Hugh Laurie





Actor

Hugh Laurie

Born James Hugh Calum Laurie, June 11, 1959, in Oxford, England; son of William (a physician); married Jo Green, June 16, 1989; children: Charlie, Bill, Rebecca. Education: Earned degree from Cambridge University, 1981.

Addresses: Home —Los Angeles, CA, and London, England. Office —Fox Entertainment Group, 1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036.

Career

Actor on television, including: Alfresco , BBC, 1983; The Young Ones , 1984; Blackadder II , BBC, 1986; A Bit of Fry and Laurie , BBC, 1987–95; Blackadder the Third , 1987; Blackadder Goes Forth , 1989; Jeeves and Wooster , ITV, 1990–93; Friends , 1998; Blackadder Back & Forth , 1999; Stuart Little (voice), 2003; House , FOX, 2004–. Film appearances include: Plenty , 1985; Strapless , 1989; Peter's Friends , 1992; Sense and Sensibility , 1995; 101 Dalmatians , 1996; Spice World , 1997; The Man in the Iron Mask , 1998; Stuart Little , 1999; Maybe Baby , 2000; The Piano Tuner , 2001; Stuart Little 2 , 2002; The Tale of Jack Frost , 2004; Flight of the Phoenix , 2004; Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild , 2005; The Big Empty , 2005. Has also played with the band Poor White Trash and wrote a novel, The Gun Seller , published by Soho Press, 1997.

Awards: Golden Globe Award for best performance by an actor in a television series (drama), Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for House , 2006; Golden Globe Award for best performance by an actor in a television series (drama), Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for House , 2007.

Sidelights

Largely unknown to most American audiences except for his role as the father in the Stuart Little movies, veteran British actor Hugh Laurie arrived at some unexpected success in his role as the ill-tempered, genius medical specialist in the hit FOX series House . The hour-long drama began its third season in September of 2006 as the network's highest-rated series after 24 , and with its star a newly minted Golden Globe-winner for the title role. "Sarcastic, rude, defiant of hospital rules, adept at the swift, devastating retort, House might be an intriguing character anyway, but he acquires a mesmerizing negative charisma in the hands of British actor Hugh Laurie," asserted Celia Wren in Commonweal .

Laurie was born in Oxford, England, in 1959, the last of four children in his family. His physician-father, William, had been a champion rower and member of the 1948 British team that won gold at that year's Olympic Games. Laurie inherited his father's passion for the sport, and was a member of the English national youth team in 1977, around the same time he finished his studies at Eton School, a private preparatory academy known for educating England's elite. He enrolled at Selwyn College of Cambridge University, and rowed for his school's team in the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, which it most famously lost in 1980 by a mere five feet. A bout with mononucleosis forced Laurie to give up the strenuous sport.

Searching for another diversion from his studies in anthropology and archaeology, Laurie joined Footlights, the amateur dramatic club at Cambridge that had served as training ground for a roster of past and future comic talent, from members of the Monty Python troupe to Sacha Baron Cohen, otherwise known as HBO's Ali G. Through Footlights Laurie met future Academy Award-winner Emma Thompson, whom he dated for a time, and Stephen Fry, later deemed one of the best British stage and screen actors of his generation. Before graduating from Cambridge, Laurie served as president of Footlights during his senior year, and he, Thompson, and Fry appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and won the Perrier Comedy Award for their revue; they then toured Australia for three months with the act. They later parodied their Footlights years in an episode of the British cult comedy series The Young Ones .

Laurie signed on with a talent agency, and soon he, Fry, Thompson, and others from Footlights had their own sketch-comedy series, Alfresco , that had a brief run on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television in 1983. He made his feature-film debut in 1985 in Plenty , a screen version of the David Hare play, and went on to a steady gig in the popular Blackadder comedy series. Blackadder starred Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling anti-hero throughout history, in four separate series and a few movies and specials. Critics gave Laurie particularly high marks for his portrayal of George, the Prince of Wales, in Blackadder the Third in 1987, and as a World War I officer in Blackadder Goes Forth in 1989.

The careers of Laurie's fellow Footlights castmates prospered along with his own in the early 1990s. Thompson wed the actor and director Kenneth Branagh, and appeared in several projects with him, while Fry won acclaim on the London stage as an actor and playwright. In 1987, Laurie and Fry teamed up for a BBC sketch comedy series, A Bit of Fry and Laurie , for which they filmed 26 episodes over the next several years. They earned accolades for another series, Jeeves and Wooster , made for Britain's Granada TV and shown on PBS stations in the United States. Set in 1920s and '30s London, the project was adapted from P.G. Wodehouse's classic short stories about a dim upper-crust type, Bertie Wooster (Laurie), and Jeeves, his much cleverer valet (Fry).

A reunion of sorts came for Laurie and his Cambridge pals in the 1992 film Peter's Friends . The ensemble piece, set in a posh manor house in the English countryside, also starred Fry, Thompson, and Branagh as former college pals reassembled for a New Year's Eve weekend as guests of Peter (Fry), who has recently inherited the estate and a title. Laurie and Imelda Staunton played a husband-and-wife team who are now immensely successful advertising jingle writers, though still grieving over the loss of their child. One scene gave Laurie a chance to show off his musical talents at the piano alongside Staunton, as he had occasionally done in the Jeeves and Wooster series.

Laurie played Staunton's husband again in the 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility , and began to attract the attention of Hollywood casting agents soon afterward. He appeared as Jasper in 101 Dalmatians in 1996, alongside Glenn Close and Jeff Daniels, and even in an episode of the hit NBC sitcom Friends in 1998 as the last-minute date for Rachel, Jennifer Aniston's character, in England for the wedding of her ex-boyfriend, Ross (David Schwimmer). In 1999, Laurie was introduced to a new generation of filmgoers as the father of Stuart Little in the live-action/animation kids' movie about a family and the spirited mouse who shares their home. Laurie reprised the role in two sequels as well as a voice-over part for an animated television series in 2003.

By then married and the father of three, Laurie dabbled in the occasional side career. For a time he was the ubiquitous television pitchman for BT (British Telecom) ads, which caused the British tabloid press to dub him "millionaire Laurie" when details of his contract became public. He also formed a rock band with British comic Lenny Henry which they called Poor White Trash, and even wrote a spy-novel spoof, The Gun Seller , that earned critical accolades when it was published in 1997.

Over the next few years, Laurie continued to work in Hollywood and England, though he remained largely a character actor in the former realm despite his fame at home. He was on location in Namibia shooting Flight of the Phoenix , a plane-crash survival tale that co-starred Dennis Quaid and Giovanni Ribisi, when he stepped into a well-lit men's restroom to shoot an audition tape for an American television pilot. He was unaware that the executive producer of the planned series, X-Men director Bryan Singer, had forbid his associates from showing him any more audition reels of British actors vying for the role. But Laurie's American accent was so pitch-perfect on the tape, and his face so relatively un- known still, that Singer was thrilled and summoned him for a meeting. In due time, Laurie was offered the lead in House , as Dr. Gregory House, an infectious-diseases specialist at a New Jersey teaching hospital with an appallingly insolent bedside manner.

House debuted on FOX in Tuesday nights in November of 2004, and quickly accrued a devoted following. Laurie's character was a brilliant but irascible doctor with few friends and hobbled by pain from a blood clot in his leg; he tempers its edge with the painkiller Vicodin, to which he seems to be addicted. Nevertheless, his medical guesswork in each storyline proves to be the correct diagnosis for a range of puzzling ailments every week at the hospital. Uninterested in the niceties of modern doctor-patient relations, House even makes his co-workers—among them Omar Epps, Jesse Spencer, and Jennifer Morrison—nervous, and sometimes crosses the ethical line in his quest to solve mysteries such as radiation sickness and bubonic plague.

Laurie's new project won rave reviews from critics. Writing for the New York Times , Kevin Cahillane termed the series "a cut above" the standard television-hospital fare thanks to "the humor in Dr. House's disdain for sick people and their prissy little problems. Mr. Laurie, a veteran British actor, plays House with just the right balance of mirth and meanness to make him a bit of an unsolved puzzle himself." Time 's James Poniewozik also gave Laurie high marks, asserting that the British actor "transforms flawlessly into an American jerk. In both accent and attitude he's a little like Survivor 's Richard Hatch." Poniewozik deemed Laurie's House "the most enjoyable new character of the" 2004–05 television season. Even Commonweal , the Roman Catholic journal of opinion, found something noble in the series and its flawed hero. "As he hobbles around the hospital, suffering and bestowing cures," noted Wren, "it's not too hard to see that the character derives from a long line of mythic, injured figures—Prometheus, the wounded king from the Grail legend."

Midway through its first season, Laurie's new series benefited from a fortuitous scheduling quirk that put it on just after American Idol . By the end of its first-season run, ratings for House had nearly tripled, making it the first successful non-reality series for FOX since 24 's debut in 2001. The show's success was affirmed when Laurie won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Drama from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 2006. In his acceptance speech, he made reference to his late father's career as a general practitioner for more than three decades, noting that he had treated hundreds of patients but "never stood up in front of millions of people and got a gold shiny thing for it," he quipped that night, according to Daily Variety . In 2007, Laurie again won a Golden Globe for his role on the show, offering up another humorous acceptance speech.

Laurie has been candid about his personal life, including treatment for depression in the 1990s and an extramarital affair that nearly wrecked his marriage. Despite his success on American television, he has noted that there were a few drawbacks to his role on House One was the separation from his wife and three teenage children, who remained in England because of their school commitments. Another was the long working hours that an American series demanded of its principals; most British series film just six episodes per season, while the first two seasons of House clocked in at 22 and 24 hour-long episodes, respectively, with Laurie appearing in nearly every scene. He admitted to Entertainment Weekly writers Benjamin Svetkey and Simon Vozick-Levinson that the pace was unexpectedly brutal for him. "It does sometimes seem a bit more than I bargained for," he conceded. "I didn't read the contract before signing—big mistake," he said with a laugh.

A third hardship for Laurie was maintaining that pitch-perfect American accent. Surprisingly, it had only become more difficult as he grew into the role of Gregory House. "I haven't identified a single word that is pronounced the same in America as it is in England," he told Svetkey and Vozick-Levinson in the Entertainment Weekly interview, and he also confessed that even commonplace one-syllable words were beginning to trip him up as filming for the third season was underway. "It makes it harder to immerse yourself in the scene," he explained. "It's as if you're playing left-handed. Or like everyone else is playing with a tennis racket and you have a salmon."

Sources

Back Stage East , December 15, 2005, p. 36.

Commonweal , July 15, 2005, p. 24.

Daily Variety , January 17, 2006, p. 28.

Entertainment Weekly , April 8, 2005, p. 37; August 25, 2006, p. 30.

InStyle , December 1, 2005, p. 245.

New York Times , January 16, 2005; September 13, 2005.

Observer (London, England), April 24, 2005, p. 27.

Time , November 22, 2004, p. 89; September 12, 2005, p. 96.



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