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Hugh Laurie makes a House Call / Cinema

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For Hugh Laurie, speaking American is an issue. “ISH-oo or ISS-you?” he recently asked on the set of Fox’s hospital mystery series, “House,” his costar Robert Sean Leonard said. In the diagnostic suspense series, which has finally reached Ukraine, Robert Sean Leonard plays a Watson-like comrade to Mr. Laurie’s Sherlock Holmes-esque sleuth physician, and the rehearsals often are interrupted when the British actor utters a wrong diphthong or some such mispronunciation.

“Expletives come pouring out of his mouth, and he’s hitting himself with the cane,” Mr. Leonard said. “It drives him nuts.”

That kind of exactitude is what Mr. Laurie demands of himself and his character demands of his underlings. Struggling with a foreign accent is not as bad as hobbling around with a perpetual limp, as the Vicodin-popping Dr. Gregory House must. But it’s a mild form of handicap that connects Mr. Laurie to Dr. House’s sense of agitation.

“It is the single hardest part of my job; oh, by far!” he said in an interview in Los Angeles. Off the set, he’s relaxed, so his Britishisms are in full flower, as when “herbs” get the hard h. But his stubbly23 face creases just discussing that dialect problem.

“I can’t think of any other human activity that doesn’t get easier with repetition,” he continued, calming himself with a Marlboro Light. “Making omelets24, playing violin, sex, anything - the more you do it, the better you get at it, supposedly - but for this, it doesn’t apply. I find that every day is as painful as the last day, which is painful as the first day I did it.”

A 46-year-old native of Oxford and graduate of Cambridge, he has impressed the creators of “House,” who quickly geared25 the show further in the direction of Mr. Laurie’s irascible26 portrayal27. David Shore created the character as an exemplar of rationality, unafraid of putting fellow doctors through hell to reach a diagnosis.

House snipes28 at one resident29: “You know what’s worse than useless? Useless and oblivious30.” When a colleague dares to snipe at him for being “cold, uncaring, distant,” House raises an eyebrow dismissively31. “Don’t put me on a pedestal,” he says.

The Socratic method was more a part of Mr. Shore’s law-school training than might exist in medical education. “It’s certainly a very effective tool to tear people apart, to rip them down, to build them up,” Mr. Shore said. “That’s what House is all about.”

House gets personal with his patients and colleagues alike32. He’s constantly magnifying their weaknesses, belittling their strengths and getting away with it. “He would be unforgivable if he wasn’t right so often,” Mr. Shore said. “He’s nasty and he’s cold and he’s heartless, and everything he does is to make the patient better.” In Season 2, Dr. House grapples33 with his misanthropy and works through feelings for a former34 girlfriend, played by Sela Ward. (Mr. Laurie has two Golden Globe Awards for best dramatic actor.)

In London, Mr. Laurie was known mainly as a comedian who collaborated for decades with his friend Stephen Fry. The two staged well-received comic revues, and eventually wrote and starred in a series based on P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves narratives. These days, Mr. Laurie is as amazed by his quick success on American television as he is by the pace of network production schedules in general.

In nine months he has completed 24 episodes of “House”; it took him four years to do about that many for the series “Jeeves and Wooster” for British television. “Americans tend to be all right with that, they tend to be all right with wanting more,” Mr. Laurie explained. “Should you want more, why not have more? The English, for some reason: ‘Well, I want more but I couldn’t possibly.’ Well, why not? ‘Well, I just - it’s unseemly35,’” he says with a mocking36 shrug37.

Hugh Laurie is a man of many talents. He’s part musician, part comedian, and part novelist. He’s entirely British but makes a convincing American.

Mr. Laurie has played various grumps38 and grandees39 (the feature film40 “Sense and Sensibility,” “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows,” a two-part television biopic41), although young audiences know him as the dad in two “Stuart Little” movies. In the middle of all this, he is hoping to complete a follow-up to his first novel, and foresees42 an eventual series of six.

If there’s something anguished43 and lonely about House, a measure of the same could be said of Mr. Laurie. He hasn’t had time to enjoy his success. He is an absentee44 father to three children, and frets45 about making time in a few weeks to see his 16-year-old son play Kent in “King Lear.” Two of his children are starting new schools, and a few weeks after their month-long visit this summer, he speaks rather forlornly46 about them, and how he never planned to be away all for so long.

He recalls his parents’ doubts at his chosen field, and the anxiety that he feels at his son’s stage forays47.

“He works 77 hours a day. He’s a stranger in a strange land,” said Mr. Leonard. “For a long time, he was living at the Chateau Marmont and padding48 around like a ghost.”

When he does have actual free time, Mr. Laurie has some soulful hobbies that Mr. Shore has written into the House character: he plays piano for solace49, and goes for long rides on his Triumph motorcycle. For fitness, the former rower50 (and son of an Olympian crew51 hero) has given up the oars52, which he says were never fun to begin with. He now chooses to get knocked around in a boxing ring, a sport that House can never take up.

“In coldly cynical terms, the unhealed person is given license to say and do things that the able-bodied53 are not,” he said. “If I were playing the character striding54 around and doing push-ups55 at all times and cartwheeling around the corridor, I think the audience would find that a great deal harder to take.”

Thus Dr. House can demand more of the able-bodied, denying the blessed their blessings. With special relish56, the character needles Dr. Robert Chase, played by a blond heartthrob57, Jesse Spencer. It’s easy to resent Mr. Spencer, Mr. Leonard explained. The young Aussie gets to keep his accent, so perhaps that is a clue as to what fuels Mr. Laurie’s caustic58 delivery. “That’s certainly a very reasonable theory,” Mr. Shore said.

House as Holmes
House is in many respects a medical Sherlock Holmes. (Holmes himself was inspired by real-life physician Dr. Joseph Bell, according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes’s creator, who was a doctor as well.) This resemblance59 is evident in various elements of the series’ plot60, such as House’s reliance on psychology to solve a case, his reluctance61 to accept cases he does not find interesting, his home address (apartment 221B, the same number as Holmes’ home), playing of an instrument, addiction62 to opiates63, relationship with Dr. James Wilson (who parallels Dr. John Watson), and his encounter with a crazed gunman credited as “Moriarty”, which is the same name as Holmes’ nemesis64. Also, series creator David Shore has said that Dr. House’s name is meant as “a subtle65 homage66” to Sherlock Holmes (i.e., homes). In the season four episode “It’s a Wonderful Lie”, House received a “second edition Conan Doyle” as a Christmas gift. In Season 5, Episode 11: Joy to the World, Wilson spins a tale for House’s ducklings about House falling for a woman named Irene Adler; the name of “the woman” in the Holmes story “A Scandal in Bohemia.” The book that House “receives” as a gift, in the same episode, is a book written by Dr. Joseph Bell (He was an inspiration for Sherlock Holmes).

The New York Times


24 октября 2009


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