In Season Five, Gregory House, aka Hugh Laurie, the most irreverent, controversial doctor on TV, is stunned by the shocking suicide of team member Dr Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn – who left the show to take a position in President Obama’s White House). When House’s life begins to spin out of control, causing him to hallucinate and lose faith in his own mental abilities, he is forced to admit that he can no longer practice medicine. Out of options, he checks himself into a psychiatric hospital.
The two-hour premiere of Season Six is set almost entirely inside the psychiatric hospital, and will explore House’s long and twisted road to recovery. I caught up with Hugh Laurie at a Fox party, and talked with him about his intriguing character, for which the actor has been honored with two TV Critics Association Awards, two Golden Globes, two Screen Actor Guild Awards and four Emmy nominations.
How’s life for House in the psychiatric institution?
It’s been rather harrowing in its way; it’s been a very dark and challenging experience, but a good one.
What kind of mental state does House find himself in at the beginning of the season?
Pretty damaged, pretty much where he was at the end of Season Five. Usually what we’ve done between the seasons is to allow the same period of time to elapse as actually happens in reality between the seasons, but in this case the season actually picks up only a matter of a few days after Season Five ended, so it’s where we left him going through a pretty harrowing, medical and psychiatric experience.
How long does he stay in the hospital?
It’s the opening show which is a two hour episode, so it’s really a feature-length episode.
Coming out of the psychiatric hospital, has House’s relationships with the other characters change?
Yes, it’s difficult for me to say because it’s early days, we’re only on the fourth show at the moment, so we’re in a slightly transitional state where House is trying to keep himself in check and to curve his a acerbic tongue and try to connect with people in a way he hadn’t done previously. How long that will last remains to be seen. I have my doubts.
How long does it take for him to get back to practicing medicine?
That I don’t know. I am operating in a consultative capacity at the moment. His license is suspended as it would be, and it’s yet to be given back.
Do you feel this season is more dark than usual?
This character is always seeking redemption in some way or another, there’s always a glimmer of hope, I hope. But it is a pretty dark place to start, but not just meaninglessly dark, it’s not melancholy, it’s just painful. It’s a character going through a very traumatic experience, which is actually one that afflicts a great many people. I happen to know, because the show has become allied with the National Association of Mental Illness and this is something that affects a huge number of people, and House is one of them.
How has that association informed your performance?
Well I think we were sort of interested and sympathetic right from the start, but I suppose we feel an extra responsibility not to be cavalier with it, not to be flippant with it, not to treat it as if it was merely a dramatic prop, it was something that has real meaning in people’s lives and we take it seriously for that reason.
Were you shocked when Kal Penn wanted to leave the series?
Shocked that he should obey his President’s wishes? Absolutely yes, what kind of American is that?
What about the shocking way he exited the series?
Well yes, it was obviously startling, as it was intended to be, but I’m startled every week. Every week I read the scripts I’m startled, I have no idea what’s going to happen next, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Was House’s relationship with Dr Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) real or a hallucination?
Ah, is this [interview] real? I don’t know. We’ll have to see.
Will that be answered?
I believe it will be, but probably teasingly, it will probably take four and a half years.
You’ve been playing this role for quite a while now, on screen you don’t appear to be getting bored with it.
Well I’m paid not to look bored, that would be the very minimum they’re entitled to expect. I’m not bored by it, I find it constantly challenging and interesting, I find the scripts constantly funny and dramatic, and I find the people I work with to be a constant delight. That’s a really dull answer, but it’s really true. I’m not saying there aren’t hard days, of course there are hard days, but by and large I feel very blessed.