Jenny Cooney Carrillo
international entertainment and lifestyle journalist
Hugh Laurie seems amused by all the fuss about his latest TV incarnation, Dr. Gregory House, a role that has turned the 47-year-old Englishman into an overnight sex symbol as women worldwide react like teenagers when House is in the room.
“When I first read the script, I rejoiced in House’s freedom from the normal social gravity that bears us down, the anxiety we all have about what the rest of the world thinks,” he says over a cup of tea at a Beverly Hills hotel one recent winter morning shortly before heading into work at the 20th Century Fox Studios for another grueling 18-hour day. “But of course it’s not a practical way of living because we all have to get along with our neighbours and family and bite our lip from time to time. So I would have to say that television is the best place for someone like House because it’s easy for women to find him sexy from a distance. I think in real life, you would wind up punching him or getting him thrown in jail!”
In person, Hugh Laurie seems the antithesis of House; charming, polite, witty and full of long, thoughtful answers to even the simplest question.
When asked for his own list of what makes him grumpy and what makes him happy, Hugh begins, “my top thing that gets me grumpy is rudeness.” He suddenly pauses and grins as he sees the joke, adding, “well, that’s rather paradoxical given that I play a character who is incredibly rude!” But this leads the well-spoken star off the subject briefly in defense of House. “I think his cruelty is usually at the service of getting at the answer to something and where other people might take a circuitous route to get to the truth, House will just go as the crow flies.” With that said, he returns to the list: “so rudeness, and traffic and news broadcasts make me very grumpy.” And happy? One might expect his wife of 17 years, Jo Green, or his children, Charles, William and Rebecca, would get a mention, but he quickly responds, “music makes me happy – playing it and listening to it - and food and motorcycles - that’s my top three!”
When prompted about his family, he quickly rushes in with his tongue firmly in his cheek. “My family absolutely make me happy but they were on the list because I eat with them, I play music with them and I take them on my motorcycle so they’re woven into my top three!”
It’s not surprising that music is high on his list. The actor is an avid musician in his free time – it really is him tickling the ivories in the scenes on the network seven medical drama when House is playing classical music on his piano home alone. He also periodically plays keyboard in two celebrity bands: one in London called Poor White Trash, with actresses Kate McKenzie and Sophie Elton (wife of comedian Ben Elton), and in Los Angeles he plays in a band called 16:9, with Alias star Greg Grunberg, Desperate Housewives star James Denton and The Bachelor’s Bob Guiney.
“But I’ve never had any real pretensions in that area,” he says, nixing the frustrated musician angle. “I had a sort of classical training but it lasted about a year at the age of eight and I hated it so much I went on a hunger strike and didn’t eat for three days so I wouldn’t have to continue piano lessons with this horrible teacher I had!
“I didn’t touch the piano for a number of years,” he then confesses, “and then when I took it up again, I taught myself and I still don’t read music. I enjoy the jazz stuff these days, like Herbie Hancock and Dr. John who are my heroes.”
Before bursting on to our TV screens as the Sherlock Holmes of the ER, Hugh Laurie was better-known to Americans as the dad in Stuart Little but Australians were also familiar with many of his groundbreaking English comedies such as; A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster. With his family remaining in London so his children’s school and social lives won’t be disrupted, Hugh flies home whenever he can and lives a quiet life in Los Angeles in a rented apartment, driving his Triumph Bonneville 790 motorcycle to work each day. No limo? “There are no limos in television,” he responds with amusement. “I think people would be surprised because I’m not saying it’s a harsh environment but we work really hard and for really long hours so it’s not all Jacuzzis and cocaine - I was severely misled!”
As for whether House will soften after his near-death experience at the end of last season’s cliffhanger when he was shot by a disgruntled patient, he is careful not to divulge too many plot points. “A near-death experience can only change you for so long but when the pain in his leg comes back, eventually House reverts to his old and bitter self,” he says. “Just what makes him bitter and has made him bitter for a long time is one of the puzzles that I hope we take five or six years to solve.”
Audiences will also agree!
Jenny Cooney Carrillo
TV Guide
Jenny Cooney Carrillo interviews House star Hugh Laurie