Hugh Laurie is about to be rockin' the house for another season as star of the TV medical series "House." And not surprisingly, he's up for Best Dramatic Actor honors at tonight's Emmy Awards. More surprisingly perhaps, he's just released an album of MUSIC. Laurie talked with our Martha Teichner ... For The Record:
"I heard a song on the radio, my brother was driving the car, I remember it very clearly," recalls Hugh Laurie. "I don't remember the song, unfortunately, but I remember the moment. Hairs on the back of my neck going up. I was probably, I was probably about this high."
"Every emotion is in this music for me," he said of the blues. "It makes me happy, it makes me sad, it makes me excited, but it could also soothe me."
In the liner notes of his just-released album of New Orleans-style blues, "Let Them Talk," Hugh Laurie admits, is "openly trespassing on the music and myth of the American South.'"
Trespassing because he's White, English, and best known as the star of the Fox drama, "House," not as a professional musician.
Teichner suggested critics would call it "a famous TV star's vanity project."
"I know how this might look, and I know all the accusations that might be made, but to hell with it," Laurie replied. "This is what I love. This is who I am, and this is me declaring myself."
Let loose in Amoeba Music, a record store in Los Angeles, Laurie sounds like a cross between an infatuated lover and a geek ("Oh my God!" he exclaimed in proximity to a Dr. John CD).
Dr. John is one of several New Orleans legends who perform with Laurie on the album.
"Dr. John sings and I play," Laurie said, "'A dream come true' doesn't even begin to cover it. At the end of that session, we recorded this one song, he was only there a couple of hours, but I went out into the parking lot and I got into my car and I wept. I sat at the wheel of my car and I wept. It was such an overwhelming moment, you know, to be in his presence."
At the record store, an array of jazz legends like Muddy Waters and Bessie Smith gives Laurie "a great ... ocean of pleasure."
But when an opportunity to be funny arises, Hugh Laurie can't help himself.
In England, he and actor/writer Stephen Fry made their names as a comedy duo.
Laurie's specialty: Silly, foppish aristocrats.
"The sort of clowning that I tended towards was a defense against something," he said. "And I, to this day, haven't really worked out what I was defending or what I was worried about, where I thought a threat was. But it was a way of ... I don't know, winning approval, of disarming one's enemies, or something, by making them laugh."
Even as a comedian Laurie slipped music into his act. Although as a child growing up in Oxford, England, his passion for music was nearly extinguished by two excruciating months of piano lessons with Mrs. Hare.
"I hated it," he said.
"It was all about posture and sitting very like this. I remember we worked our way through this awful book of French lullabies and you know, comical Polish songs with, you know tigers and elephants in the title. And then finally we came to the only song I wanted to play in the whole book was "Swanee River." It was the closest thing to a blues song in the whole book, and I remember she turned the page and she looked at me: 'Swanee River,' Negro spiritual, slightly syncopated, yes, I think we'll leave that"
It's no coincidence that "Swanee River" is on the album. It's Laurie's revenge.
"You got even with your piano teacher," said Teichner. "I did, a little bit, yes!" he chuckled.
Something House might do ...
Laurie still has no idea how he, of all people, happened to be asked to audition for the role of the brilliant but perverse Dr. Gregory House, who's modeled on Sherlock Holmes.
"They'd offered it to many people - I won't say many, but quite a few, I think, who turned it down. I think because drug-taking mean person was not the way to endear yourself to a large audience."
"At the point that you got the role, where were you in your career?" asked Teichner.
"I've never really thought about career, I've never thought strategically," he replied. "There's so much luck. We are at the mercy of whimsical gods at every turn."
"But having said that, I don't think that there's anybody who sees 'House,' who doesn't see you as the embodiment of 'House,' in a way that just seems so inevitable that it couldn't have ever been anybody else," Teichner said.
"Well, gosh, I mean that's very kind. Are you one of those people, if people say ..."
"I'm one of those people."
"Thank you!" Laurie said.
No one is more surprised than Laurie that the show is starting its eighth season - and that he is the highest-paid actor in a drama series. He makes $700,000 an episode, according to TV Guide.
The limp and the American accent are still hard, he says. Living in L.A.? Not so hard.
"The sort of popular, rather snobbish English view is, 'Oh, Los Angeles, it's a city of glitter and vanity, you know, you'll hate it there, any decent person should!' is the sort of feeling. And I think, 'No, dammit, I'm going to love it.' And I do."
"How do you think that 'House' and living in the United States have changed you?" asked Teichner.
"'How has it changed me?' That's a tricky one, I didn't see that one coming!"
"I can be tricky," Teichner admitted.
"Yes, you can! I hope that I've got better at what I do. I hope that I have become less neurotic. I think I probably was neurotic, and I am less so now."
"Before 'House,' would you have dared to do the album, playing piano?"
"No," he said. "I didn't have the confidence. I think probably 'House' has given me a confidence as a performer that I didn't have before. Took me a long time to find."
So that now, lost in the blues, Hugh Laurie is a man at home.
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