Laurie is taking `House' to heroic heights

August 09, 2005|By Hal Boedeker | Hal Boedeker,ORLANDO SENTINEL

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Hugh Laurie is having these moments that would appall Dr. Gregory House.

In collecting an award for playing House, a brilliant but cold physician, British actor Laurie shares a personal story.

"The last time I won an award for acting, my parents were in the audience," he says. "I had to turn around, and I saw their faces as my name was read out. And they smiled at each other, a smile of pride. And that has stayed with me, because to be honest, I didn't give my parents a lot of reasons to be proud. But this was one of them. I was 9 years old."

Laurie, who is 46, thanks the creator, David Shore, and producers of House (airing tonight at 9): "They, all of them, work incredibly hard to make me seem clever and heroic, neither of which I am."

Dr. House avoids such personal reflection. He rarely says thanks. He would never utter something so heartfelt as Laurie's parting words about his dead mother and father: "I ... hope that, wherever they are, my parents are now as proud as I am."

The award for dramatic achievement comes from the Television Critics Association. Five days later, Laurie and his co-stars appear before the group to promote the Fox drama. Laurie defends his character with a deep feeling that would cause the good doctor to scurry away.

"To me, he's a hero," Laurie says. "He's not polite. He's not someone you want to take home to meet your mother, necessarily. This is a guy in search of truth. Incidentally, that truth one day could save your life or the life of someone you love. That's a heroic thing."

Viewers have embraced this unhuggable hero. In a season when Desperate Housewives and Lost made the most headlines, House slowly grew into a hit at 9 p.m. Tuesdays, after American Idol. Laurie is the favorite to win best dramatic actor at the Emmys in September.

Laurie's colleagues eagerly share their theories about why millions let House make weekly house calls.

"He gets to say all of the things that everybody wishes they could say," says Sela Ward, who plays House's former lover, Stacy Warner. "The irreverence of the character, and he is gorgeous."

Shore's pithy explanation: "I think it's the blue eyes."

The tall, thin Laurie has been a handsome presence in such films as Sense and Sensibility, 101 Dalmatians and Stuart Little. Before House, TV viewers knew him from the British series Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster. In the latter, he played wacky Bertie Wooster.

Laurie turned to acting after he fell ill with mononucleosis during his second year at university. He had to give up rowing, a sport in which his father had been an Olympic gold medalist.

His late father, he says, is often in his thoughts.

"I am probably being paid more now to be a fake version of a doctor than my father was to be a real doctor," he says. "If every man is struggling to be a version of his father, and ends up feeling like a fake, then I just have that in spades."

His mother was suspicious of the acting profession. He describes himself as a mixture of underachiever and juvenile delinquent who fell short of his parents' high expectations.

He expands on his acceptance speech: "I simply can't think of any instances where they would have given each other a high-five and said, `Look, our boy has done it again.'"

Britain has had a similar reaction. The acting prizes have not come his way there.

"Most of my career in England was spent really more as a clown, almost," Laurie says. "Clowning is not a respected profession."

Those days are not behind him, even with his new drama credentials.

"I feel that House is, to some degree, a clown," he says. "There's a sort of playfulness and a childishness ... a delight in silliness." He finds that quality endearing, "but maybe that's because I still haven't grown up."

House also has brought Laurie new personal challenges. His wife and three children - ages 16, 14 and 11 - continue to live in Britain. Laurie spends most of his time in Southern California, where House is filmed.

"We're getting a lot of air miles," Laurie says. "I'll go back when I can, and they'll come here when they can. But it's tough."

House is playing in Britain, and Laurie is most concerned about the audience of three, his children. "I think I've managed not to embarrass them," he says. "They can go to school."

In the United States, he's not being hounded by his new legion of fans.

"I don't get out," Laurie says. "I'm there making a show with 100 people who know what I do for a living. And I hardly meet anybody else."

Laurie is a noted writer. He adapted his novel, The Gun Seller, into a film script, but the project has stalled because it has a terrorism theme. He's "tinkering" with another novel. Although he has written TV scripts in Britain, he has contributed just "a tiny smattering of lines" to House.

A year ago, critics fretted that House was too classy for Fox, a network known for pushing the limits on taste.

"It really is a Fox show," Shore says. "I do think that there is a 15-year-old boy in that character, but with the power of an adult."

The series has helped Fox build on the prestige it enjoys with 24 and Arrested Development. "The show started out a bit slowly, but Fox stuck with it because we believed in it," says Peter Liguori, president of Fox Entertainment.

Viewers believe in it because they like to know there's a tough physician who steps up in the most perplexing crises.

House has a champion in the man who plays him. Laurie marvels that, to seek truth, House has surrendered his chance at happiness and contact with others.

"I can't think of him in the derogatory terms that he's so frequently described," Laurie says. "I think he's a great guy."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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