One might expect, given his reputation, that House would be all “win some; lose some.” But he’s not; he’s defeated and upset. The dialogue tells us that the patient is dying, better tell the father. What Laurie adds is subtext that lets us see how it affects House.
Although we’re led to believe that House cares so little about patients that he should be the last one to tell any family member such dire news, Laurie guides us into House’s heart, showing us that he cares a great deal more than he says—and that he has as much (if not more) compassion than anyone in his circle. And so it makes sense when House chooses himself to deliver the sad news. It shocks his fellows, but we know better; we can see what it means to House—because Laurie lets us in.
House does his best to promote a particular image: a nasty, angry, cynical jerk. And it is up to Laurie to give the audience clues to the contrary, even when it's not scripted that way. He infuses this difficult, unlikable character with an idiosyncratic humanity, granting us access to his emotional landscape, and helping to forge House into one of the greatest characters created for the small screen. It is a partnership between writer, director, and character actor and the result is consistently brilliant.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked my readers to offer what they considered the best of Hugh Laurie as House—revelations they would point out to an Emmy voter if the opportunity ever arose. Thanks to everyone who stopped by and offered their opinions.
There were many responses, but there were several common threads, all of which point to Laurie’s ability to bring a entire range of emotion to a very complex and difficult character. Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House is nasty, but with a deeply embedded streak of compassion; disabled but physical; lazy, but driven; an isolated genius who can be charming and engaging; a street talking “regular” guy who can lose himself playing Bach; a cynic who is also deeply romantic.
Bryan Singer once said of those auditioning for the role back during casting for the pilot episode that none of the other actors “got” all of the essentials of the prickly Dr. Gregory House: the coldness, the comedy, the sarcasm, the physicality, the charisma—and the pathos so intrinsic in rendering Dr. Gregory House sympathetic. There are times when this entire range of skill is needed even within a single scene—and Laurie’s ability to play all of it credibly and with great nuance is key to his brilliance. And I won’t even dwell on the fact that he does it all with a believable and remarkably consistent American accent (he’s British, if you were still unaware), while hobbling with a cane and speaking some of the quickest, most complex dialogue written.