He sent audition tapes for a film set in Africa to win the part of the acerbic doctor, Gregory House, and has turned in a potentially career-changing performance with a flawless American accent.
Laurie, 46, educated at Eton and Cambridge, where he was president of the Footlights theatre company, had been most closely associated with quintessentially English roles such as P G Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster. He will find himself facing stiff competition in the Emmy category for best lead actor in a drama from James Spader, Kiefer Sutherland and fellow Briton, Ian McShane.
McShane, 63, still best known to UK audiences as the dodgy antiques dealer Lovejoy, similarly reinvented himself as cowboy saloon-owner Al Swearengen in the dark drama series Deadwood for which he has already won a Golden Globe.
Another British success story in the American television honours is the film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, a co-production between the BBC and the US company HBO, which makes The Sopranos.
The film, which starred the Australian Geoffrey Rush as the British comedy genius Sellers with a cast including Emily Watson, Peter Vaughan, Stephen Fry and Alison Steadman, was premiered at the Cannes film festival last year. And despite mixed reviews it has won 16 Emmy nominations, matched only by another made-for-television film, Warm Springs, about the US president, Franklin Roosevelt played by Kenneth Branagh.
Branagh has himself been nominated for his performance and will face competition from another British actor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who played Elvis Presley in a CBS mini-series.
Desperate Housewives, the sex-in-suburbia show which became a cult hit in Britain on Channel 4, secured 15 nominations. Three of its stars, Marcia Cross, who plays an uptight perfectionist, Teri Hatcher, the divorced single mother, and Felicity Huffman, the former career woman with four children, will go head to head in the category for best lead actress. Their co-star Eva Longoria, who plays Gabrielle Solis, a scheming former model, has not been chosen for the competition. Best drama contenders include several series familiar to British audiences, including the espionage thriller 24, the American political saga, The West Wing, the funeral parlour drama Six Feet Under and Deadwood.
The West Wing has already won best drama four times though last year's victor, The Sopranos, was sidelined for not having enough qualifying episodes this year. Dramas to have lost out included Nip/Tuck, featuring the British actress Joely Richardson, and The Shield, although Glenn Close, its star, was shortlisted for best actress. Her rivals will include Patricia Arquette, who receives an Emmy nomination for the first time for a psychic whodunnit series, Medium.
In the comedy categories, Desperate Housewives will face competition from the long-running Will and Grace; Arrested Development, which has been screened on BBC4, and Everybody Loves Raymond, which has ended after nine seasons on US TV.
A special edition of The Office is also nominated as a made-for-TV movie against Warm Springs and Peter Sellers, as are its creators, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.
The 57th Emmys will be presented in Los Angeles on 18 September.