Dr. Feelbad

Hugh Laurie became the dark prince of prime time by playing the best Vicodin-addicted TV doctor with the worst bedside manner

NEIL STRAUSSPosted Apr 05, 2007 2:17 PM

Behind Hugh Laurie's back, crew and producers complain about his behavior on set. They gripe that he rarely says no or admits when he's tired. A leading actor with actual manners and genuine humility is a shock to them. He shows up on time, nails his lines, often works over sixty hours a week and rarely if ever protests. Consequently, they never know if they're pushing him too hard or not.

And today, that seems to be the case.

The set under observation is that of Fox's House, M.D. -- first building on the left on the Twentieth Century Fox lot in Los Angeles. For three grueling seasons there, Laurie has faked an American accent, a limp and a bad attitude to play the role of Dr. Gregory House, America's most lovable curmudgeon, a bitter diagnostician who lives by the motto "Everybody lies."

He has faked it well -- down to the remorselessness, work-shirking and drug-taking that couldn't be further from his nonfictional self. In the process, he has almost single-handedly made a rote idea -- a crime show transposed to a hospital, replacing murders with mysterious diseases -- one of the best dramas on television, earning him a Golden Globe two years running.

The forty-seven-year-old Laurie was raised Scottish Presbyterian and taught to value work and eschew fun. He lived several career lifetimes before becoming TV's meanest doctor, first garnering attention playing simpleton aristocrats -- most notably as the hilariously incompetent Prince George in Blackadder. Later, he starred in Sense and Sensibility and Stuart Little, as well as a wide swath of hit-and-miss films. Despite these roles, Laurie didn't find his footing with American audiences. But that never bothered him: Restlessly creative, he wrote scripts, played keyboards, wrote a novel and continued taking role after role, most of which underserved his talent.

But everything changed when a half-assed audition tape he recorded while on the set of a film shot in the African desert, Flight of the Phoenix, ended up in the production office of House. When executive producer Bryan Singer saw it, he knew that he'd found his leading man.

During lunch break on the House set, Laurie heads to his trailer. A sign on the door congratulates him on his recent Screen Actors Guild award. Inside, artifacts from well-wishers are scattered about, including a photo of a big white bucket with the word "antidepressants" scrawled in black marker.

Laurie settles into the couch, places a to-go salad in his lap and shakes his head in mock shame. To prepare for the interview, he has researched my writing résumé, which includes a book with Mötley Crüe. "I feel like I'm such a disappointment to you," he says, beginning his fourth warning that he will be a horrible subject for an interview. "I mean, you're hanging out with Mötley Crüe, and now you're talking to some middle-aged fucking actor on a TV show. I wish I could give you some Mötley Crüe stuff. I wish I had a tour bus. I wish I had -- oh, fuck, I wish I had something. What can I give you?"

Well, for starters, what's up with that picture of a bucket of antidepressants?
Oh, oh. Yes. Yes. That was from a friend. A friend from England. Yeah. Well spotted. You don't miss a trick. Now I'm terrified of what else you've seen.

People have mentioned to me a period in the Nineties where you were depressed. Was that just a dark patch in your life, or does it continue?
I have continued on and off to see a therapist, as lots of people do. And I do feel like for the most part it's behind me. But I have some very, very black days on this show, very black days. But a lot of that has to do with just finding the situation I'm in overwhelming. There are days when I feel very exposed and very lonely and vulnerable.


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