Hugh Laurie Opened Up About The Moment That Transformed His Life Forever

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Hugh Laurie is an English actor who is best known in Britain for his legendary comedy work with Stephen Fry. However, the rest of the world knows him from House, the U.S. ratings behemoth he starred in for eight years. The star has enjoyed fantastic success in his career, but in 2002 he revealed a personal experience which went on to completely change his life.

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We’ll return to that pivotal moment in Laurie’s life a little later, but first let’s learn a bit more about him. Since 2015 the Brit has worked on a number of projects with the writer and director Armando Iannucci, who brought him back to television after a three-year break following the end of House. Laurie played Senator Tom James on Iannucci’s political satire Veep, a role which had been created with him in mind.

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In 2019 Laurie appeared in Iannucci’s film The Personal History of David Copperfield and he subsequently took the lead park in the director’s sci-fi comedy series Avenue 5 the year after. In the latter show, Laurie plays Ryan Clark, the captain of the titular luxury cruise spaceship. Only that’s not his real job in the show; he’s actually an actor playing a part designed to keep the passenger’s content.

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In both roles for Iannucci’s productions, Laurie played the “leader,” whether it was the vice-presidential candidate in Veep or the pretend commandeer of a spaceship in Avenue 5. But he told IndieWire that we shouldn’t always trust these prominent figures. The actor said in a 2020 interview, “We are led by people who present certainty and confidence, and, ‘We’ve got this. It’s all under control. Here’s the clear way to deal with Iran.’ And in actual fact, most of us, I think, are suspecting that that’s probably not the case.”

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Laurie went on to ponder how the public must often wonder if their leaders know any more about the world than they do. He added, “That may be so, or it may not. The point is, we don’t know. We can’t be sure anymore who knows what and who deserves the respect or authority that they’ve been given.”

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But what of Laurie’s early life? Well, the actor grew up in Oxford, England, and he has often described his childhood in charmingly self-deprecating terms. He told the Evening Standard in 2002, “I’ve been lucky and was given all the advantages in life, though I fear my background is somewhat timid, dull and middle-class, compared with, say, Stephen [Fry].” After attending the prestigious Eton College, he moved on to Selwyn College, Cambridge.

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Laurie joined the Cambridge Footlights – the university drama club – and it was here that he met the actress Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry. The star would then go on to work on several successful comedy projects with Fry throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.

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Laurie began appearing in a number of Hollywood movies in the 1990s: including Sense and Sensibility, 101 Dalmations and Stuart Little. He also starred in more British television shows such as Spooks and Fortysomething. However, while Laurie was working on the movie Flight of the Phoenix, he recorded a taped audition for the show that would catapult him to global superstardom.

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In 2004 Laurie took up the part of the sardonic Dr. Gregory House in Fox’s eponymous medical drama, and it would prove to be his defining role in many people’s eyes. House ran for eight seasons and made Laurie one of the highest-paid actors on television. Incredibly, he was nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Emmy Award six times during the show’s tenure.

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On the program, Laurie’s American accent was reportedly so convincing that many people had no idea that he was actually British. According to The New York Times, he used the accent during table reads of the scripts and even kept it up between takes when on-set. Apparently, the only time Laurie dropped it was when he directed the sixth season episode entitled “Lockdown.”

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Bryan Singer – who directed the pilot episode of the show – was reportedly fooled by Laurie’s flawless accent. The producers had experienced trouble finding a “quintessentially American person” for the role. But when he watched Laurie’s audition tape, USA Today reports that Singer allegedly told show creator David Shore, “See, this is what I want: an American guy.”

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The British actor believed that the producers were brave in making Dr. House so unlikeable. He told the publication in 2004, “The boldest thing they’ve done is put such a mean, unsympathetic character at the center of it.” Ultimately, however, he liked the fact that House didn’t care about what others thought of him, adding, “It’s a wonderfully liberating thing. I wish I could be more like that.”

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Laurie reaped the rewards of starring in one of the biggest shows on television for eight years. But once the show went off the air, he revealed that he had found it difficult at times. In a 2013 interview with the Radio Times, the actor referred to the fame and fortune he’d acquired as a “gilded cage.” For example, Laurie became paranoid about speaking openly when on-set in case his thoughts were broadcast on Twitter.

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And fame manifested itself in other irritating ways, too. Laurie also had his car windows tinted to prevent people from taking photos of him when he stopped at traffic lights. In fact, he told the British publication that it had been years since he had been able to go to the grocery store. The actor added, “I couldn’t stand people photographing the contents of my shopping basket.”

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The relentless schedule of House also took its toll on Laurie over the years. He told the Radio Times, “I had some pretty bleak times, dark days when it seemed like there was no escape. And having a very Presbyterian work ethic, I was determined never to be late, not to miss a single day’s filming. You wouldn’t catch me phoning in to say, ‘I think I may be coming down with the flu.’”

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The strain of stardom and the constant workload weighed heavily on Laurie’s mental health. The actor admitted that “the repetition of any routine, day after month after year, can turn into a bit of a nightmare. But there were times when I’d think, ‘If I were just to have an accident on the way to the studio and win a couple of days off to recover, how brilliant would that be?’”

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Laurie was also away from his family for the majority of the eight years that he spent shooting House in Los Angeles. His wife Jo and three children stayed in London for the duration. After returning home when the show ended, he told the Radio Times, “For me, it’s been a delight to be back with them, to walk the dog, to listen to music and to read.”

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Beyond relaxing with his family, Laurie also writes and plays music, too. He penned a novel called The Gun Seller in 1996 and has released two albums during his career – with both forays away from acting being received well by critics and fans. His book, for example, went on to become a bestseller.

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Regarding Laurie’s writing, his publisher Tom Weldon told The Guardian in 2000 that the actor would eventually become known worldwide for his written work. Weldon said, “He’s a complete perfectionist, and very tough on himself – almost too tough on himself – but this means his books are written with incredible care. His writing is clever, intricate and at times joyous, and I am very proud to be his publisher.”

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Laurie’s first blues album – Let Them Talk – was released in 2011 and reached number two in the U.K. albums chart. Laurie – who was convinced it was going to be savaged by critics – sheepishly admitted his pleasant surprise to the Radio Times. Apparently, he even cracked a smile.

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“I don’t really know what the record company was expecting, but of course they must have thought they could shift some units,” Laurie mused. “I was just hoping they wouldn’t lose money and that I wouldn’t be a total embarrassment to them.” Warner Bros. then released a second Laurie album in 2013 called Didn’t It Rain.

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But while Laurie has found stunning success in an array of professions, he also struggled with major bouts of depression. He told the Evening Standard newspaper, “It affected everything – my family and friends. I was a pain in the a** to have around. I was miserable and self-absorbed.”

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Laurie said that when he felt depressed he could “glower for hours. I’m amazed that people put up with it. I would cling to unhappiness because it was a known, familiar state. When I was happier, it was because I knew I was on my way back to misery. I’ve never been convinced that happiness is the object of the game. I’m wary of happiness.”

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Laurie told the newspaper that two years spent dong psychotherapy changed his life. In fact, he was unusually open about the process. The actor said, “I know a lot of people think therapy is about sitting around staring at your own navel – but it’s staring at your own navel with a goal.”

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Laurie went on to acknowledge that his depression had affected his wife and three children. He expanded on the aim of therapy, saying, “… The goal is to one day see the world in a better way and treat your loved ones with more kindness and have more to give.”

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“I diagnosed myself as being depressed and decided I would try and sort it out,” Laurie said. “I don’t know enough about the [condition] to say whether it was clinical, but it was certainly more than feeling a bit sad.”

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Laurie continued, “It went on for long periods of time and had all the other symptoms, like lethargy and not wanting to get out of bed in the morning.” He was even able to recall exactly when he knew he was feeling more than simply sad or low. And this realization changed the course of his life.

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“I can remember the moment when I realized I had a problem,” Laurie told the Evening Standard. “I was doing this stock-car race for charity somewhere in [London’s] East End. But in the middle of the race, with cars exploding and turning over – life and death – it suddenly hit me that I was bored. I thought, ‘This can’t be right.’”

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Laurie went on, “I should either be hating it with every fiber of my being or loving it, because this is an extreme experience. I realized this was the state of mind of a depressed person.” And the episode was enough to convince the actor to ask for help the following day.

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“A friend recommended a fantastic lady therapist and I found it incredibly helpful,” Laurie revealed. “Truth is a bit scary, but I think everyone should have a go. I feel very much more at peace.” The conversation then moved on to an affair he’d had with one of his directors, and he was asked whether this may have been a factor in his depression. He responded, “It possibly was connected. But I don’t remember.”

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Thankfully, Laurie’s marriage survived both the affair and his depression. He told the Evening Standard, “It’s terrific, and I’m very lucky. I’m so much happier now and accepting of things. I used to get consumed with things that were in the past. I saw a million different versions of who I could have been and all of them were better, ‘Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I do that?’”

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With his characteristic mix of wit and self-deprecation, Laurie described how therapy enabled him to cast off any societal shackles when talking about his issues. The actor said, “It wasn’t that I couldn’t talk about my problems. I used to bore my friends stiff. But because money has changed hands, I don’t feel I have to entertain or make myself sound better than I am.”

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Many years later – while promoting the release of his television projects Chance and The Night Manager in 2016 – Laurie was interviewed by WSJ magazine. When talk turned to his experiences with depression, the star responded, “Wish I’d never mentioned it,” and he moved the conversation on. However, the topic would be returned to.

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Eventually, the interviewer decided to directly ask Laurie why he tries so hard to avoid talking about his depression. And the actor’s response was interesting. He said, “I can understand how it might be perceived as an indulgence on many levels, because, first of all, I am quite preposterously lucky to be where I am, doing what I’m doing, and to have lived the life that I live.”

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Laurie continued, “I give thanks for it every single day. And to actually spend any time trying to enlist sympathy – ‘Oh, you don’t realize how I suffer’ – is sort of indecent, in a way.” The writer then countered Laurie by saying, “Well, if you frame it that way.”

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Laurie then described why he is reticent to talk about his mental health issues. He told WSJ, “And I also think that, to a degree, it sort of feeds upon itself. If you acknowledge it and confront it, you might be able to get the better of it. But you might also just be giving oxygen to the whole thing.”

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The interviewer then asked, “Is there a fear also that people will just constantly identify you as That Guy?” Laurie responded, “Yeah. And depressed people cling to depression because it is, to some degree, familiar. It’s known. It’s part of who one is – that maybe, if I surrender to it, if I heal myself, well, then what?”

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Laurie then seemed to realize this avenue may not be one he wanted to go down. The star went on, “That may be incorrect. But, most of all, a privileged, Western, reasonably healthy actor who is living the life I live has got no business, really. It’s just ill-mannered. It’s ill-mannered to complain.”

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The interviewer subsequently cut Laurie off with, “That sounds British.” Laurie conceded, “Yeah, I suppose it is. I think British people would certainly have that response.” He then sat back and smiled, adding, “I think I’m very different now, for reasons I alluded to before, which I probably wouldn’t want to go into.”

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Ironically, Laurie then did detail what helps him these days. He said, “I think I am less troubled than I was. Better. Actually better. I don’t know if that makes me a better person. But the moody introspection I’ve got more sort of under control. I see it coming, and I have ways of heading it off.”

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