Hugh Laurie: Saying goodbye to 'House' |


Hugh Laurie: Saying goodbye to 'House'

With Fox's acclaimed drama checking out for good on May 21, ''House'' star Hugh Laurie looks back on eight great years of medical mysteries and, yes, madness

On our last day of shooting Fox’s top brass gave me some top brass. I’m not talking about my salary, which was undeniably mad — the sort of money that should only be paid to people who destroy Earth-bound asteroids, or invent a method for converting journalists into clean energy — no, I mean they gave me a trumpet. And not just any trumpet, but a vintage Selmer, as played by Louis Armstrong. (The certificate of provenance that came with it doesn’t specify whether Pops played this actual instrument or a close relation, but I suppose the lack of clarity is clarity of a sort. Never mind. It is a wondrous gift.) I tried blowing it immediately, almost turning my digestive tract inside out in the process, but I did get a sound. I tooted my own horn and it felt good.

Now I know that I’m not supposed to do this. It is the accepted custom, especially among my countrymen, to play down one’s accomplishments; to blush, and stammer charmingly about luck, and teamwork, and possibly the hand of God (which, when you think about it, is a ferociously arrogant explanation for one’s success, but we’ll leave that for now). But this Dance of Modesty can often be disingenuous. It serves to deflect and disarm, to spike the guns of one’s enemies; I know because I have used it that way myself.

So, for the length of this paragraph alone, I am striking out against the custom. I am going to toot my horn loud and clear and say that, for eight years, I worked as hard as I knew how, to make House as good as it could be. I frothed and fretted over every detail, every line, every moment. Driving home in the small hours, I pounded the steering wheel as I replayed mistakes in my mind. I tossed and turned every night, plotting the next day’s maneuvers, until I reached moments of near-madness — some would say nearer than near — because I loved House with all my heart, and loved the other characters and the world in which they moved just as much.

At its best, the show felt to me like the sweetest kind of chamber music, with perfectly satisfying intervals, cadences, rhythms; but to achieve that consonance, every part of the ensemble had to be just so. The modern style of acting produces a rough, igneous stone from which skilled editors are expected to cut and polish fine diamonds, but that could never have worked for House. The door to Wilson’s office had to close between the words ”malignant” and ”melanoma,” to punctuate the moment, not a half second earlier or later. The cap of the pill bottle had to snap shut just before the patient turns his head from the window, or the moment would fail. A misplaced blink, or swallow, or crack of the voice, and a phrase could be reduced to a mere string of words: serviceable, comprehensible, but not musical. Often we hit a clam, a bum note that would ring on through the following scenes, distracting and weakening the effect. But we hit some very sweet ones, too.