Hugh Laurie warmly recalls “House” and the flawed physician he played as artful combinations of tragedy and comedy.
Laurie is returning to TV as a medical man, this time a disillusioned forensic psychiatrist, in “Chance,” Hulu’s 10-episode series based on Kem Nunn’s critically acclaimed novel. With Dr. Eldon Chance “sucked into a world of sexual obsession, fractured identities and violence,” as the streaming service put it, laughs are unlikely.
Laurie is mesmerizing whatever the project, as his recent venture into chillingly bad-guy territory with “The Night Manager” proved, if proof is needed. He’s also game to tackle an interview after wrapping up a production day on “Chance” at 3 a.m. in San Francisco and hopping on a plane for a day of publicity.
Nunn is an executive producer on the drama, out Wednesday, that also stars Gretchen Mol as a patient possibly suffering from a multiple personality disorder.
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Laurie, excusing himself as “slightly bleary,” talked to The Associated Press about the series and the prospects of reuniting with his friend and comedy partner Stephen Fry, with whom he created magic in the P.G. Wodehouse-based “Jeeves and Wooster” series and other projects. The son of an Olympic gold medalist in rowing (and a Cambridge college rower himself), Laurie also discussed why the Games matter more than ever.
AP: What appeal did “Chance” have for you?
Laurie: I was very taken with the novel. I’d read it about two years ago, and the script arrived about a year after that. It was one of the rare occasions – can’t think of any other, actually – when a script adaptation has actually matched if not surpassed the original novel. Kem wouldn’t mind me saying that because he was involved in the adaptation. … and it spoke to me. I’m fascinated by the subject matter. Psychiatry and neuroscience is an absolutely gripping area of inquiry. … There’s also something intimate and vulnerable about these characters. This is not (dialogue) in which people trade quips. So much television now is about writers showing off their chops. … It’s not really how people talk much of the time.
AP: You’ve been in several projects lately, including “Veep.” Are you driven to work?
Laurie: I don’t think I am. I think of myself as a very lazy person. But I’ve observed also that other people I think are driven describe themselves as lazy. I think, “That doesn’t make any sense. I don’t understand what the word lazy means then.” If Kenneth Branagh thinks he’s lazy, what does the word mean?
AP: Any good reason you and Stephen Fry haven’t reunited as a comedy duo for some two decades?
Laurie: There was no decision taken, no oath. … I’m up for it. I kept saying we ought to do something on stage. … There were great double acts (like) Flanders and Swann (actor-singer Michael Flanders and pianist Donald Swann). I loved the idea of us doing a sort of stage review. He (Fry) kept saying, “Yes, we must definitely do that. Brilliant, brilliant.” And then 20 years have gone by. But we still mean to do it.
AP: Given your father’s Olympics history, are you a loyal spectator?
Laurie: Right at this moment I’m an avid fan of the Olympics, for this reason: I notice, with some anxiety, that the great global structures that we used to believe in seem to be fragmenting, unraveling, at an incredible rate. The European Union, a grand project meant to end world wars on the European continent, is coming apart for a variety of reasons. You (the United States) have a presidential candidate (Donald Trump) who appears to be very skeptical about NATO. I can imagine one of his first steps would be to say, “Why the hell are we paying for the United Nations?” Something like the Olympics – call me a rank sentimentalist – but I think these things matter. You see a Zimbabwean pole vaulter against a Japanese pole vaulter, and you see them hug at the end. I think that’s an amazing thing and not to be underestimated.