LOS ANGELES — On screen, Hugh Laurie has been by turns irascible (“House”), villainous (“The Night Manager”) and a comedic delight (“Jeeves & Wooster”). In a conversation about his latest project, PBS’ “Roadkill,” he proved equally versatile.
Laurie was thoughtful and charmingly wry and self-deprecating, including regarding expectations for the apple cider he attempted while housebound in London by the pandemic. “Revolting,” he predicts.
“Roadkill” (airing Sunday, check local listings for times) is a worthy showcase for the actor. In writer-producer David Hare’s four-part drama, Laurie plays Peter Laurence, a conservative British politician with an overactive lust for life.
The latter gets him in a world of trouble, as does his unorthodox approach to policy that alarms his party. Hare has said the drama was partly inspired by what he called the “shamelessness” of the 21st century, with politicians among the notable offenders.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Laurie discusses his character in “Roadkill, working on ”House” and what he’s doing during the pandemic. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
AP: According to Hare, your character in ‘Roadkill’ isn’t based on a specific political figure. Does that reflect how you approached the role?
Laurie: Yes. I tried to step on the cracks, as it were, in the pavement and not actually base it on anybody in the current British political scene or any other political scene. I absolutely salute David Hare’s very fierce defence of the idea that a playwright can just tell stories. When you look at Netflix or Amazon or Apple now, almost everything starts with ‘based on a true story,’ as if we are not really capable of managing the idea of fiction anymore. David is adamant that he is allowed to tell a story, that these are just fictional characters. These are creations of his own imagination, and I suppose, to a lesser extent, mine.
AP: Your character is pretty much a cad, if an engaging one. Is that a fair description?
Laurie: He is a cad but there is something attractive about him. I think his energy, his vitality are attractive. His optimism, his ability to cast an eye on the future and imagine that the future will be a better place than the present. That’s becoming an increasingly rare ability these days.
AP: Peter is introduced as politically successful, with a messy personal life for which he’s unapologetic. Did that make for an especially interesting role?
Laurie: Absolutely. I was drawn to the possibility of spending some part of my day free of all the usual lead weights that we all drag around with us, in terms of guilt or regrets or missed opportunities, and to inhabit a man who really has almost none of those feelings, scarcely looks in the rearview mirror. I think one of the things that David was so keen to write about was the deaths of the idea of disgrace and shame and scandal, that almost nothing seems to hold people back anymore. We seem to have passed into an age where it’s not that all is forgiven, but not much more is expected. It’s arguable whether that’s healthy or unhealthy. I honestly don’t know the answer.
AP: You starred in ‘House’ for eight seasons and also in short-run series including ‘Roadkill’ and ‘The Night Manager.’ Do you prefer sticking with a show and character or moving on?
Laurie: I would have to say that ‘House’ is one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done. I never felt, and I certainly don’t think the writers ever felt, that they’d run out of things to do with that character. Well, until the point when they did, and when they did, they stopped. I did that for longer than it would have taken me to actually become a real doctor, which is rather galling to contemplate. And yet, as a general rule, new things are obviously exciting and challenging. And it’s always good to stay challenged.
AP: How have you been spending your time during the pandemic-forced shutdown?
Laurie: I don’t have to keep 20 people employed and I don’t have to pay rent on a restaurant or a factory or anything, so I’m very lucky in that way. I’ve been doing carpentry, playing a lot of piano. I tried spot welding, and yesterday I tried my hand for the first time ever at making cider. It was very exciting to actually be pressing a crop of apples and hope that I can get some cider after that. I’m sure it’ll be revolting, undrinkable.
Lynn Elber can be reached at email@example.com and is on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.
Lynn Elber, The Associated Press