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The sour can be sweet

Hugh Laurie's doctor character on 'House' is no saint. That's atypical on TV -- and one reason the actor kinda likes the guy.

April 24, 2005|Robert Abele | Special to The Times

Now that an American show eats up a good portion of Laurie's time, though, being away from his family -- wife Jo and children Charlie, 16; Bill, 14; and Rebecca, 11 -- is an obvious strain. ("My eldest son was one size when I left, and he's probably a cabinet minister now," he jokes.) They've visited L.A. a few times, and when he gets the occasional break he flies back to England, but contact is mostly morning phone calls from his West Hollywood apartment, a quick burst of native-accented chat before he has to reacclimatize to American-speak. In fact, talk to Laurie on a weekend and he's British, but on set he's an all-day Yank just to stay in the zone. His accent, or lack of one, has been widely praised -- he initially nailed it as the dad in the "Stuart Little" movies -- but it's the hardest part of his job. "The problem is one part of the brain is doing it, and the other part is listening all the time," he says. "Something like 'coronary artery' gives me a nosebleed. I have to lie down in a dark room for about 20 minutes."

The "dark room" has a metaphorical reality for Laurie, who has had a long bout with depression. "I feel it's over my shoulder, ever present, but I have more good days than bad," says Laurie, who indicates that his fouler dispositions stem from a perceived inability to play House exactly the way he hears and envisions him. "It's very tiresome for everyone else," he adds, and while he says it doesn't inform his portrayal of an obviously damaged Sherlock Holmes-ian loner, Laurie's on-screen Watson believes it does, and rightly so.

"You don't play a character like that with any kind of success unless you have some deep waters," says Leonard. "A happy person acting unhappy is unbearable to watch. He's not misery on the set, he's actually very quiet and easygoing. But it's that Peter Cook thing, misery turned into brilliance."

But Laurie has a big cure-all in his black Triumph Bonneville motorcycle, a replica of the '60s British model, which makes the only hours outside of working and sleeping -- a trafficless, wind-swept commute -- feel something like freedom. "I couldn't live without it. It's an exhilarating, sensual thing," he says.

It won't be going to Australia, though. Laurie was set to play Perry White in Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" movie shooting Down Under, but his "House" schedule -- with a second season filming earlier than usual so Fox can kick it off in August -- put the kibosh on that. "That was a disappointment," he says. "That movie will just be huge ... but it's great that we have a second season too."

We will soon meet House's long-hinted-at ex when Sela Ward joins "House" for the last two shows of this season and probably more next year. Will she help explain House? Laurie hopes not, certainly no more so than the character's chronic leg pain or love of soap operas and monster truck rallies do.

Even if he loves the irritable misfit who's taken over his life, Laurie can't help but feel tricked. "It begins with two [audition] pages, and 'Oh, that's nice, I think I'll have a little more.' Then you do a pilot and you think, 'These two weeks will be great, working with Bryan Singer.' Then it's, 'We think we're going to do six now.' 'Wow, six?' Then six became 13 episodes pretty quickly, then another five, then another four after, then whack! Twenty-two. Now it's 'Oh, my God, I'm a heroin addict and didn't even realize it!' "

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