Culture: Would the real Hugh Laurie please sound off?

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The Independent Online

Is Hugh Laurie the Dudley Moore of our era? He began his career as the apparently less talented half of a comic duo – the back end of the donkey, if you like – but has found success across the Atlantic, eclipsing his former partner, Stephen Fry. As the star of House, an American TV series that can be seen on Five on Thursday nights, Laurie (pictured) has won two Golden Globes and is reportedly paid $350,000 per episode. He is also a gifted musician, having formed a band with three other television actors that had a hit with a cover version of "Minnie the Moocher" last year.

However, the similarities end there. Moore took the comic persona he had developed in Britain and simply transplanted it to Hollywood, whereas Laurie has had to reinvent himself. Dr Gregory House, the character he plays in the eponymous TV series, is completely different from the lovable eccentrics he normally plays. He is American, for one thing, but he is also an intellectual heavyweight, an expert at diagnosing obscure diseases. Above all, he is arrogant, unafraid to tell his colleagues exactly what he thinks of them.

The strange thing about Dr House is that in spite of being completely at odds with Laurie's mild-mannered persona, he seems like a much more authentic expression of the actor's true self. Watching the relish with which Laurie delivers one of House's trademark put-downs, you can't help feeling that the self-deprecating manner the actor adopts in public is just a clever disguise. In reality, he would love to be as outspoken as this supercilious medical expert.

In a sense, though, it is unfair to single out Laurie in this way. The appealing thing about House is that every one of us would like to be as uninhibited as the central character. We constantly have to bite our tongues in order to preserve good social relations and the effect can be demoralising. How liberating it would be if we were released from this obligation, if only for 24 hours. Of course, it would be a disaster – we would do irreparable harm to the relationships we depend on every day – but it is a fantasy we all indulge in. This is at the root of House's appeal. He is the latest in a long line of curmudgeonly heroes, from Hamlet to Basil Fawlty.

Will Laurie ever reprise his old comic persona? In a recent interview in the Radio Times he said he would love to work with Fry again, but that may prove difficult. Now he has become the more successful of the two, he might not be content to play the back end of the donkey.