In the four years since House ended, Hugh Laurie has veered away from the mainstream and carved out a specialty for the unexpected, picking off-kilter parts on well-received shows like Veep. While many Americans may know Laurie as the endearingly acerbic Dr. Gregory House, it’s his dramatic turn as a charming but immoral arms dealer in the acclaimed miniseries The Night Manager that’s bringing the British actor back into the Emmy fold.
Laurie is no stranger to the shine of awards season. Nominated for an Emmy six times before for his breakthrough portrayal as House, the British actor never took home the coveted prize -- a point he doesn’t allow himself to think about or stress over. Why would he?
“It’s all so strange,” Laurie, 57, admitted to ET during a sit-down interview in Beverly Hills, California, earlier this month. “The whole notion of competitive acting is so weird.”
“It would only have meaning as a competition -- and that’s what it is -- if 10 actors all played Jack Bauer,” he continued in his usual deadpan demeanor. “But until that happens, until they enter acting in the Olympic Games, I think the whole thing is kind of crazy.”
Still though, Laurie -- a nominee for The Night Manager in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie category, in which he’ll compete against the likes of John Travolta, Sterling K. Brown and David Schwimmer -- is appreciative of the recognition he’s received throughout his storied career.
“It’s very flattering. It’s one of the better kinds of crazy, but it is crazy, nevertheless,” Laurie said of the Emmys, adding that he’ll gladly accept a nomination even with the very real chance of yet another loss: “I’ll absolutely take it, absolutely.”
For Laurie, bringing The Night Manager from print to screen was a labor of love. An early fan of John le Carre’s 1993 novel (“I read that novel nearly 25 years ago and I just fell in love with the whole thing”), he was deeply involved in shepherding the project, attempting to unsuccessfully option the book when it was first released. It would take a few decades, but eventually, it all worked out.
In the six-part British miniseries, Laurie effortlessly plays the manipulative, sinful billionaire Richard Roper, who lures Tom Hiddleston’s Jonathan Pine (a role Laurie hoped to play years ago), an ex-military man-turned-hotel night manager lacking an identity, into the deadly and dangerous world of arms dealing. All the while, Pine serves as a spy for the British intelligence agency with the mission to infiltrate Roper’s powerful circle.
“It was such a beautifully told story, and strangely romantic in a way, the journey of Jonathan Pine is,” Laurie said. “It’s a man looking to sacrifice himself for some cause that he hasn’t found in his life. I find that very poignant and very beautiful in a way.”
The character of Roper presented a unique opportunity for Laurie to showcase his chops. “He’s a psychopath essentially. He’s very sociable, gregarious, charming, manipulates people, finds their weakness and knows how to exploit them,” he said of his character’s duality. “But for all his charm, [he] is just utterly cut off from the consequences from what he does and has no empathy or care for the result.”
Laurie and Hiddleston’s real-life connection made the grueling four-month shoot all the better for it. Aspects of their friendship seeped into the characters’ strange, yet alluring, relationship onscreen.
“It’s a really interesting relationship because on some level, Pine is genuinely seduced by Roper, and I think Roper, at the same time, is attracted to Pine,” Laurie said, reflecting on their complex bond. “Roper knows that time is going to betray him.”
“He knows he deserves it at some level, but his arrogance is such that he wants to pick his traitor. He has to control every element: ‘I pick you. You’re the one that’s going to betray me,’” he continued. “It’s maybe [Roper’s] Christ fixation that he thinks he is the center of the universe and he will pick his Judas to betray him. We had an amazing time doing it, amazing.”