PBS’ new thriller Roadkill, written by David Hare (The Hours), premieres on November 1st, 2020. It stars Hugh Laurie (House MD, Veep) as Peter Laurence, an ambitious politician. He has risen in the British government to become a Minister of a department, thanks to his charismatic personality. But he has many skeletons in his closet, both public and private, that could derail his successful career. So for Laurence, he must outwit the opposition – or get run over and become road kill.
Hugh Laurie spoke with the members of the TV Critics Association this summer about his new, four part miniseries.
American politicians are very histrionic about everything they do, unlike British politics, where they keep it all contained. How hard is that to act?
That, I think, is always the challenge. I feel some sympathy for American politicians who are going through a television meat grinder on a daily basis.
We are a smaller and a more restrained country. I think the fun for an actor is to allow the audience an opportunity to decipher things. Rather than simply presenting it to them in bold captions. (That) is my instinct. I am doing it now, I am talking very loudly and gesturing far too much. I will probably lose my British passport for that because it is un-English!
Politics an act?
Do you think politicians have to be actors?
Since television became the predominant instrument by which you disseminate any idea, I suppose yes. To a degree politicians (don’t) have to be necessarily actors, but at least aware of the theatrical element of it. There are certain skills that they have to acquire.
When you started playing this character, did you think he was somebody who was humble, misunderstood or arrogant? What was the core value of this guy?
(In) Peter Laurence I can see someone who is motivated by a picture of a future rather than the past. I think probably temperamentally I spend too much time looking backwards. Regretting or wondering whether I did the right thing or could I have done it better.
At the end of every working day I spend my time analyzing and recriminating because of the mistakes I made. Rather than making decisions about the following day. I was intrigued by a character who was able to always look forward with a glad heart.
To think that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. Or it can be better than yesterday if you approach it in the right frame of mind Part of the story is him coming to terms with something that happened in his life which he cannot and will not deny; which he takes responsibility for and embraces. But for the most part he is someone who looks forward and finds the past a hindrance.
Constant regret is just not in his nature. It is not something I have myself. But I find it an exhilarating thing to play. And I hope the audience will find it an enjoyable thing to watch.
When you’re playing a new character do you sometimes feel there’s a little too much Gregory House there?
There are some things I can’t do anything about. I am the same height as Gregory House, and I am a little bit older, not by much. So there are some constraints. There are going to be moments, expressions and certain inflections that will possibly cause someone to remember (him). I don’t know. Every actor goes through that. That’s the nature of the thing.
I feel as if I have had the opportunity to play what is to me a wonderful range of characters. All of whom I like and enjoy.
What is it about acting that’s so seductive? Why do people want to do it? It’s a terrible job.
Well, thanks for that! That’s a longer question than I can probably address in this small window we have.
I’m not completely sure it would be the same answer that every other actor would give you. I have a fascination with why people behave the way they do. Why they make the choices they make? And storytelling is a way of exploring mine and also other people’s behavior. I find (it) is the stuff of life.
I love trees, I love dogs and I love country walks, but people are hard to beat for just sheer entertainment. So getting inside other characters, exploring why they do what they do is to me an endlessly fascinating exploration.
You are, of course, completely right. (Acting) is reprehensible in many ways. I probably should never have done it, but here we are. I am still looking for that vocational thunderbolt, (where) I will suddenly start throwing clay pots. Or I’ll become a vet. I don’t know. It is getting a little late in the day!