A dozen years have passed since Hugh Laurie first made a splash on U.S. television as the endearingly acerbic Dr. Gregory House. But it’s his choices since the show ended in 2012 that have been refreshingly unexpected, which have included acclaimed runs on Veep and The Night Manager, the latter of which he received an Emmy nomination.
“I don’t have any concept of a surgence [sic] or a resurgence,” the veteran British actor told ET during a sit-down interview in Beverly Hills, California, downplaying his eccentric resume since House.
Though it may seem to the average person that Laurie was seeking roles far removed from the character he made famous for eight years, it’s far less calculated than that. The 57-year-old joked that he “stumbles” from one job to the next “in a completely chaotic, unplanned fashion.”
“I can tell you it doesn’t feel that way,” Laurie said when asked if he’s been picking the right characters as of late. “We look at other people’s lives and we always assume that other people’s lives are planned or the results are inevitable -- that of course, they wind up doing such and such thing.”
“It feels like a giant game of pinball. I don’t have a master plan and it doesn’t feel like clever choices,” he continued. “I’m living in a state of perpetual anxiety that I’m going to basically f**k it up.”
It’s that healthy dose of doubt that keeps Laurie, who toplines Hulu’s new drama, Chance, continuously looking to perfect his craft -- even if perfection is a fool’s goal. “I think if you ever start thinking, ‘I know how to do this,’ that probably means you don’t,” he noted. “To actually be constantly afraid that you’re going to mess it up is a good thing.”
That’s exactly how Laurie felt when he joined Veep, HBO’s Emmy-winning political comedy, in which he portrayed the charming Senator Tom James, Selina Meyer’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) running mate, in the fourth and fifth seasons.
“I’m such an admirer of the show and the opportunity to actually go [and be on it], honestly, I felt like a spectator on Veep. I had the best seat in the house,” Laurie reminisced. “I could never turn that down even though I was thinking, ‘God, I hope I don’t screw this up.’”
Veep creator Armando Iannucci named one of Laurie’s spontaneous jokes in a season four episode, which would become a running gag, as one of his favorite moments of the series. Upon hearing Iannucci’s praise, Laurie was humbled.
“That’s amazing to hear,” he said, a hint of red creeping up in his cheeks at the compliment, before redirecting his admiration to the rest of the cast. “The moment when Selina realizes she’s going to become president, and Julia and Tony Hale are laughing at the absurdity of what’s happened. I marvel at how they’ve created this believable, but incredibly funny state of hysteria.”
In Chance, based on the novel by Kem Nunn, Laurie plays yet another complex doctor at the center of the tale, San Francisco-based forensic neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Eldon Chance, who gets pulled into a dangerous world of mistaken identity, police corruption and mental illness. Unlike House, though, Chance isn’t jaded about his field of work.
“[He] doesn’t claim to have all the answers,” Laurie said. “He’s a man who’s overwhelmed, if anything, by his job, and the problems that confront him and the patients who come to him with these terrible afflictions that he can’t heal.”
As a young a boy, Laurie recalled Christmas cards his father -- a doctor -- would receive from patients thanking him for healing their ailments. “When I spoke to a neuropsychologist, I asked, ‘Does that ever happen to you? Do you ever get Christmas cards?’” he said. “And he said, ‘Nope, because I don’t heal anybody.’”
“There’s no equivalent of keyhole surgery for the brain, and that’s the defeated position he’s in,” Laurie added of Chance’s depressed mindset. “He’s overwhelmed by the suffering he’s seeing every day and he’s losing his way and he’s losing his will, until this patient [a woman possibly struggling with multiple personality disorder, played by Gretchen Mol] arrives, who lights a spark and shows him hope of finding meaning again, finding joy, finding human connection.”
Laurie admits Chance is a “bleak” and “melancholic” story, but that’s exactly what drew him to the project, which will air at least two 10-episode seasons.
“That’s one of the things I love about it. I like it for its humanity,” he said of the Bay Area-based production, in which their home base is an abandoned cheese factory. “Storytelling now is so heightened -- it’s about grand concepts of time travel or ‘the nuclear bomb is going to go off’ and the stakes have to be [big], but that’s not the way we live our lives. That’s not what matters to us, really. I mean, if a nuclear bomb goes off, it will matter of course, but that’s not what makes our lives our lives.”
So far, Laurie’s post-House career couldn’t be going any better. As he continues to add to his already impressive list of accomplishments, he is comfortable now in looking back on all that he’s done.
“I get prouder as time goes by. I can look back at things I did, which I probably hated 25 years ago, and I look at it now and go, ‘Actually, that wasn’t so bad. There’s some good stuff in there,’ and I’m getting to the point where I look back with immense pride at House, I really do,” Laurie said of the role he’s proudest of. “Some of the stories we did managed to be funny and tragic and farcical and subtle. There were moments when the show, I felt, was genuinely profound.”
Chance premieres Wednesday on Hulu.