Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Real Dr. House

While we’re on the subject of my current pre-occupation, let us consider the question, is there a real Dr. House? Well, of course not, he’s a TV character, only crazy people think he’s real. Yet I daresay, as in the case of any vividly created, charming fictional character, there are plenty of people for whom he seems real.

For that reason I thought it would be interesting to consider the question of the relative reality/unreality of the figments of our imagination whom we hold most dear. TV’s most popular anti-hero seems a fine example to study, and if you’re not into House, just substitute another fictional person you’ve obsessed over at one time or another.

House is a great example for this study because there’s no one like him. Not in fiction, nor in real life either. It’s also very difficult to confuse him with the guy who plays him. Hugh Laurie, in fact, seems like a man who coincidentally looks like Dr. House. Being British, his accent is different. Not being lame, his walk is different. With a background as a comic, he’s not the same in disposition. Big difference. Easy to see.
However, many of us House fans fall into the very natural trap of thinking that there is a Gregory House deep down inside Hugh Laurie...that in certain circumstances or moods, surely he must be the same as House. If that weren’t true, how could he portray him so effectively? This gives us comfort that, in a certain way, Dr. House lives.

Now I’m not an actor, but I am a fiction writer, and therefore I can guarantee you, there is not a Gregory House inhabiting Hugh’s soul. Not the way we all wish, anyway. I have created a hundred-some characters, and while sometimes they do resemble me, when I’m creating someone as quirky and unique as a Dr. House, these characters are derived from stuff quite alien to my own personality. I don’t think, talk, or act like they do, nor would I in any circumstance I can think of. Meanwhile, quite often I fall completely in love with these fictional people, and I assure you I do not have such feelings towards myself or any part of myself, ever.

In my younger days, when crushing on celebrities, I often made the mistake of giving too much credit to their appearance. For example, I fell for Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of Mr. Spock, and therefore felt that Nimoy in any context would be as thrilling to me as the emotionless alien. I learned a hard lesson when I saw him play Fagin in a live local production of “Oliver!” Fagin left me completely cold, having nothing in common with Spock, except a slightly similar voice.

Likewise, while there’s no denying Hugh Laurie is a handsome man, that will only take you so far. I’ll put it to you this way, House-lovers: If you were to meet Hugh for a date, would you rather he limp or not? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel he’s not House without the limp, and I would miss it, a lot. But really, a gimpy leg is not normally considered an attractive feature. My point is, it’s not really Hugh Laurie’s handsomeness that is winning you over.

Dr. House is a hybrid creation of an actor and the people who write his lines. He wouldn’t exist if not for both these elements, along with a third: your imagination. It’s your imagination that enables you to fill in the gaps in House’s life and history; it’s your imagination that make it possible for you to picture him in circumstances other than what you’ve seen on the show (like making out with you, perhaps, LOL). Whenever you “adopt” a fictional character in a personal, passionate way, the creator(s) of that character eventually become tools for you—providing with the performance more material for you to imagine the character is real. Certainly credit goes to those creators. I thank Jane Austen and Colin Firth for my conception of Mr. Darcy, and Charlotte Bronte and George C. Scott for Mr. Rochester. And my very heart swells with gratitude to Hugh Laurie and his scriptwriters.

Do I then have no love for Dr. House? Is he worthless, having no independent existence?

Well, I’ve said it before (particularly in my book Living Beyond Reality) and I’ll say it again: being “real” isn’t everything. That’s why fictional characters sometimes have as much impact on history, culture, and society than flesh-and-blood people. Would the world be the same without King Arthur, Don Corleone, Dorothy Gale, Romeo and Juliet, Frodo, Dracula, Cinderella, Luke Skywalker, Mr. Scrooge, Superman, Scarlett O’Hara, James Bond, Harry Potter, and Sherlock Holmes, the man who inspired Gregory House?

Sometimes unreal people get very close to coming to life. What exactly these beings are, I can’t tell you. All I know is, the “real” Dr. House always walks with a limp and speaks American.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

well..I don't know what to say ,but it's like you kinda read my mind .I've always been a fan for Dr House but found that he can never be Hugh Laurie .sometimes I say as a self comfort that Hugh is his (so different) twin.Great Article really. I enjoyed every word you wrote .it's the best House article i've ever read.Thank you so much .