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The Hollywood interview: The Good Doctor

Following his phenomenal success with House, Hugh Laurie finds he has a more secure job than the average banker, he tells LA correspondent Patricia Danaher.

There's just a slight touch of the curmudgeon about Hugh Laurie when he ambles in to talk to HQ in the Beverly Hills Four Seasons this week. Though perfectly polite and proper, it takes a while to warm him up and to see more clearly the lines between his most successful screen persona, the grouchy Dr Gregory House, and the actor who has admitted that he is very moody and suffers from depression.

With the sixth season of House about to begin on US television this month, what is not to be happy about in an industry which is notoriously unstable and where even big name stars are taking paycuts?

"Much as I love House, and it is the greatest blessing that a fellow could imagine, it's very unusual," he said. "No actor can imagine playing any character for six years.

"I heard recently on the radio the average length of salaried employment in the United States now is three and a half years.

"When I started out as an actor, people joined a bank in order to work for 40 years and, if you became an actor, well, you were just rolling the dice, and it seems so weird now that it's all absolutely back-to-front, that I've got more of a regular job than people who work in an insurance company.

"That just seems absolutely bizarre."

Wearing a beard and looking tanned and healthy, he is just back from a summer in London with his family. When he is not filming in LA, he's busy rehearsing with his band for a concert they plan to perform in LA in October.

Motorbikes and music provide the respite Laurie sorely needs from the toll of playing such a melancholy character.

"There are days when I sort of feel that it's getting on top of me a bit, the sort of darkness, the relentless melancholy of this character. Although I love him and I find him funny and brilliant and interesting and entertaining in all sorts of ways, there is a sadness about him and a cynicism which can get you down a bit at times," he admits.

"Music is a big escape and boxing. I went boxing this morning, as a sort of recreation that I do, and speed in boxing is a very important element. I sometimes relate it to my experiences trying to play the piano, trying to do something difficult on the piano and how one can develop speed.

"The obvious answer is repetition, the 10,000 hours referred to in Malcolm Gladwell's very splendid new book Outliers which says that just relaxation is the thing. Relaxation leads to speed.

"It is the speed and facility with anything you can do with your hands, whether it's boxing or playing the piano or, on occasion, acting -- if one can relax and just let things go, things usually come easier and quicker."

Given his very impressive résumé as a comic writer and performer in so many British TV shows in the 80s and 90s, such as the still beloved Blackadder, where does Laurie get his laughs these days in the US?

"Jon Stewart. I think we're all lucky to be living in the age of Jon Stewart. I think he is the greatest living American. That would be my regular dose.

"I also think Family Guy is about as good as anything gets. I find that endlessly delightful. That's about it.

"I don't watch drama. It's hard to watch because I see what's going on, the technical aspect of it. I see both in terms of acting and also film-making. I'm very aware when I see a tracking shot going down a hallway; I can sort of see in my head the 20 grips pushing the camera, and I can see the actors' tricks, and I can see the light bouncing off the thing."

Having turned 50 in June, he is ageing very nicely indeed and is making all-out efforts to stay fit, while struggling to give up the cigarettes.

There's also that second novel to be finished for which the advance cheque has long since been cashed. I take the risk of asking him how the old writing is going.

"Slowly. It's coming very, very slowly," he laughs.

"I'm embarrassed to say that cashing the cheque for the advance on my second novel, that came very quickly, but the writing came much more slowly.

"I have unfortunately not really had the necessary time. In my experience of writing, you need big chunks of time. Maybe some people can write when they have a spare hour. I don't find that.

"I find that one needs large periods of time to get the whole thing. One's brain is a bit like an oil tanker. It takes a long period to get up to speed and sometimes it takes four or five hours of really doing nothing before you start.

"I haven't had periods of time like that over the last few years. I hope that my publishers would accept as a reasonable substitute for my planned second novel, the fact that the first novel has got more attention than it otherwise would have done if I hadn't done House, so maybe that's their quid pro quo, but it's certainly something I plan to continue as soon as I get the chance."

And what are the things that motivate him to keep up this prodigious and exacting creative output?

"I think being expected in a place -- that's all I can say. If I'm expected to show up somewhere and I tell someone I'll show up, I'll show up.

"It's not much more complicated than that. I am not a great existentialist. I try to be. I am not. I sort of muddle through the way I think most of us do.

"I don't have a sort of a life plan. I just go from one week to the next, one day to the next and in my working day I go from one scene to the next.

"It's that simple. I'm a simple soul."

Double episodes of House can be seen on 3e each Thursday and Sunday at 9pm