Fox’s wildly popular hospital show “House” presents quite a paradox- it’s a mystery, a drama, and a comedy rolled into one. Certainly, Dr. Gregory House himself might find this funny, or, who knows, tragic. And therein lies the crux of the show’s success- House’s willful unpredictability.
As 25 million television watchers know, House is an irreverent, controversial doctor who trusts no one, least of all his patients. He is devoid of bedside manner and wouldn’t even talk to his patients if he could get away with it. Rather than treating them as people, he treats them as a puzzle which must be solved. While his behavior often seems irrational, House is a physician whose unconventional thinking, flawless instincts and diagnostic skills, have earned him a great deal of respect. It is clear, that if not for his talent, he would have fired long ago. His own constant physical pain, that has caused him to abuse painkillers of various types, have not helped his situation. And being shot by one of his ex-patients didn’t help much either. House’s constant companion, his cane, punctuates his acerbic, brutally honest demeanor.
Dish had a chance to talk to Hugh Laurie, the British actor who plays the character of House in Los Angeles not long ago. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, the actor and his alter-ego seemed one and the same. Read on and you decide if that’s true…………….
Did you ever think that “House” would be a hit?
Absolutely not. I was always pretty confident that we could do something good, but I always thought it would just be one. I thought we would do a pilot. We would go to Canada, we’d do a pilot. It’ll be a great two weeks, I’ll learn something and I’ll have a DVD that I can show my friends.
Are you convinced now you’re on a hit, because last year, you didn’t seem sure.
Very, very superstitious. I always think, you make three bad decisions and suddenly we could be in trouble. And the word gets out, ‘Oh, I used to watch that show, but it’s not the same.’ For some reason the tension goes out of it, or the excitement, who knows why. There are very few ways to get it right, and a billion ways of getting it wrong. All the time, every little thing, every line we say, every shot, every moment is…I’m not saying we get them all right, we don’t. But you’ve got to be getting a percentage to survive.
How much involvement do you have in breaking a story?
None. It’s the way it has to be. My day’s work is spent worrying about the next ten minutes. I can’t really think any farther ahead than that. How do we make this moment work? There are other people who deal with how do we make next month work? That’s just the way it has to be. You know, I throw in little jokey ideas every now and then…why doesn’t House do this? Why doesn’t House do that? Sometimes, I might suggest a line, and sometimes we shoot it, sometimes we don’t. But mostly, it’s out of my hands, and I’m happy for that to be the case.
Where did the Motorbike idea come from?
I ride one to work, so that must of put it in somebody’s head. One of the writers, they’ve got the writer who wrote the first script, in which House owns a motorcycle, is a motorcyclist. So we’re sort of brothers in that sense. And, yeah, I suppose they start—various characteristics of mine, start to suggest themselves. But yeah, … I don’t have any other characteristics, luckily.
I feel boxed in, I have to get out. The greatest thing about riding in Los Angeles is the smell. When I go to work at 6 o’clock in the morning, because what they do—most of the public parks and lawns, they turn the sprinklers on right at 3 or 4 o’clock, I guess before it gets hot. So you go to work at 6 o’clock in the morning, and the smell of the trees and plants is just exquisite. It’s my favorite time of day, riding through Los Angeles at dawn is just beautiful.
What kind of bike do you ride?
Huge difference between them. The Honda is a sports bike. That’s a flat out, fast as you can go, rider at the gates of dawn sort of bike. The Triumph is more sedate and really practical. I don’t really actually use it for entertainment, I use it to get to work. That’s how I commute. I can get through traffic, and I can park it easy, and it’s cheap to run. Everybody should ride a Triumph.
I have sort of a superstition about saying this, but I’ve been riding bikes for 30 years, yes. 30 years. God, I can’t believe I’ve been doing anything for 30 years. I’ve got sort of used to that—having said that of course, you’re now going to make me have an accident tonight. ‘Oh, I’ve been riding for 30 years, nothing can happen to me!’ Bang!
It’s good to be on a hit show! How do you feel about your very public raise?
I’m afraid—I’d rather not say anything at the moment, because I come from a land where actually you never talk about money, no one ever talks about money. So, I don’t really have anything to say about it. But ‘he nodded thoughtfully’.
It seems to me the show has taken a dark turn…….
I’m not sure I agree with you actually. I think he was suffering a lot the first time around. I think there was probably a decision made between the first and second season, that the conventional thing to happen now, the natural atrophy that would take place here, would be for House to sort of gradually become the nice guy with a heart of gold. Yes, he’s a bit of a curmudgeon but underneath it, he rescues puppies and gives to the orphanage. But that would be sort of glib and easy.
And I suppose the writers took a decision, ‘we are going to guard against that’. We will be true to who we think this character is and the truth about him is that he’s not necessarily a nice man. He may be a good man in the long run, but that doesn’t make him nice, and it doesn’t make him good all the time any more than any of us are good all the time. He is Devil and Angel in one. The conventional thing, the more common thing on television and movies to some extent, is to paint in single colors- the handsome person is morally good and the ugly person is morally evil and that’s sort of how it goes. Usually the English person is morally evil, I’ve noticed that in movies. But human beings are not constructed that way. We have both things in us, at war, all the time and I suppose that’s what the writers wanted to examine, they didn’t want to let it sort of dilute.
Do you think he’s going to change after being shot by one of his ex-patients?
The answer to that is to watch the show. If I could sum it up in three sentences, we wouldn’t actually have to make the show, that way we sort of give a press release and save ourselves a lot of money.
His life has certainly changed very greatly, physically and emotionally by that near-death experience. Although the changes that you see in him are not necessarily permanent. As is the case with this medical procedure that he’s gone through—half the time it is permanent, half the time it isn’t. I’m afraid he falls into the latter category. Beyond that, I don’t know. They tell me nothing. I know nothing.
Are you working on any other projects?
No. I was going to give some facetious answer about all the spare time I’ve got, but no, I really just don’t have any. This is pretty much it. I’d love to be able to say ‘I’m writing a slim volume of poetry on the weekends’, but I’m not. I’m sleeping on the weekends.
What did you do during the show’s hiatus?
Hiatus, I did nothing. Walked the dog, played the piano, cut the grass. Then walked the dog again, because it turns out that dogs have to be walked more than once. I thought it was a one-time thing, but apparently, it’s every day.
Do you think your Devil/Angel approach to House makes him seem more realistic?
I hope. I think of the House audience as being very, very smart and actually, humane. I don’t think—the impression I have, I’m talking about 25 million people, I haven’t met all of them yet—but the impression I have, is that they don’t condemn someone, House, on the evidence of the one thing he did, or the one thing he said, or that one moment, because they’re all aware, they’re sophisticated people and they know that those, as I said, that those things are at war in all of us. To put it in a very glib way, we all have our good days and our bad days. House seems to have a lot of bad days strung together, but there are some wonderful qualities too. He is in many ways, I think, heroic. He’s a heroic character.
Look for new episodes of “House” beginning Tuesday, Oct. 31 at 9/8 central