On meeting Hugh Laurie
Had a great day on the set of Chance, a new show for Hulu that's shooting in (wait for it) SF! I landed a one-day guest star opposite the lead, Hugh Laurie.
I had to have authority in this scene and stand up to Hugh's character, the thought of which was a little intimidating. "You're going to toe-to-toe with House? Good luck." But he, along with everyone on set–not the least of whom was the fantastic director, Dan Attias and the fabulous showrunner, Alexandra Cunningham–made it easy.
Laurie is tall, literally and figuratively imposing, with the same deep, gravelly voice and piercing eyes in person that he has on screen (eyes that truth be told were a little weary after weeks of straight shooting as this was episode 6 of 10). Tired eyes or no, Hugh is the star.
For that reason alone, he could've been a total dick if he wanted to. It's his show; I'm just a visitor. But he wasn't. He was a gracious host who treated me like a guest, affable in that way actors often are, like they've known you forever even if they've only just met you. Nor was he over-friendly, and that was the coolest thing about working with him.
Had he been too "yeah, you're probably a little scared to throw down with House right now, but don't sweat it man, we're the same you and I," I would have felt more nervous, not less. Too much ego-fluffing and you've nowhere to go but down, right. I still had something to prove.
We did his coverage first. No, we rehearsed it first. Everyone clears the set while the director and actors rehearse, which is the best way to do it. Rehearsing was cool. We hashed out motivations and actions. I chimed in from time to time. It was a perfectly collaborative experience. Then, we shot his coverage.
He was focused, precise, intense and measured. He and the director worked as a team, like old friends. But they didn't exclude anyone; they involved me as if I'd been a part of the team all along, and I did my best to make some plays and support the team. An hour or so later, we turned the cameras around.
Of course, it wasn't as if my earlier takes didn't count. If anything they counted more because they locked in actions and had to support the star with choices worth playing against. But now, my shtick sticks, preserved for posterity, and whatever face I happen to make on camera is the one I'll have to live with forever.
Dan had been giving me clear, smart and helpful direction throughout, so I felt dialed in. I had two setups. I hit all of my takes pretty well. After the last one, Hugh turns and tells me what a beautiful job I had done and then reenacts one of the choices I had just made–better than I had played it, I'm sure–to let me know I'd done all right, a sentiment echoed by the director and showrunner, that had me grinning an ear-wide grin for the rest of the day.
So, here is to Hugh and crew, and especially Dan and Alexandra, for setting up shop in SF, giving us local actors a "chance," and making my day of shooting the best on any set I've been lucky enough to work on yet.