Hugh Laurie gave reporters a preview of House's journey to come over the summer. For years we have been analyzing House's behavior, the actor being the character's de facto defender as his real world spokesperson. The issue of whether his entertainingly vicious banter is justified by his ability to solve rare medical mysteries has been at the heart of the show for its five years and counting.
Now the issue deepens. His painkiller addiction has compromised his sobriety, and if he's not practicing medicine, can he still get away with insulting others? House returns September 21 on Fox.
Starpulse: Did you think it was a bold move at the end of season five to say, "Okay, the Vicodin is having a demonstrable effect on House?" Up until then, we'd been saying he's functional.
Hugh Laurie: Well, once the guy starts hallucinating people and events and conversations and more than conversations, liaisons, let me put it that way, then yes, this is someone who probably should be led gently away from the controls of the aircraft.
It's sort of an answer to the ethical questions that's been so fascinating. Does being a great doctor justify the means of medicating himself?
Right, well, it was one of the lines we had early on. It wasn't the pain killers that were the problem, it was the pain that was the problem. Is it preferable to have someone operating sober but in a condition of enormous physical pain. That's probably not a particularly desirable thing either. It's an interesting question and the line is never really drawn. It's sort of an unknowable thing.
We also debate whether his behavior is justified by his brilliance. Does this threaten that hypothesis?
Well, that's a very good question because certainly at the beginning of the season, that is stripped away from him. He is no longer practicing medicine, he's no longer healing, solving medical problems. So then, without that, who is he and what is he really there for? He has to ask himself that. I'm not saying he's hidden behind that gift but he has certainly used that gift to define his role and define his character, his reason for existing. You take that away and he's forced to ask some pretty hard questions.
Were you disappointed that the love scene with Cuddy proved to be a fantasy?
Well, speaking as an actor, it was real enough. Let me put it that way. Yes, I suppose. As a viewer, I would hope that House would find some genuine comfort at some point, that he would find some connection with another warm body with whom he could travel through this lonely cosmos. It was not to be but it may yet be. It may yet come to pass.
This is great too but I think House and Cuddy are good for each other.
Well, good. Me too, me too.
Does this experience make House bitter or has it humbled him?
The season opener, the two hour story at the beginning of the season is a pretty humbling one. He is laid bare to a considerable degree. Apart from anything else, he's in a place where his biggest single gift, his biggest single reason for living is taken away from him and that is to heal. He's no longer healing, he is the healed. So without that, of course he, like everyone else, is forced to start to examine who he really is and what he's there for because up until that point, he's always had one supreme answer which is he's there to solve medical problems, to cure people.
You're a doctor on TV yet we saw you ride a motorcycle without a helmet on the studio lot.
I didn't realize who I was [meeting]. I just saw a lot of people and I, of course, averted my gaze, which of course you shouldn't do on a motorcycle either. That's probably more dangerous than not wearing a helmet. Of course I would wear a helmet and take every reasonable safety precaution and I would advise young people to do the same.
Will we see House escape from the looney bin?
You guys and the looney bin. It's a psychiatric institution.
Didn't House call it that?
The fictional character, yes. He did but House is damaged. I wouldn't describe him exactly as a role model, either in his vocabulary or behavior, but I take your point. It's funny, because the show House has become associated with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We've gotten especially to people being flippant. I'm not saying you were being flippant but terms like looney bin, we start get right sensitive about.
I was only quoting House.
I know, I know, you're absolutely right. You're in the clear. It's my fault.
Will he be regaining his senses and authority this season?
Well, as far as the season goes, I honestly don't know. They tell me about a week after they've told the transport department. That's when I hear.
Do you lose your position?
Yes, I begin the season without a medical license. That is revoked, or suspended rather. It is in the gift of the psychiatrist in charge of my case played by Andre Braugher to decide whether I am sufficiently stable to begin practicing medicine again.
Dr. Nolan (guest star Andre Braugher, L) works with his patient House (Hugh Laurie, R) at Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital in the HOUSE two-hour season premiere episode airing Monday, Sept. 21 © Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Michael Yarish/FOX
That's true, so the zero on the graph is pretty far down that way.
What does he have to do to regain his license?
That, I don't know, because I still don't have it. Four shows in, I still don't have it.
Have they given you some ideas as to when?
No, no idea.
So will he make house calls until then?
He's got a couple of ways around it which I don't want to give away because they are kind of entertaining. Obviously, he will regain his status eventually but at the moment, he's very much on probation.
House seems to have made peace with his flaws. Have you learned from House, the way he's done that?
I would say not, no, but then I wasn't really looking to do that. I would feel like an odd sort of character if I went looking for the fictional characters I was playing to teach me things. That seems to be the wrong way around. I would hope it would work the other way around, I hope.
But he seems like he's okay with who he is.
I'm not sure about that. I think there's a front. There's a façade and he is tough enough to make as if that's the case but I'm not sure it is all the time. I think he is assailed by the same sorts of doubts that assail us all.
Is House a good patient in the institution?
House, as you might probably have guessed, does not go willingly. No, he's not a particularly bitable character and does not cooperate very easily.
Are his insults more vicious to his handlers than they've been to his patients?
I'd say it's neck and neck.
Do any particularly clever ones stand out to you?
I don't remember lines. I honestly can't remember the lines when I'm standing in front of the camera, never mind 10 hours later, 10 days later.
Are the makeout scenes with Franka Potente hallucinatory too or are they real?
You mean did I actually shoot them or did I imagine that I shot them? No, with Franka's character, that is real. That is real.
House (Hugh Laurie, R) and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein, L) share an intimate moment in the HOUSE © Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Darren Michaels/FOX
Lots of things but I'm not a list maker. I don't want to be quoted with lists of things but there are lots of good things.
Do you think it's a good time for television?
Yeah, I do. Although, that's always a very hard question to answer because so much of it is related to one's own aging process. What is to me a Golden Age of television was actually a Golden Age of me, that's to say when I was 15. So everything looked great at 15. If I was to see those same shows now, I would probably look at them differently. At least I hope I would.
Could you have portrayed House as a Brit? Was there ever any discussion in the beginning?
There was a discussion. It lasted for about 15 seconds. It was never really explained to me at the time because I was the hired help. My guess is that they decided that here was a character who was sufficiently alien, problematic. If they made him foreign as well as an acerbic drug addict, maybe the American public would actually go, "Hold on a second, I don't want this guy in my home." I don't know, maybe that was their thinking but that's me and it's merely a guess.
Story/Interview by Fred Topel
Starpulse contributing writer
(Starpulse in Hollywood): Every week, Hollywood's biggest stars are meeting in the hot spots and Starpulse is there.