Hugh Laurie’s fondness for his most famous character, the misanthropic genius Dr Gregory House, has grown stronger over time. Even after starring in hit medical drama House for eight seasons, he still has no problem whatsoever being pigeonholed by the bad doctor.
“Some actors get put in a box that they don’t want to be in,” he told Junkee. “Whereas I, on the other hand, got to play a character that I loved and admired and found endlessly funny and interesting, so if people connect me with that experience then what can I say? It was an honour to do it, so I’m lucky, very lucky.”
Even though it's been five years since House wrapped, that didn't mean Laurie wanted to jump back into a series-leading role. As much as he loved playing House, the gruelling nature of starring in a long-running TV show took its toll. Then, along came a script that piqued Laurie’s interest. It was Chance, based on the novel by Kem Nunn and co-adapted by the author, about the descent into darkness of San Franciscan forensic neuropsychiatrist Dr Eldon Chance.
Laurie loved the script but thought he couldn’t possibly play another doctor.
“I opened this thing, and by the first page, I went, ‘Oh, that’s a shame, because I obviously can’t do this,'” Laurie told The Wall Street Journal. “And then, within about three pages, I actually completely forgot about that. And I thought, ‘This is just a totally different creation and approach. There’s no wisecracking in this. This is about real suffering.'”
On the surface, there are some obvious similarities between Dr House and Dr Chance. Both are tortured souls. Both are brilliant. Both wade in morally murky waters. Both lend their surnames to an acclaimed drama.
But that’s where the similarities largely end – this isn’t even remotely House 2.0. For a start, Chance is self-doubting rather than arrogant.
“[He] doesn’t claim to have all the answers,” Laurie told Entertainment Tonight. “There’s no equivalent of keyhole surgery for the brain, and that’s the defeated position he’s in. He’s overwhelmed by the suffering he’s seeing every day, and he’s losing his way and he’s losing his will, until this patient arrives, who lights a spark and shows him hope of finding meaning again, finding joy, finding human connection.”
That patient is Jaclyn Blackstone (Gretchen Mol), a deeply troubled and alluring woman who may be suffering from dissociative identity disorder and domestic abuse by her crooked cop husband (Paul Adelstein).
She’s a key catalyst for Chance’s gradual transformation from passive doctor to active participant in vigilantism, as he rapidly finds himself caught in a web of sexual obsession, mental illness and police corruption.
Like House, Chance begins to break the rules to get results, but there lies the second divergence – we’re as far away from House’s stomping ground at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, New Jersey as you can get. Dr Chance moonlights in the gritty underbelly of San Francisco in a noir subgenre you might call “twisted Hitchcock”.
The show is a dark exploration of the human psyche, as much of the protagonist’s as it is of his patients. Laurie, who has spoken openly over the years about his battle with depression, has a fascination with human psychology. It was one of the things he loved about playing House.
“I was attracted to and moved by his unhappiness," he told The LA Times, "and by unhappiness in general. Unhappiness is an unfinished state; happy people don't need our help."
And if House’s unhappiness was a gift to play, dwelling in and around the damaged minds of Chance would seem to be just as great a draw card.
"I was fascinated by the workings of the human mind, and how we define consciousness and identity and who we really are, and how fragile that identity is," Laurie told Mashable. "One slip and your whole life – not just your whole life but your actual personality – is turned upside down."
Laurie admits he was nervous about taking on Chance but it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
"I do it nervously, anguishly, partly out of a desire not to dishonour House, which I'm so proud of and which I love so much," he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I was genuinely absorbed and intrigued by the story, by the character, by the world of neuropsychology."
Watch Chance on SBS every Thursday night at 9:30pm. You can stream previous episodes at SBS On Demand: