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Hugh Laurie – What time is it, doc?
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Hugh Laurie – What time is it, doc?

Thursday, 18 February 2016
By Frank Rousseau
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Frank Rousseau

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5 min read

For eight seasons, the charming British actor played House M.D., television’s wittiest, most neurotic medic. All we can ask is to keep on taking the pills.

Four years after Dr. Gregory House hung up his stethoscope, Hugh Laurie goes back on the ward in Chance, a television series and medical thriller in which he plays a forensic neuropsychiatrist. For the moment though, it’s our turn to examine the British star. Between two consultations, he talked to us about watches and his non-pathological relationship with time…

I've never liked to use my phone to check the time.
Hugh Laurie
On my wrist…

I’m not particularly a watch collector. I do own a few but hardly enough to open a jeweller’s! The one I’m wearing today is by IWC Schaffhausen. It’s a good, solid watch, which is important. I ride a motorbike so I need a rugged watch. Most importantly, the dial has to be easy to read. I can’t take my eyes off the road to check the time when I’m riding my Triumph. And don’t forget I’m English. It took me a certain amount of time to get used to driving on the right-hand side of the Los Angeles freeways. Other than that, I’ve never liked to use my phone to check the time. Giving the time isn’t what a phone is for.

Hugh Laurie
On tempo

I ride my bike to work. When I’m filming, I leave home at six in the morning. The sun is barely up. Where I live, around Hollywood, the sprinklers are still on and there’s this heavenly scent of grass and flowers all mixed up. It immediately puts me in a good mood. I get home very late sometimes. I take some spaghetti out of the fridge and because I can’t be bothered to warm it up, I eat it cold. When I still have the energy, I play some piano then off to bed, my head swimming with notes.

IWC Pilot’s watch Mark XVII
Waste of time

Objectively, I wasted my time at Cambridge [University]. I was so lazy! After Eton, I chose the archaeology and anthropology department. The two “deadliest”, most time-consuming subjects imaginable. The problem was, each time I examined the bones of these “patients”, who were millions of years old, there was no-one to pay the consultation! (laughs). I wasn’t making any money, so I ended up joining Cambridge Footlights, a theatrical club, instead. That’s when I realised I wanted to be an actor. Anyway, either I went on stage and had rotten eggs thrown at me or finished up shearing sheep like my elder brother!

My father didn't want me to end up as a giant head on a scrawny body.
Hugh Laurie
Against the clock

I was very active as an oarsman but that’s all in the past. Just talking about it makes my muscles ache! OK, I was a good oarsman, but never anything like as good as my father, Ran Laurie, who won gold for rowing at the 1948 Olympic Games. My father was a great admirer of Montaigne. He couldn’t imagine not having a sound mind in a healthy body. Because he didn’t want me to end up as a giant head on a scrawny body, he encouraged me to build up some muscle in my arms without neglecting my brain! (In all fairness, Hugh did win the British national title in 1977 and went on to compete in the Junior World Rowing Championships. In 1980 he rowed in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. A bout of glandular fever then forced him to give up rowing).

Back in time

I was in Namibia filming Flight of the Phoenix with Dennis Quaid when a fax came through, on what was probably the only fax machine in the entire country, inviting me to audition for a medical drama, House as it turned out. A few pages of script were attached to the fax. I went into my hotel bathroom, the only place where I could get enough light, recorded my audition tape and popped it in the post. Much later, I learned that the director had been adamant about finding a “quintessentially American person” for the part. Apparently he didn’t read my CV properly as it clearly states that I’m a British Citizen.

British scriptwriters turn out nothing but anti-heroes.
Hugh Laurie
Culture lag

Great Britain no longer had anything to offer, so I made the leap to the United States. Hollywood scriptwriters are full of admiration for the characters they create. Even when they’re completely monstrous, they are heroic nonetheless. In Britain, our scriptwriters turn out nothing but anti-heroes, losers even. Apart from James Bond and Harry Potter, objectively, there are virtually no more modern heroes in the UK. I honestly think it’s down to the fact our writers and scriptwriters are frustrated, driven by the desire for revenge. Perhaps they were ridiculed at school. Possibly they weren’t lucky with girls, who preferred to flirt with the more virile, more enterprising boys. I don’t know. I try to understand why Americans invent characters they admire, and why my fellow citizens insist on imagining characters they detest! So there’s more than a time difference between Britain and the land of Obama and the star-spangled banner!

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