Hugh Laurie hits big time on American TV

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The Independent Online

He is known in his home country as the personification of bumbling Brits, from credulous aristocrats to half-witted royals. Now Hugh Laurie is coping with a different sort of fame, generated on the other side of the Atlantic by his role as an arrogant, patient-loathing doctor.

He is known in his home country as the personification of bumbling Brits, from credulous aristocrats to half-witted royals. Now Hugh Laurie is coping with a different sort of fame, generated on the other side of the Atlantic by his role as an arrogant, patient-loathing doctor.

The American television series House, named after a bumptious but brilliant hospital physician played by the British comedy actor, has developed into an unlikely ratings hit, earning Laurie rave reviews and the prospect of a vast fortune.

The latest episode of the drama, screened by the Fox network, attracted 18 million viewers last week and was seventh in the list of most watched American programmes with a 15 per cent share of the audience.

Laurie's success as the grizzled Dr Gregory House, complete with an impeccable American accent, represents a sharp change in direction for the Cambridge-educated actor.

He had previously carved out a niche as an accomplished clown with roles such as Bertie Wooster in Jeeves & Wooster, based on the P G Wodehouse classics, and the Prince Regent in Blackadder. But as the specialist medic who is addicted to pain killers, walks with a cane and solves the cases that other doctors cannot, Laurie, 45, has reinvented himself.

In so doing, he joins the select list of British actors who have found fortune on American television, from Joan Collins in Dynasty to Parminder Nagra, the star of Bend It Like Beckham, who is now regular on ER.

Reviewers have fallen over themselves to heap praise on the latest British import. The Washington Times described his performance as "perilously close to perfection". USA Today said the lead role of House "matches a great actor with a great character". Since it was first screened last autumn, the series has rapidly grown in popularity. Its audience doubled when Fox scheduled it after American Idol, the US version of Pop Idol.

The 12-episode series charts the progress of Dr House - who, in between popping pills, makes plain that he does not believe a word his patients tell him - and his team as they solve their patients' exotic illnesses.

Storylines set in a fictional teaching hospital in New Jersey have included a woman whose sleeping sickness was caused by her infidelity and a potential presidential candidate whose symptoms point towards Aids.

When asked why his doctor is so popular, Laurie recently said: "Maybe the audience feels the same sort of freedom I do in playing the character. There's a sort of exhilaration in seeing someone say the unsayable.

"It's not practical in real life. Maybe TV is the best place for this guy. In real life, he'd be in jail or someone would have punched his lights out."

If the programme continues its ratings success, the financial rewards for its leading man are likely to be vast as producers move towards a second series.Industry insiders have suggested Laurie will be earning $450,000 (£240,000) an episode.

STARS WHO MADE IT OVER THERE

Joan Collins

A trailblazer for British talent on US television, Collins enthralled audiences as Alexis Carrington Colby - the bitchy queen of the diamante shoulder pad in the 1980s soap, Dynasty. Collins, now 72,disappeared after Alexis was pushed over a balcony.

Parminder Nagra

The star of Bend It Like Beckham crossed the Atlantic to joinER in 2003. Playing the irksome Dr Neela Rasgotra, the 29-year-old actress has become one of the central stars of the US hospital drama. Ironically, one of her first TV roles was in the more pedestrian British equivalent, Casualty.

Tracey Ullman

The singer turned comedian is arguably far better known in America than her native Britain. Her hit comedy show, first aired in 1987, also had the distinction of bringing the world The Simpsons, which started as a 30-second animation between sketches.

Jane Leeves

After an ankle injury finished her ambition of becoming a ballerina and her British television career resulted in a role as a Benny Hill bimbo, Jane Leeves, now 43, moved to Los Angeles. She became a multi-millionaire playing Daphne Moon, the dotty Lancashire nurse in Frasier.

Alex Kingston

After seven years of playing surgeon Elizabeth Corday in ER, Kingston left the show last year and claimed she had been jettisoned because she was "part of the old fogies who are no longer interesting".

Anthony Head

Anthony Head will forever be known as Rupert Giles, the professorial Watcher in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ironically, it was because of his role as the Mr Smooth of the Gold Blend coffee adverts that Head tried his luck in America - his agent told him that no producer in Britain would cast him.

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