a Ferrari of a role," he says. "Mickey Rooney could win an award playing 'House.' "
A bad-boy allure is another trait common to House and Laurie. While the former has been known to dabble in drugs (for medical purposes, of course, like the time he took LSD to rid himself of a self-induced migraine), the latter has been known to startle female colleagues with a rarely seen shaved-and-buff look.
"We were all at a party after the first season ended, and all of a sudden Hugh shows up," says Jennifer Morrison, who plays Dr. Allison Cameron, a colleague who has a crush on House. "He hops off his bike in this tight T-shirt, clean-shaven, with this gorgeous accent, and I'm thinking, 'Wow, I forgot that was underneath there.' "