Hugh Laurie’s impact on US television is unmatched by any other talented Brit who decided to cross the Atlantic in the pursuit of fame on the American small screen. It is all the more remarkable that the star of the House medical drama series, who is now 50, should have risked leaving behind a successful career in London in 2004 to play the grumpy genius Dr Gregory House.
As a comic actor Laurie had almost cornered the market in upper-class buffoons playing them in various roles in the Blackadder series and Bertie Wooster to Stephen Fry’s Jeeves.
The gamble has paid off so handsomely that Laurie is into his sixth series of House and rumoured to be earning $400,000 an episode. Already into over 120 episodes – with many more planned – and shown in around 70 countries, Laurie is judged to be the biggest TV star in the world.
Laurie adopts an authentic American accent unlike most other British actors when appearing in a US series. Like Alex Kingston in ER, they play Brits or have indeterminate accents – Patrick Stewart (French in Star Trek), Edward Woodward (The Equalizer), and Ian McShane. (Deadwood). Dynasty stars Joan Collins and Stephanie Beecham were not called upon to show their mastery of accents.
The same cannot be said for Frasier’s Daphne Moon. Jane Leeves was supposed to be from Manchester but her accent wasn’t much further adrift than Dick Van Dyke’s cockney in Mary Poppins. Neither Michelle Ryan (Bionic Woman) nor Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies) would have won prizes for their attempts on American tones.
The Office was successfully adapted for US screens but some British comedy shows – Benny Hill, Monty Python, and Mr Bean – have to be viewed in the eccentric original.
As for personalities that have duplicated their success in the US, Americans have to take the rough with the smooth – Simon Cowell (American Idol) and Cat Deeley (So you think you can dance).