How does one of the edgiest, most antagonistic characters in series television history say goodbye?
Pretty much in the same fashion he said hello.
Anything else would ring false for Dr. Gregory House, and title star Hugh Laurie and series creator and executive producer David Shore are determined to see him end true to form as the FOX medical drama “House” wraps up its eight-year run Monday, May 21. Don’t expect major reassessments or revelations by the central figure, then, just a final and familiar round of sass and snark. And, very probably, one last swath of professional brilliance.
“It would almost be one of House’s many mantras that people don’t change, generally speaking,” Laurie tells Zap2it�as a two-time winner of Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Television Critics Association Awards who also became a producer as the series proceeded.
“It’s certainly true in television drama. They can’t change, actually. If they do, you wind up with a different show from the one you started with, and that gets economically and logistically difficult.
“I’ve always felt that one of the distinctions between film and television is that in film, by and large, the main characters change, and the world doesn’t,” Laurie adds. “In television, the main characters stay the same, and the world changes, and I think it’s important that House remains uncompromised. There is a defiance about him that’s a kind of strength, and even though it might be belligerent at times, I find it inspiring. He will not suddenly give into the sentimental, even at the end of the show. I find that uplifting, in a twisted and dark way.”
So does Shore, who admits “my mind’s refusing to wrap itself around the idea” that the series is ending, though the February decision and announcement gave him the time to write a final “House” script the way he wanted to.
“I really have lived with this character. It’s a very strange thing. It has affected me in ways that I won’t really know until I’m completely done with it, and I think Hugh is likely having a similar experience.”
The way an actor plays a part can add that extra something that makes it classic, and clearly, Laurie as House is such a case. “That was a beautiful moment for me,” Shore recalls of his creation first being brought to life so indelibly. “We had met with a lot of people, and nobody got it, at least not the way I did. And I was starting to get scared that maybe I’d written someone who doesn’t, or can’t, actually exist.
“Then Hugh came in and read, and it was so radically different from everybody else, and the interpretation was exactly what I’d hoped for. I’m not even sure I’d seen it in my head quite that way. When he read it, all you could do was go, ‘Yeah. That’s it.’ I’d loved his comedy, so I had very much a preconceived notion of him, and I was very surprised.”
In the home stretch, Laurie gave himself an extra challenge by also directing the fourth-to-last “House” episode. Over the show’s eight years, he’s seen various co-stars come and go: Jennifer Morrison (now on ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”), Lisa Edelstein, Olivia Wilde (who returned in the next-to-last story), Kal Penn, Peter Jacobson, Amber Tamblyn (an extended guest in season seven), Odette Annable and Charlyne Yi.
Knowing it takes more than one character to make a series – particularly one built around somebody so relatively unsympathetic – Laurie credits his acting colleagues as major elements of the longevity and success “House” has had.
“The last five episodes featured a lot of extremely powerful stuff for Robert Sean Leonard (alias Dr. James Wilson), to which he rose magnificently. One of the great things about being in a scene with someone is that you get the best seat in the house, and I got to see him doing his thing … and I came away thinking I didn’t know of a film or another television show where I’ve watched an actor that good do something that well. And I can say the same about the other regulars who have been in the show. It’s been amazing to work with them.”
The finale, in which a drug-addicted patient (guest star James LeGros) triggers memories for House, will be preceded by an hourlong retrospective. Laurie says he’ll be “immersing myself, possibly to the point of drowning” in a worldwide music tour in the immediate aftermath of “House,” starting literally the next day in San Diego.
While he wouldn’t rule out a return to American series work some day, Laurie realizes any other project will have a mighty task to match what he’s spent the better part of the past decade on.
“To be true to what we’ve done, it would have to be a character who would make a worthy companion,” he reasons, “and I can’t really see that happening. I feel as if lightning has struck the tree once, and that’s a rare enough occurrence that I should be standing under the tree and have another bolt hit. It seems very improbable at the moment – but of course, if something arrives in a manila envelope and I read it and I fall in love with it, anything’s possible.”