Big in America: The Brits doing rather well over there
With a bumper pay rise for his role in 'House', Hugh Laurie has became the latest - and perhaps most unlikely - British actor to conquer the US, joining the select band of stars who have struck primetime gold
Monday 17 July 2006
Hugh Laurie, age 47
Dollar rating: Now earning about $6.1m (£3.5m) per series for House, plus further rights.
From the moment he first won public acclaim alongside Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson in the Perrier Comedy Award-winning Cambridge Footlights, Laurie seemed a quintessentially English actor.
He had arrived at Cambridge via an Oxford prep school and Eton, and his subsequent career had embraced Jeeves and Wooster, Blackadder and movies such as Peter's Friends with his old university friends.
So his acclaim in the US television medical drama House has surprised some. That the American enthusiasm for him is genuine has been confirmed with the news of a new deal for a third season, for which he will get paid a reported $300,000 (£160,000) an episode. Two months of pay negotiations secured him what is said to be a massive rise on his previous salary, which was said to be in five figures an episode.
Laurie took on the role of Dr Gregory House, a brilliant but arrogant doctor in a fictional New Jersey teaching hospital, two years ago - against a decree from the show's director, Bryan Singer, that he would audition no more Brits. After watching Laurie's audition tape, Singer declared: "See, this is what I want: an American guy."
Laurie won immediate critical and popular acclaim for his performance, with The Washington Times saying he was "perilously close to perfection".
But although he won a Golden Globe earlier this year, he missed out on an Emmy nomination this month.
Prescription for success: Take an Eton-Cambridge education to provide the required whiff of intelligence, add a surprising ability to turn in a decent American accent, and apply to a cracking crime-style mystery in a hospital environment.
Naveen Andrews, age 37
Dollar rating: $35,000 (£20,000) per episode
Voted one of the most beautiful people in the world by People magazine, Andrews had secured a host of major film roles before joining ABC's blockbuster drama Lost as the Iraqi soldier Sayid. A contemporary of Ewan McGregor at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Andrews won a role in Hanif Kureshi's London Kills Me before teaming up once more with the writer for Buddha of Suburbia. But it was his role as Lieutenant Kip Singh in The English Patient that brought him to international attention.
Everything happens for a reason: his role as a former soldier suggests he can take care of himself when the going gets tough. He's not bad-looking either.
Alex Kingston, age 43
Dollar rating: Earning an estimated £3.3m a series when she left ER.
Kingston picked up her lead role as the surgeon Elizabeth Corday in the American TV series ER in the wake of her painful split from husband Ralph Fiennes, whom she had met at Rada. (He went off with his Hamlet co-star Francesca Annis.)
The actress achieved a level of fame she never secured in the UK, but was cut from the series two years ago amid claims that the producers thought that, at 41, she was too old.
Kingston still lives in California with her husband, Florian Maertel, and daughter. But she made a recent return to working in the UK, appearing alongside Christian Slater in the play One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.
Cutting-edge talent: As the British outsider who pluckily moved to America to gain experience in both the series and in real life, Kingston won plaudits. Add love interest with her fellow ER doctor Mark Greene, and seven years of medical drama flew by.
Simon Cowell, age 46
Dollar rating: $105m (£60m) annually from US television and pop interests
Former music business executive who studied at the knee of Pete Waterman before unleashing such multimillion unit-shifting talents as Robson & Jerome and Westlife. Cowell hit the real big time when he signed up as a judge in 2001 for Pop Idol. Carving out a reputation as the show's Mr Nasty with his catchphrase: "I don't mean to be rude but ..." (the phrase was later employed as the title of his autobiography) the impresario skewered the dreams of a succession of wannabes, as well as signing Will Young and Gareth Gates to his stable of stars. The show, owned by former Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller, transferred to the US under the name American Idol, where audiences reached 50 million by the end of the first series and it now dominates the schedules.
Cowell is now the highest paid star in the history of the Fox network and has launched a series of spin-off talent shows.
Success Factor: Cowell and American Idol are doing to the rest of television "what Sherman did to Georgia," according to The New York Times. US audiences love to hate the straight-talking Cowell and his insults and put-downs have become national catchphrases.
Jane Leeves, age 45
Dollar rating: Earned about £5.5m per series of Frasier, plus further rights.
As Daphne Moon, the dotty Lancashire carer/ nurse in the long-running series Frasier, Jane Leeves was earning around £250,000 an episode by the time the show came to an end two years ago.
Raised in East Grinstead, Sussex, Leeves gave up her dreams of being a prima ballerina after an injury and then, after a stretch as a Benny Hill dolly bird, set off for Los Angeles, intent on becoming an actor instead.
But it was only after years of acting classes and dead-end jobs that she won her role in Frasier, the Cheers offshoot with Kelsey Grammer as the dysfunctional psychiatrist, which ran for 11 years and made her a millionaire.
Since the series ended, Leeves has made clear her interest in appearing on the London stage, but appears to have been unable to find a big enough role to justify uprooting her husband - an American TV executive she met at a Frasier Christmas party - and two daughters from Los Angeles.
On the couch: She may have been daffy in the show, but Leeves had slogged hard before she got her big break.
Gordon Ramsay, age 39
Dollar rating: Estimated earnings of $2m (£1.2m) from first series of Hell's Kitchen
The pugnacious celebrity chef may have just signed a £9m deal with Channel 4 to provide British audiences with his mixture of haute cuisine and low language for four years but his future is increasingly Stateside.
He has recently completed filming in Los Angeles of a second series of Hell's Kitchen, where a dozen wannabe chefs battle it out to win a £700,000 restaurant.
The show, filmed in a purpose-built, fireproof studio in LA and broadcast on the Fox network, has proved a ratings success with American audiences. One critic described it as "an evil version of The Apprentice".
The Glaswegian chef is combining his assault on the American airwaves with the opening of three restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
But his production company has already learnt the price of making money in the States. Granada America recently had to settle a damages claim after one of the Hell's Kitchen contestants twisted his ankle on set.
Recipe for success: As one Fox executive put it: "I didn't know the British had chefs, never mind any good ones." American audiences have loved Ramsay's combination of a love of beautiful food with his boot camp-style kitchen. His three Michelin stars add a soupçon of European chic, even if he is British.
Ricky Gervais, age 45
Dollar rating: $5.25m (£3m) so far for rights to The Office and Extras.
Before The Office became an unexpected word-of-mouth hit in the UK in 2001, Gervais's only brush with international success was two decades earlier when his New Romantic group, Seona Dancing, scored a posthumous smash hit in the Philippines. He went on to work in radio and television but it was his creation of the boss from hell, David Brent, that made him. Though many doubted Brent's deadpan humour would survive the passage from Slough to Scranton, Pennsylvania - Gervais himself was replaced in the main role - success was assured when he walked off with two Golden Globes in 2004. NBC this year commissioned another 22 episodes of The Office and Gervais is working on a second series of his follow-up, Extras.
Perfect business model: US critics immediately warmed to Gervais's "self-centred, tactless and impossible not to like" characters. The success of The Office and Extras proved American audiences do get irony after all ... and they didn't need the laughter track either.
Ian McShane, age 62
Dollar rating: £2.9m $170,000 dollars (£100,000) per episode over 29 shows
As an actor best known for his role as a washed-up antiques dealer with a dodgy haircut, even Ian McShane admitted recently that he thought his career was over. But salvation for the Rada-trained actor, who once had a reputation for hard living, came in the shape of Deadwood, an American series about the Wild West in 1877, in which he plays a brothel-owner renowned forhis hard living. The former Lovejoy character, who won a Golden Globe for his role as ruthless town boss Al Swearengen, has signed several Hollywood film deals - albeit tempered by the announcement last month by the HBO channel that it has cancelled Deadwood.
Wanted dead or alive: The recovering alcoholic has settled down to the best of Hollywood cliches - the British villain.
Parminder Nagra, age 30
Dollar rating: Earns an estimated £1.5m a series of ER
The Leicester-born daughter of Punjabi parents, Nagra hit the big time in the 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham, in which she played a Sikh teenager whose parents are horrified to discover she has joined a female football team. The movie became a surprise hit in the States and, in its wake, she was offered the role of a British medical student, Dr Neela Rasgotra, in ER. The Los Angeles Times critic hailed her as having "a touch of that certain Audrey Hepburn something" and fans - Parmaniacs - have set up a website to share their passion.
New blood: A young star fresh from unexpected international movie success steps easily and with charm into the well-oiled machinery of this long-running medical drama.
Anthony Head, age 52
Dollar rating: About £4.3m, based on earnings of $50,000 per episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for its 144-show run.
It all happened over a cup of coffee. The Camden-born actor came to fame on both sides of the Atlantic in the late 1980s for his starring role in the Nescafe Gold Blend adverts (known as Tasters' Choice, state-side). Wider recognition earned him a role in a new American television series about a high school student who keeps vampires at bay between lessons. Buffy the Vampire Slayer became one of the most popular shows of the 1990s, with Head playing the part of the professorial Rupert Giles, a "watcher" whose job is to tutor the show's eponymous star in how to kill her fanged foes.
Head, whose family continued to live in Britain while he filmed across the pond, returned to the UK after Buffy ended in 2001. He has since appeared in Doctor Who and Hotel Babylon.
Why he's so fang-tastic: Smooth, dark, moody, just like the instant coffee he plugged so successfully, Head met all the requirements of a British character in the American television universe by playing a donnish father figure with just a hint of the night about him.
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