'House's' Hugh Laurie on 'The Cumulative Effect of Dealing With Misery'

This story first appeared in the May 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Hugh Laurie's eternally cranky Dr. House is set to hang up his cane after eight seasons, five Emmys and Guinness World Records status as the planet's most popular current television program (watched by 81.8 million people in 66 countries). Days after the Universal Television-produced series wrapped production, Laurie and House creator David Shore, both 52, sat down at Chateau Marmont for a conversation about the Fox series and its impact. In doing so, the pair revealed why the British star was forced to adopt an accent, how the network would have preferred a younger lead and whether the bantering duo will ever again work together.

Hugh Laurie: When did you first realize that you needed to come to me on bended knee, begging for me to work with you?

David Shore: When you came to me, begging to work for me.

Laurie: You've got a twinkle in your eye, which tells me, but not the reader, that you don't remember any of the circumstances of our first meeting.

Shore: I do. I remember what you were wearing -- a pin. Which means I can extrapolate from that, you were wearing a jacket as well.

Laurie: No pants, oddly.

Shore: You were wearing a pin that said, "Sexy." You said it was an ironic pin. Really. That's what sold us on you, which is, by the way, the way Hollywood works. I remember we'd seen your audition tape, which you made in Africa. It's on the season-one DVD. I believe it's one of the extras.

Laurie: Without my consent or without any consultation whatsoever, I believe.

Shore: You're yelling at me? It sounds like you're yelling at me.

Laurie: I'm not yelling. Yet.

Shore: We had met with many people, and I was growing weary. I was happy with what I'd written, but I was starting to think: "Maybe I'm naive to be happy with what I've written. Maybe I've written something that cannot be portrayed." I was starting to think, "It's my fault, not theirs." And then you came in and convinced me that it was their fault. We flew you in from Africa, and I remember meeting you in [producer] Bryan Singer's office on the Fox lot. You read for us, and then we brought you over to Fox to audition, and you were once again fantastic. I had been a fan of your work, but I didn't realize what an excellent dramatic actor you could be. I knew your comedy work.

Laurie: I do remember specifying, slightly cheekily, that I needed business-class seats to fly over. I remember saying that to my agent, just to find out whether you were serious. Apparently you were. But when I got there, I remember Bryan had two tuna salads in front of him as I read the first scene -- and he didn't really raise his face from the salads all the way through. I thought, "I've just come whatever it is, 8,000 miles, and here's a man with his face buried in a tuna salad."

Shore: If I recall, you'd spent time in a hotel room just rehearsing that scene over and over again.

Laurie: That's absolutely correct because I'm a terrible auditioner. I've probably auditioned a thousand times, and I'd guess I've gotten only three gigs from an audition. Then I got there, and I was nervous. Every single shot we've done, I was nervous. If I'm on and I'm doing something in public with other people looking at me and forming opinions about me, I get nervous. I'm nervous now.

Shore: Fox initially wanted your character to be 25 years younger.

Laurie: They wanted him to be 16.

Shore: No, but they wanted him to be in his 30s, certainly. They kept wanting him younger, and we kept fighting them on that. But once you came in, there was no longer a fight. Do you think living with this character for eight years has psychically affected you?

Laurie: I know you do.

Shore: Yeah. In fact, I think it's affected me...

Laurie: No, I think you thought it affected me. And I'll be honest, in the two days since we've stopped shooting, I've noticed myself being much more cheerful. Of course, that could be the result of sleeping more than four hours. But I think you're right, and not because I'm of the Daniel Day-Lewis school, if Daniel Day-Lewis had a school. He probably doesn't, does he? Imagine if Daniel Day-Lewis ran a school on the south coast of England.

Shore: The Daniel Day-Lewis School for Boys. Nothing to do with acting …

Laurie: I don't go home and have to scrub myself with a wire brush to shake the character off. But, nonetheless, the character is a tormented one, and the subject matter is unhappy a lot of the time. I suppose there is a cumulative effect of dealing with the loneliness and the unhappiness, verging on misery at times, which just does go "drip, drip, drip" into one's basement.

Shore: It didn't occur to me for the first six years of the show, but now I'm realizing there's a psychological toll to living with a character as dark as this for eight years. So really what I'm saying is, feel sorry for the two of us. What's the question you get asked the most? Is it about the American accent? The accent's a tricky thing, isn't it? Do you hate me for insisting that you have one because I could have made him British on day one?

Laurie: No, I don't. I hated you for including "New York" in dialogue form because I can't say that. The R's. I can't say "murder," either. But I understood why you did it; the character felt American to me, too. I think, from an audience point of view, there was already enough they had to assimilate with this character: his drug use, his bitterness, his cynicism. To make him foreign as well could be too much.

Shore: My concern was by making him foreign, it would give viewers an easy way to not assimilate the rest, to not relate to him in any way. Meanwhile, we've done fine overseas. Did that surprise you?

Laurie: Massively. I don't understand how that's worked because somebody somewhere is doing some very fine translation work. I understand shows in which somebody has to defuse a bomb or catch the guy who's gone over the fence or rescue the kidnapped -- that you could understand in any language. You see that in Turkish and it makes sense. But this is such a verbal show -- such an idiomatic, metaphorical show. I don't know how the hell that works. I don't know what people are getting out of that, but they do.

Shore: How do you feel about the show ending? Because here's what I realized just moments ago: People keep saying, "You must be very sad" -- and I guess I should be, and there is a sadness. But I realized it's like my parents sent me away to summer camp for eight weeks, and I had a great time there, and I wound up staying for a year and a half. Now, after that year and a half, people are coming up to me going, "Are you sad that summer camp is over?" I was there for a goddamn year and a half! I shouldn't have been there nearly that long. I would have been thrilled with the eight weeks.

Laurie: Yeah. The sad thing is not to see all those guys that we saw every day. What was running through your mind as we tied it up?

Shore: It's the type of thing that I should have just sat back and enjoyed. But by directing it, you can't sit back and let the thing wash over you. There were a few moments at the end -- saying goodbye to Jesse [Spencer] and Omar [Epps], that was hard.

Laurie: That was particularly hard, I suppose because they were there right at the beginning. Robert [Sean Leonard] was the first one cast. But I met Jessie and Omar at the network test. In fact, I did a scene with them, and so when we got to their last scenes and it was announced: "That's it for Omar. Omar's done on the show" -- that was hard.

Shore: Yeah. Of course, I sort of hate the additional focus that gets put on the final episode. I resented the focus that was put on the hundredth episode, too. I appreciate the attention it gets us from the publicity point of view, but …

Laurie: You had a thing about the hundredth episode.

Shore: I did. What I said was, "If we had only nine fingers, would we have celebrated episode 81?" OK, I feel like I'm boring.

Laurie: I go to the shrink partly to discuss why it is I feel so boring. I've actually fallen asleep while I'm talking to the shrink.

Shore: Does the shrink fall asleep?

Laurie: He probably does, but he's got a way of keeping his eyes open.

Shore: Do you think we'll work together again? Because I would love to work with you again.

Laurie: Likewise.

Shore: You say it now that I've said it: "Yeah, likewise."

Laurie: Yeah, because you left me no choice. I'm saying it now, and then I'm calling it up later to withdraw it.


BY THE NUMBERS: From acclaim to ad revenue, a look at how House, M.D. has fared

  • $1.6 bil+: Advertising revenue the series has generated for Fox during eight seasons, according to Kantar Media.

  • 200+: Territories to which NBCUniversal has licensed the medical drama.

  • 170: Episodes produced. Laurie directed two. Bryan Singer helmed the first episode, which aired Nov. 16, 2004; shore helmed the finale for May 21, 2012.

  • 60+: Guest stars, including Candice Bergen, James Earl Jones, Carl Reiner and LL Cool J.

  • 25: Emmy nominations House has received, including six Laurie has garnered for outstanding drama actor.

  • 10: Executive producers involved with the show, including Laurie, shore, Katie Jacobs and singer.

  • 1: Dr. House was named the most discussed fictional character on Facebook for 2011.


GLOBAL HOUSE: A sampling of what's happening with one of the most-watched shows on the planet

France: The No. 1 series among viewers 15 to 49, Dr. House (pronounced “docteur hoos”) has Feodor Atkine, Woody Allen’s brother in Love and Death, voicing the main role.

Germany: The No. 1 U.S. series among viewers 14 to 49 draws 3.5 million overall and inspired “House seminars” at Witten/Herdecke medical university on what not to do, bedside-mannerwise.

Italy: The No. 1 U.S. series on its channel in total viewers, the show has changed the meaning of M.D. in that territory to make its title there Dr. House, Medical Division.

Mexico: The No. 2 U.S. drama among total viewers (1.1 million) and adults 25 to 34, it has inspired the Facebook page “Dr. House for President of Mexico.”

Australia: It’s No. 3 in its time slot in viewers 16 to 39. co-star Jesse spencer kept his native accent and thus joined the Gumleaf Mafia, a group nickname for Aussie actors on American TV.