Recap of People's Notes from Attended Hugh's ITAS Taping

This is pulled together from what I and other people posted on House of Whining and Television Without Pity

Just got back from the taping of Inside the Actors Studio. It was supposed to start at 8, they didn't open the doors until 8:30. And Hugh talked from 9-11 plus about half an hour of q&a. And there wasn't a dull moment. He is soooooo good.

Favorite word: Marsupial
Least favorite word: Whatever
What turns him on: Eye contact
What turns him off: Financial advice
Sound he loves: An acoustic guitar being played badly. It's an involuntary reaction like when you rub a Labrador's tummy.
Sound he hates: Ringing telephone
Favorite curse word: Fuck, fucking, fucked... and all it's conjugations (got that wrong – it was “and all it’s fucking cognates.”)
What profession would he like other than his own: Singer in a rock and roll band
What profession would he hate: Financial advisor
What would he like God to say: No hard feelings

ETA: And he played the piano - sang a song "Mystery" that he apparently wrote some time ago. Probably from ABOFAL.
I have some notes that I'll try to write up, but it's 1 am now and I have to go to work in the morning.

I met up with ruach and elem18 and we were walking the later back to her hotel when we passed the stage door. A few people started handing him stuff to sign and you could see he would but he looked tired (and apparently has to get up at 5 this morning) so the people from the show started steering him to the back stairs and the car. So he just said "Thank you for coming" in a very quiet voice. It's amazing how shy he immediately became as soon as he was off stage.

This is going to be a bit jumpy.  I didn’t try to take notes on everything, just when HL said something interesting.  And there was lots and lots of that.  But, since I didn’t always write Lipton’s questions down, there are a lot of non sequesters.

Hugh enters to huge applause.  Says “An English audience wouldn’t make that amount of noise if the building was on fire.”

Went through his, his brother’s and his full names.  He never asked his parents why they always called him by his second name – has nothing against the name James.

His brother qualified as a barrister in London and went on an apple picking holiday in Scotland and never came back.  He was a shepherd for 15 years until Chernobyl, after which you couldn’t sell European beef or lamb.  So he requalified in Scotland which has different laws (quip about it being “on the left”) and now “most of his day is spent law-ing” and in the “evening a bit of sheep-ing.”

His father was in the colonial service and at the age of 23 was in charge of a province the size of France.  At the age of 42, with 2 children, qualified as a doctor.

James Lipton said the best scones he ever had were at a hotel in Oxford and asked if HL had ever had them.  “Never did.  Is that a WHOLE card?” (An aside on James Lipton.  He was pretty tolerable.  A few pompous moments like listing the prime ministers who went to Eton and knowing Eton’s complete name, but mostly he just let HL talk.)

Parents were Scottish Presbyterian.  Suspicious of pleasure.  It has to be earned.  They had a black & white tv into the 80s.  They watched pool and snooker on it which is completely meaningless if you can’t see the color of the balls.  Later he told a story about sharing a house with 3 other guys in London when they graduated college (he never actually graduated – he’s a graduand, qualified to graduate if he pays a fee and goes through the ceremony) and the house had a dishwasher and he convinced the other 3 never to use it.

Went to The Dragon as a day student until he was 13.  Very happy time there.  “I’m quite institutional.”  Did some acting there.  Won a prize at age 9.  Didn’t expect to win and was looking at his parents when his name was announced.  They smiled at each other.  It was a very significant moment for him – he felt he had made them proud.

Eton. By going through the public school system, you are ripped from hearth and home.  As a result, no sense of place which he misses having. He academically bumped along.  Bright enough to get by without too much work.  He sat in the back.  A bit on the difference between people who sit at the front of the class and those who sit in the back.

He was a house captain. Student live in houses of about 50 with a master who appoints a house captain whose job it is to help with the younger student.  A house captain “does not sit out on the roof at 2 in the morning drinking vodka.  He absolutely does not do that.”

James Lipton: “Etonians speak a unique language.”
HL: “Well, it’s English.”

An example is that you can be a “dry bob” (play cricket) or a “wet bob” (row).  Lipton asked about the rowing song and gave HL a copy of the lyrics.  He didn’t seem to know the words, read them, made a comment about their being homoerotic and sang it.

He went to Cambridge because his dad also went to Selwyn.  A bit about his rowing which ended with the Henley race he lost to the American Olympic team that couldn’t go to the Olympics because that was the year America boycotted Moscow.  Also the Cambridge/Oxford race.  Lipton mentioned the number 5 and HL said 4.  “Oh, you mean 5 feet.  I was in position 4…It wouldn’t have done for me to sit in number 5 because there was already someone in that seat.”  Hates to admit that the loss still bothers him because that is giving succor to the enemy.

Anyway, after his bout with glandular fever/mono, he tried out for the Cambridge Footlights Club because he had to do something with his time and studying was out of the question.  He did a thing about a Chinese emperor drinking tea and Emma Thompson “found it amusing and we became...FRIENDLY.”

When he became president, she was vice president.  Not sure why she didn’t become president.  Probably wanted to be an eminence gris and pull the strings.  The previous year’s May show (which is in June) everyone wore bright colors and it was all frothy and they sang nice songs and it “made me want to vomit.” He was determined to go the opposite way – everyone in black and smoking aggressively. Having Stephen Fry was great because, even though he looks quite young now, at 20 he was 65 and he smoked a pipe.  (An aside asking if anyone in the audience is 20 and smokes a pipe and he said “Don’t do it.”)

There were clips from Black Adder and Jeeves and Wooster (nothing from ABOFAL) which he sort of watched.  But later, when there were clips from House he absolutely kept his head down when his face was on the screen.

Then we skipped right to 101 Dalmatians.  He had a different British accent than his usual one.  “I’d love to say I’m a finely calibrated accent machine.” It was a generic London accent.  Not that the movie was rooted in reality.  There were raccoons which are not indigenous to England.  Talked about how the raccoon wrangler hated the raccoons.

He wrote “The Gun Seller” because he started keeping a diary.  “I became so bored by my own diary” that he starting making stuff up.  Lipton asked what he does when he writes and made a keyboard gesture.  HL: “I use a piano.  I must say it doesn’t suit everyone.”  He also said he thinks he’s a better reader than writer.  He’s good at looking at what he wrote and saying deciding which lines are good and which aren’t.  Having it on a screen rather than in his handwriting makes that easier.

He found writing the first part of the book fun.  The second half, where he had to pull all the various threads together was torture.  He is thinking about writing just the first half of several more books.  (In the Q&A, when he was asked about making the book into a movie, he said he is working on it.  The lead character was written to be in his 30s but he thinks he may have found a way for him to play the lead since, for him, the interesting part of espionage isn’t the parasailing off buildings, it’s the puzzle.)

He was estranged from his mother during her last years. “She didn’t approve of my marriage.  She didn’t approve of the circumstance of my son’s birth and she froze me out.”

In 1996 diagnosed himself as being clinically depressed.  He was in a charity race – demolition derby – and two cars in front of him crashed and one exploded. And he realized that you could think it was exciting or you could think it was horrible.  But being bored was not an appropriate reaction.

CGI – he hates it to the point where he leaves theaters if the movie he is watching has them.  It’s gotten to the point where they are so easy to do that they are in commercials.  People say “We could do this.  Look at what we can do.  But no one asks ‘Yes, but why would you?’”

Boxing.  Lipton: You getting any good at it.
HL: Nope.
Lipton: But you’re in very good shape.
HL: I’m a wonderful physical specimen.
Lipton: something about boxing with boxers
HL: No, small children.

Auditioning for House – he was sent pages to audition for both House and Wilson.  He knew he was wrong for Wilson.  When he came to do an in-person audition he wanted to find a cane to show how committed he was to the role.  But there are no canes in LA – apparently the people are afraid of dying and canes remind them of infirmary.  So he bought an umbrella at Barney’s.  A few days later he saw the salesman on the street and told him the umbrella helped him get the job.  And the salesman was very happy…

Then, just before the interview ended, he played Mystery.

Q&A – we got to move downstairs for that (we were in the first row of the balcony before).  My notes aren’t as good here.

Which does he prefer, writing, acting or directing?
“Whatever I’m not doing.”

Has he ever considered writing a non-performance piece (e.g. fiction) with Stephen Fry?
They toured for a while and tour managers always put the different stops as far apart as possible so that they were driving 1,000 miles a day in a car with no radio.  And they passed the time by picking a genre and “writing” novels as they drove.  But nothing publishable.  Stephen is a very prolific writer and HL doesn’t think he’d want to be held back by his slower self.  But Stephen is his best friend and godfather to his children and he loves working with him in any capacity.

Re the changes in House from Season 1 to Season 2 – is it due to the fact that more of him is incorporated into the writing.
He thinks it is more due to the audience.  As they get to know the characters, they say “we like that” or “we don’t like that.” Also, as the audience gets to know the people better, they begin to feel differently than when they first fell for the show. It’s like when you first fall in love with someone and you like everything.  Then after a while you notice that you don’t like how they eat soup, etc.

Does he have input on the music he plays on the show?  Yes.  Some because he might not be able to play some things (mentioned a Rachmaninov piece) also because he has an opinion as to what House likes.  Also because, in general, writers aren’t interested in music.

The final question – Who does he think House should end up with - Cuddy, Cameron or, dare I say, Wilson.
If the show runs long enough, I’m sure I’ll go through them all.  (And he’d have no problem with that although Robert might have something to say.)

Oh.  And he was wearing a black jacket, pink shirt and black jeans.  Sang in his normal voice.  Clean shaven

Other people’s memories:
Question: What do you prefer, writing, acting, or directing?
Answer: Whatever he's not doing at the moment. Because when he's acting, he hates it and thinks how much better one of the other two options would be, and so on.

Question: What do you see as the outcome of House, show and character?
Answer: He doesn't know, it's up to the writers, not to him.

Question: How did he wind up directing fortysomething?
Answer: The director was fired, the replacement quit, and when he was asked to take over (since he was the only one who knew the material well enough) before Monday lest the whole thing be scrapped, he said okay.

"You're standing up!" to the guy, who bounced out of his chair, followed by a melodramatic flinch.
Question: How formulaic should House be?
Answer: Like Columbo, which used a regular weekly formula, it should be formulaic such that there is comfort in familiarity but without becoming stale and too predictable.

Question: Does he have input on music choices?
Answer: Yes, lots. Two major considerations – creatively, what suits the character, and practically, what he can actually play.

Question: How does he view the change in House between S1 and S2?
Answer: It's less to do with the writers' input or the actor's interpretation and more to do with the audience's relationship with the character. He thinks the audience changes more than the show and as such so do their perceptions of the character. Like any relationship, it all starts out great and you love everything but pretty soon you're wishing the character wouldn't do this or wouldn't do that in such a way and so on.

Question: Does he have any rituals to get into character?
Answer: Not that he's aware of but it's been pointed out to him that he makes a "horse braying" noise. He demonstrated it – sounded like a violent throat clearing.

Question: What role would he like to play in the film version of The Gun Seller?
Answer: Originally the protagonist would have been in his thirties, but he'd like to play it if it could be less action-intense. If that's okay with us. The audience erupts. Hell yeah!

Question: What "conditioning forces" are involved in his working with House's pain and limp? (came from a drama student)
Answer: He was never formally trained and has no method. But pain is something everyone, sadly, can relate to, and he finds that the easiest part of House to play.

Question: Who will House wind up with – Cuddy, Cameron, or Wilson? (from a teacher)
Answer: If the series goes on long enough, House will probably go through them all. Regarding Wilson, specifically, HL said, I'm game.

Question: What medical knowledge has he gained from House? Would he be able to make differential diagnosis on food poisoning? (from a med student)
Answer: No. He's learned a lot but he's also forgotten a lot.

Coma Girl
Lipton had him sing the Eton song (which Hugh referred to jokingly as a homoerotic anthem) and played and sang "Mystery" at the piano. Someone from the audience even got him to make this weird horse-braying sound he makes before he does a scene to clear his head.

Every mention of his father was reverential, however. He called him "a gentleman and a gentle man" and related a sweet story about the family going fishing in a boat and the kids asking if Ran could manage the oars to get them back to shore. He was such a modest person that he didn't even let his own kids know he was an Olympic gold medalist until they were much older

He also said he submitted the book to publishers under the names "Eric Digby" and "James Calum" because he wanted it to be judged on its own merits and not accepted for publication because Hugh Laurie was the author.

After the House vs. God clip, Lipton brought up the subject of religion, and Hugh called himself a "skeptic".

On 101 Dalmatians:
In a deep voice regarding Glenn Close, "she's *sexy*." "Let's face it, there wasn't a huge amount of social realism [in that movie]."

On action flicks:
"I've been in love with Clint Eastwood since I was a young boy. It's actually slightly unhealthy."

On struggling with depression:
"It can't be that you can cut me six yards of pleasure."

On the key to great acting:
"It's being able to emote potential violence."

On not titling the show "House":
"If they [the audience] want to focus on the maintenance man, they should do that."

On his American accent:
JL: Where did you get your American accent?
HL: Misspent youth.

On religion:
JL: Do you share House's scepticism [about religion]?
HL: Yes. Big chunks of it. I'm not a religious man […] I'm a fan of science, I believe in science.

On the success of "House":
"I feel like a race car driver who's been given the fastest car […] so I'll just go around the track [and win]."

On passing piano exams:
"If you turn up, they give you Grade One."

On forgetting the medical stuff he's learned:
"I'm like a goldfish."

Coma Girl
He compared the character of House to Dirty Harry in the way he uses whatever force is necessary to get what he needs (he’s an Eastwood fan).

HL’s father spoke Arabic fluently.

They showed clips from Blackadder (HL as Prince George), Jeeves & Wooster and House. There was also an early clip of F&L from their Cambridge days as Stephen is teaching Hugh how to 'act' Shakespeare.

Regarding their different senses of humor, he feels the British like characters who are dumber than them, while Americans like characters smarter than them.

When he flew to LA for the House audition in person, he wore a "Sexy" button on his lapel that his daughter gave him for good luck. (seems uncharacteristic of Hugh, but I can imagine it set off bells for the producers).

The only thing I recall that he said in his deep, Housian American accent was "Asshole".

Regarding House’s formula and dramatic clichés, he talked about how it provides comfort to the audience (his example was Columbo and he did a little imitation of how Peter Falk’s character would pause, scratch his head and say that just one thing bothered him). He also mentioned several times watching Kojak with his parents as a youngster. He talked about how brilliant David Shore is and how he has tremendous confidence in his ability to walk the tightrope in writing the show.

Regarding acting with accents, he feels it’s easier for others to do an American accent than for an American doing a foreign accent because people in other countries are surrounded constantly by American tv and movies.

Someone asked him if it’s difficult acting out the pain, and HL said in fact it’s the easiest part of the role because everyone’s felt pain and can relate to it.

He talked about how House is self-destructive and that puts a bit of a limit on how long the you can continue with this character. When he gets out on the ledge, either he jumps and destroys himself, or he doesn’t jump off the ledge. And if he doesn’t, that’s the end of the show.

Said that Stephen Fry was only ½" taller than him but that they exaggerated it on screen to make things funnier (not sure I believe this), and that he and Fry weren’t a team of opposites but that they basically thought alike. Called Stephen brilliant. Said that he brought Stephen into Footlights because he could play the adult, royal, authority figure on stage when nobody else at 20 could.

He doesn’t know much about what the writers have planned in the future beyond the show they’re taping at the time, but that it’s less important for him as an actor than for, say, the cast of Desperate Housewives because each episode is for the most part a self-contained mystery.

Regarding his Calvinist upbringing, he agreed with an audience member who called him an Anhedonist. To illustrate his distrust of pleasure for pleasure’s sake, he mentioned that he came over from London with a man who encouraged him to get a massage at the hotel, but it’s something he can just not bring himself to do.

Talked quite a bit about his parents. Said his father the G.P. would have been appalled at Dr. House. Though the colonial system is not thought of as a great thing today, he has no doubt that his father dispatched his duties (colonial governor at 23 of an area the size of France) in a manner with which he could be proud. His dad was “a gentle man and a gentleman” who did something very unusual by going to medical school in his early 40’s when he was married with 2 children, competing against 18 year olds (though he apparently did have a background in science). Clearly he absolutely revered his father.

Clearly he had major issues with his mother. He mentioned that he mourned and mourns her death ~16 years ago but that he’s never cried over it.

He told the story I’ve heard before about going out fishing with his parents as a small child. His father took the oars and Hugh asked his mother if his father knew how to row. It was only years later that he found his father’s Olympic gold medal in a sock and learned about his father’s athletic career. His father was at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 but didn’t medal (something about being distracted by the Nazi guards reving up their motorcyles outside the barracks the British team was staying in) but saw Hitler storm out when Jesse Owen beat Lutz Long in the long jump. He won his gold medal when the Olympics came to Britain.

An audience member (a medical student) asked him if he’d learned much medicine and actually asked him if he could do a differential diagnosis on some tongue-twisting disease he mentioned. Hugh compared himself to a gold fish (I assume he means just gulping things in). He remembers the medical terms just long enough to do the episode and then promptly forgets everything. He did say that while they were in the middle of an episode, he would get a sense of the mechanics of how the different diseases and cures worked, but that a week later it was all impenetrable again.

Another fond memory of last night with Hugh: Later in the interview when one of the House clips was playing on the screen above the set, one of the crewmembers came over to Hugh to adjust or replace the transmitter/battery pack on his wireless mic. I had an intense mini-fantasy of being that audio guy, groping around Hugh's waist....

Afterward, I waited outside for him to come out of the back door, and he exited almost immediately after I got there.
As someone already said, he was being sort of whisked away by the people who worked for the show, or whoever they were.
So, I somehow managed to get him to look at me, and I asked him to take a letter I'd written to him while riding on the train on the way there.
He took it, which is awesome. He kind of looked surprised or something that I was giving him a letter, like he was kind of confused for a second.
but then he laughed and made a joke: "Well, you saved money on a postage stamp!"

Everyone else summed up the evening brilliantly. I just returned home from New York last night and have tried to catch up on everyone's posts about the evening. I was too mesmerized by Hugh to take my eyes off of him and actually take notes, but here are some observations that I haven't seen posted yet:

Hugh did seem less comfortable looking at the House clips than he did looking at the clips from his earlier work. If he did look up, it was just for a second before putting his head back down. At one point, he discreetly put his fingers up to his ears to block out the sound. As much as he dislikes watching and listening to himself on screen, I think he has an even harder time listening to his American accent.

When the first person starting asking a question during the Q&A, Hugh couldn't tell where the voice was coming from and was looking all around to try to find the person. Once she identified herself, he said he needed to see who he was talking to before he could answer the question (tying into his earlier answer about eye contact). He made direct eye contact with every person who asked a question.

One of the things that is so attractive about Hugh's quick wit is that he plays so well off of other people, as a great improvisational comedian does. Lipton was often a little slow on the uptake, but there were a few times when he had Lipton cracking up. I was amazed at how fast Hugh was with his comebacks and how hilarious he was.
My other thoughts
Actually, when it comes to his family, he really didn’t add any stories that he hasn’t told in a variety of interviews before.  He probably decided one day that enough was enough and recycles them.  But hearing them all together sort of gave them continuity.  And he did say a lot about his work and the people he has worked with that I hadn’t heard before.  Reading what the other attendees posted, reminded me of a few more moments:

Before playing Mystery, when Lipton mentioned that they had brought in a piano, Hugh said he thought it was left over from a wedding.

One of the attractions to Stuart Little was that the character’s name is “Mr. Little.”  And they call each other Mr. and Mrs. Little, dear and darling. He found that charming and funny.

On Judy Davis – He saw Victor Garber, who played Sid Luft, earlier that day and they both agreed that Judy Davis is terrifying. Brilliant actress but violent - feel she could put a pencil in your neck at any moment.  (That’s what led into the controlled violence discussion that ruach mentioned.

On Glenn Close and how great she was in 101 Dalmatians.  She said sure, I'll pick up this movie and carry it for 2 hours. He also made a crack about the British penchant for S&M making her particularly sexy in 101 Dalmatians

About the horse braying thing he does. It is important try not to invade on another actor’s space too much.  He once worked with someone who used to shout [I forget what he said.  It was something like “china bath”] at the top of his lungs before each take.  He then imitated the director saying action, the other actor yelling and his double take which would obviously ruin his focus.

When writing The Gun Seller, every night he’d give his wife the two or three pages he had written that day.  After she read them she’d ask what was coming next and he’d say “I have no idea.”

Rowan Atkinson – Stephen used to say that Rowan Atkinson’s talent was like an extra appendage.  He’s a quiet man in real life, no desire to be the center of attention or funny.  But when he works, that extra appendage of talent is just there.  When the Footlight Club played Edinburgh Festival, the main draw that year was Atkinson’s stand-up routine.  He used to have a bit where he was a professor taking role call.  All he had was a list of names and it was hilarious.  In fact, the less he has to work with, the funnier he is.

Working on Black Adder was the most fun he’s ever had.  He used to whistle on his way to work.

He was an odd choice to play Vincent Minelli who was Italian-American with dark hair and eyes. He had to wear dark contacts for that role and so did Judy Davis.

When discussing Jeeves & Wooster, Lipton said that those books and characters are so clearly of the 1920s and 30s.  He asked if that caused any special difficulties.  Hugh said the hardest thing was the car.  It was a 1921 Astin Martin and had been the back-up car for some major race and had practically no mileage on it.  And the collector who owned it lent it to them.  The pedals were in an odd order – something like the gas pedal being between the clutch and the brake and he had to drive this priceless car and worry about stepping on the wrong pedal.

In “Mystery” he changed the date of death to 1993 and, it may have been my imagination, but he seemed to be calculating how many years until now for the next line. (Since I didn’t know the song before, I wasn’t anticipating it.)

Lipton talked about the explosion in British comedy after WWII (before that, a list of British comics was like a list of great British chefs.) When they were talking about Cambridge, he mentioned that a lot of comedians went there and Hugh said he’d do better at naming them than the prime ministers.  He mentioned a lot of the Pythons and the Goodies.”

Lipton asked if he ever limps on the other leg.
Hugh: Never! And he offered Lipton money (either $200 or $500) if he ever caught him doing it.

I forget the context, but Lipton said something about Stephen being upper class. And HL said Stephen comes from a nice family but not especially uc.

HL actually comes from a little town outside Oxford but he considers the city he's from. He didn't name the town.

When they filmed the first series of BlackAdder, it was one of the most expensive comedies ever.  There were cavalry charges and everything.  And it didn't do well.  And that would have been the end of it if one person (I forget who) hadn't gone to TPTB on bended knee and promised that they would keep future episodes down to 4 people in a room.  And that actually made it better because comedy works better if it is compressed.  A cavalry charge isn't funny.

(no subject)

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