STORY WRITTEN BY ROB LOWMAN
Southern California News Group
Hugh Laurie’s father was a doctor, and, of course, his own most famous role was playing one on television.
Now, he is surprised to be portraying one again.
“As a gambler, my instinct is to walk away from the table after even a modest win,” says the actor. “Yet I find myself coming back, drawn by a wonderful project that was simply irresistible.”
Like Laurie’s old series, “House,” his new one, “Chance,” has a one-word title that refers to his character’s last name, but after that the shows don’t have much in common, other than the doctor title.
“The characters are massively different,” Laurie says. “Their practices are different. Their attitude to life is different.”
And he stresses that “Chance’s” story is “infinitely removed” from Fox’s “House,” where for eight years the Golden Globe-winning actor played Gregory House, a brilliant but antisocial M.D. solving medical puzzles at a major hospital.
In this Hulu series that begins streaming Wednesday, Laurie stars as Eldon Chance. It’s a noirish thriller that revolves around a neuropsychiatrist who gets sucked into a world of sexual obsession, fractured identities and violence.
Based on Kem Nunn’s mystery novel of the same name, “Chance” has a “Vertigo” vibe. Like that famous Alfred Hitchcock film, it is set in San Francisco, which, as we know, is not a good place to get dizzy over a cool blonde who may or may not be crazy.
Gretchen Mol plays Jaclyn Blackstone, one of Chance’s patients, who seems to suffer from a personality disorder, sometimes slipping into a femme fatale version of herself to whom Chance is attracted.
When she read the script, Mol says, “I felt that there was just something about the moodiness of it that really spoke to me.”
To make matters worse for the psychiatrist, the character is on the run from an abusive husband, and Raymond Blackstone (Paul Adelstein) is a dangerous guy who is well-connected to the police. As Chance goes deeper into the danger zone, he seeks help from a shady character named D (Ethan Suplee) to cope with the violence.
Laurie notes that “Chance,” already picked up for a second 10-episode season, differs from most network shows where the central characters remains essentially the same.
“We are doing something rather different,” he says. “If we get it right, we should be seeing a genuine and rather profound transformation of a number of characters who are unrecognizable at the end from where they started.”
Nunn, who is a showrunner and executive producer on “Chance,” says the plan was for the book to be the first season, but it also had a lot of “good jumping off places … so, it’s a voyage of discovery, and we were able to see how to carry that story forward.”
Executive Producer Alexandra Cunningham describes Chance as someone who feels that he’s never been able to help any of his patients, that he is part of a broken system. So when Jaclyn and D show up, “they take him down a rabbit hole. They teach him how to become a man of action, whereas before, he was just a man of the mind,” she says.
To prepare for “Chance,” Laurie spent some time with a neuropsychiatrist in London and asked whether he kept in touch with patients or got Christmas cards.
“And he said, ‘Absolutely not because the truth is I don’t heal anybody. The best I can do is manage incredibly damaged people. My job is about trying to find the least bad option, and that’s the best I can hope for,’ “ says Laurie, who is coming off his Emmy-nominated performance in “The Night Manager,” which he also produced.
In Chance, Laurie sees a man who has paid a price for trying to help people and that he has reached a point where it has become intolerable to simply carry on knowing that he’s not making a difference.
“After all, what most of us would like to have on our gravestones is, ‘They made a difference,’ “ says the actor. “It’s a modest ambition, but it’s a pretty important one, I think.”
Contact Rob Lowman at email@example.com or @RobLowman1 on Twitter.