From 2004 to 2012, Laurie played Dr. Gregory House, the title character of House, for which he received two Golden Globe Awards and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. He was listed in the 2011 Guinness World Records as the most watched leading man on television and was one of the highest-paid actors in a television drama, earning £250,000 ($409,000) per episode of House.
James Hugh Calum Laurie was born on 11 June 1959 in Oxford. The youngest of four children, he has an older brother named Charles Alexander Lyon Mundell Laurie and two older sisters named Susan and Janet. He had a strained relationship with his mother, Patricia (née Laidlaw). He notes that she was "Presbyterian by character, by mood" and that he was "a frustration to her... she didn't like me". His father, William George Ranald Mundell "Ran" Laurie, was a physician who won an Olympic gold medal in the coxless pairs (rowing) at the 1948 London Games. Laurie's mother died from motor neurone disease in Oxfordshire at the age of 73, in 1989, when Laurie was 30. According to Laurie, she endured the disease for two years; and she suffered "painful, plodding paralysis" while being cared for by Laurie's father, whom he called "the sweetest man in the whole world".
Laurie's parents, who were of Scottish descent, attended St. Columba's Presbyterian Church of England (now United Reformed Church) in Oxford. He notes that "belief in God didn't play a large role in my home, but a certain attitude to life and the living of it did". He followed this by stating, "Pleasure was something that was treated with great suspicion, pleasure was something that... I was going to say it had to be earned but even the earning of it didn't really work. It was something to this day, I mean, I carry that with me. I find pleasure a difficult thing; I don't know what you do with it, I don't know where to put it." He later stated, "I don't believe in God, but I have this idea that if there were a God, or destiny of some kind looking down on us, that if he saw you taking anything for granted he'd take it away."
Laurie was brought up in Oxford and attended the Dragon School from ages seven to 13 and stated, "I was, in truth, a horrible child. Not much given to things of a bookey nature, I spent a large part of my youth smoking Number Six and cheating in French vocabulary tests." He went on to Eton College, which he describes as "the most private of private schools". He says he attended Selwyn College, Cambridge "as a result of family tradition" as his father "went to Cambridge and I applied to the same college". Laurie notes his father had a successful bout as an oarsman at Cambridge and that he was "trying to follow in his father's footsteps". He studied for a degree in archaeology and anthropology, specialising in social anthropology.
Like his father, Laurie was an oarsman at school and university. In 1977, he was a member of the junior coxed pair that won the British national title before representing Britain's Youth Team at the 1977 Junior World Rowing Championships. In 1980, Laurie and his rowing partner, J.S. Palmer, were runners-up in the Silver Goblets coxless pairs for Eton Vikings rowing club. Later, Laurie also achieved a Blue while taking part in the 1980 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. Cambridge lost that year by five feet. During this time, Laurie was training for up to eight hours a day and was on course to become an Olympic-standard rower. Laurie is a member of Leander Club, one of the oldest rowing clubs in the world. He was also a member of the Hermes Club and the Hawks' Club.
Forced to abandon rowing during a bout of glandular fever (mononucleosis), Laurie joined the Cambridge Footlights, the university dramatic club that has produced many well-known actors and comedians. There he met Emma Thompson, with whom he had a romantic relationship; the two remain good friends. She introduced him to his future comedy partner, Stephen Fry. Laurie, Fry and Thompson later parodied themselves as the University Challenge representatives of "Footlights College, Oxbridge" in "Bambi", an episode of The Young Ones, with the series' co-writer Ben Elton completing their team.
In 1980–81, his final year at university, besides rowing, Laurie was president of the Footlights, with Thompson as vice-president. They took their annual revue, The Cellar Tapes, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and won the first Perrier Comedy Award. The revue was written principally by Laurie and Fry, and the cast also included Thompson, Tony Slattery, Paul Shearer and Penny Dwyer. He states that he did not graduate from Cambridge. The Perrier Award led to a West End transfer for The Cellar Tapes and a television version of the revue, broadcast in May 1982. It resulted in Laurie, Fry and Thompson being selected, along with Ben Elton, Robbie Coltrane and Siobhan Redmond to write and appear in a new sketch comedy show for Granada Television, Alfresco, which ran for two series.
Fry and Laurie went on to work together on various projects throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Among them were the Blackadder series, written by Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, starring Rowan Atkinson, with Laurie in various roles, but most notably Prince George and Lieutenant George. Other projects followed, of which one was their BBC sketch comedy series A Bit of Fry & Laurie; another project was Jeeves and Wooster, an adaptation of P. G. Wodehouse's stories, in which Laurie played Jeeves's employer, the amiable twit Bertie Wooster. He and Fry worked together at various charity stage events, such as Hysteria! 1, 2 & 3 and Amnesty International's The Secret Policeman's Third Ball, Comic Relief TV shows and the variety show Fry and Laurie Host a Christmas Night with the Stars. They collaborated again on the film Peter's Friends and came together for a retrospective show in 2010 titled Fry and Laurie Reunited.
Laurie starred in the Thames Television film Letters from a Bomber Pilot (1985) directed by David Hodgson. This was a serious acting role, the film being dramatised from the letters home of Pilot Officer J.R.A. "Bob" Hodgson, a pilot in RAF Bomber Command, who was killed in action in 1943.
Laurie appeared in the music videos for the 1986 single "Experiment IV" by Kate Bush, and the 1992 Annie Lennox single "Walking on Broken Glass" in British Regency period costume alongside John Malkovich. In 1997 Laurie appeared in the Spice Girls' film Spice World. In 1998, Laurie had a brief guest-starring role on Friends in "The One with Ross's Wedding".
Laurie's later film appearances include Sense and Sensibility (1995), adapted by and starring Emma Thompson; the Disney live-action film 101 Dalmatians (1996), where he played Jasper, one of the bumbling criminals hired to kidnap the puppies; Elton's adaptation of his novel Inconceivable, Maybe Baby (2000); Girl from Rio; the 2004 remake of The Flight of the Phoenix'
Since 2002, Laurie has appeared in a range of British television dramas, guest-starring that year in two episodes of the first season of the spy thriller series Spooks on BBC One. In 2003, he starred in and also directed ITV's comedy-drama series fortysomething (in one episode of which Stephen Fry appears). In 2001, he voiced the character of a bar patron in the Family Guy episode "One If by Clam, Two If by Sea". Laurie voiced the character of Mr. Wolf in the cartoon Preston Pig. He was a panellist on the first episode of QI, alongside Fry as host. In 2004, Laurie guest-starred as a professor in charge of a space probe called Beagle, on The Lenny Henry Show.
Between 2004 and 2012 he starred as the acerbic physician specialising in diagnostic medicine, Dr. Gregory House in the popular Fox medical drama House. For his portrayal, Laurie assumed an American accent. Laurie was in Namibia filming Flight of the Phoenix and recorded the audition tape for the show in the bathroom of the hotel, the only place he could get enough light. While working on Flight of the Phoenix, Jacob Vargas operated the camera to shoot Laurie's audition tape for House. Laurie's American accent was so convincing that executive producer Bryan Singer, who was unaware at the time that Laurie was British, pointed to him as an example of just the kind of compelling American actor he had been looking for. Laurie also adopted the accent between takes on the set of House, as well as during script read-throughs, although he used his native accent when directing the House episode "Lockdown". Laurie also served as director for the episode "The C-Word" of the show's final season.
Laurie was nominated for an Emmy Award for his role in House in 2005. Although he did not win, he did receive a Golden Globe in both 2006 and 2007 for his work on the series and the Screen Actors Guild award in 2007 and 2009. Laurie was also awarded a large increase in salary, from what was rumoured to be a mid-range five-figure sum to $350,000 per episode. Laurie was not nominated for the 2006 Emmys, apparently to the outrage of Fox executives, but he still appeared in a scripted, pre-taped intro, where he parodied his House character by rapidly diagnosing host Conan O'Brien and then proceeded to grope him as the latter asked him for help to get to the Emmys on time. He would later go on to speak in French while presenting an Emmy with Dame Helen Mirren, and has since been nominated in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.
Laurie was initially cast as Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, in Singer's film Superman Returns but had to bow out of the project because of his involvement in House. In July 2006, Laurie appeared on Inside the Actors Studio, where he also performed one of his own comic songs, "Mystery", accompanying himself on the piano. He hosted NBC's Saturday Night Live, in which he appeared in drag in a sketch about a man (Kenan Thompson) with a broken leg who accuses his doctor of being dishonest. Laurie played the man's wife.
In August 2007, Laurie appeared on BBC Four's documentary Stephen Fry: 50 Not Out, filmed in celebration of Fry’s 50th birthday. In 2008, he took part in Blackadder Rides Again and appeared as Captain James Biggs in Street Kings, opposite Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker, and then in 2009 as the eccentric Dr. Cockroach, PhD in DreamWorks' Monsters vs. Aliens. He also hosted Saturday Night Live for the second time on the Christmas show in which he sang a medley of three-second Christmas songs to close his monologue. In 2009, Laurie returned to guest star in another Family Guy episode, "Business Guy", parodying Gregory House. In 2010, Laurie guest starred in The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror XXI" as Roger, a castaway who is planning a murder scheme on a ship during Homer and Marge's second honeymoon.
On 8 February 2012, Fox announced that season eight of House would be the last. On 13 June 2012, the media announced that Laurie was in negotiations to play the villain in RoboCop, a remake of the original RoboCop film. These negotiations ultimately fell through and Laurie passed on the project. In 2012, Laurie starred in an independent feature called The Oranges that had a limited release. The New York Post felt that he was "less-than-ideally cast" in the role of a dad who has an affair with his neighbour's daughter, played by Leighton Meester. The Star-Ledger, Newark NJ, thought that he was "particularly good".
He played the villain David Nix in Brad Bird's 2015 film Tomorrowland. Laurie played Richard Onslow Roper in the BBC 1 mini-series The Night Manager. The series started filming in spring 2015 and aired first on the BBC. He currently stars as Dr. Eldon Chance, a San Francisco-based forensic neuropsychiatrist in the Hulu thriller series Chance.
Laurie took piano lessons from the age of six. He sings and plays piano, guitar, drums, harmonica and saxophone. He has displayed his musical talents throughout his acting career, most notably on A Bit of Fry & Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster, House and when he hosted Saturday Night Live in October 2006. He is a vocalist and keyboard player for the Los Angeles charity rock group Band From TV.
Additionally, following Meat Loaf's appearance in the House episode "Simple Explanation", Laurie played piano as a special guest on the song "If I Can't Have You" from Meat Loaf's 2010 album Hang Cool Teddy Bear. Laurie co-wrote and performed the humorous blues song, "Sperm Test in the Morning", in the film Maybe Baby.
On House, Laurie played several classic rock 'n roll instruments including Gibson Flying V and Les Paul guitars. His character has a Hammond B-3 organ in his home and on one episode performed the introduction to Procol Harum's classic "Whiter Shade of Pale".
On 26 July 2010, it was announced that Laurie would be releasing a blues album after signing a contract with Warner Bros. Records. The album, called Let Them Talk, was released in France on 18 April 2011 and in Germany on 29 April. The album features collaborations from well-known artists such as Tom Jones, Irma Thomas and Dr. John.
On 1 May 2011, Laurie and a jazz quintet closed the 2011 Cheltenham Jazz Festival to great acclaim.
On 15 May 2011, Laurie was the subject of the ITV series Perspectives, explaining his love for the music of New Orleans and playing music, from his album Let Them Talk, at studios and live venues in the city itself. He was the subject of PBS Great Performances Let them Talk, also about New Orleans jazz, first broadcast on 30 September 2011.
His second album, Didn't It Rain, was released in the UK on 6 May 2013. In the same year he played at the RMS Queen Mary together with his band. This concert was filmed and later released as Live on the Queen Mary on DVD and Blu-ray.
In 1996, Laurie's first novel, The Gun Seller, an intricate thriller laced with Wodehouseian humour, was published and became a best-seller. He has since been working on the screenplay for a film version. His second novel, The Paper Soldier, was scheduled for September 2009, but has yet to appear.
Laurie married theatre administrator Jo Green on 16 June 1989 in Camden, London. They lived in Belsize Park, London, with sons Charles (born 1988) and William (born 1991) and daughter Rebecca (born 1993). In July 2008, Laurie bought a mansion in Hollywood, California, as they had planned to move the whole family there because of the strain of being mostly separated for nine months each year while Laurie filmed House, but ultimately decided against it. When he bought the mansion, he claimed he was in "virtual isolation" from his family.
Laurie's eldest son Charlie played a cameo part in A Bit of Fry & Laurie, in the last sketch of an episode, entitled "Special Squad", as baby William. Fry and Laurie begin to "interrogate" the baby about "what he's done with the stuff", calling him a scumbag and telling him that he's "been a very naughty boy". His daughter Rebecca had a role in the film Wit as five-year-old Vivian Bearing. Fry, Laurie's best friend and long-time comedy partner, was the best man at his wedding and is godfather to his children.
On 23 May 2007, Laurie was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), in the 2007 New Year Honours, for services to drama. While appearing on Inside the Actors Studio in 2006, Laurie discussed his struggle with severe clinical depression. He told host James Lipton that he first concluded he had a problem whilst driving in a charity demolition derby, during which he realised that seeing two cars collide and explode in front of him caused him to be neither excited nor frightened, but bored. He continues to have regular sessions with his psychotherapist. "Boredom," he commented, "is not an appropriate response to exploding cars."
Laurie admires the writings of P. G. Wodehouse, explaining in a 27 May 1999 article in The Daily Telegraph how reading Wodehouse novels had saved his life. In an interview also in The Daily Telegraph, Laurie confirmed his atheism. He is an avid motorcycle enthusiast and has two motorbikes, one at his London home and one at his Hollywood home. His bike in the U.S. is a Triumph Bonneville, his self-proclaimed "feeble attempt to fly the British flag".
In March 2012, Laurie was made an Honorary Fellow of his alma mater Selwyn College, Cambridge. In June 2013, he was the guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs when he chose Joe Cocker, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Randy Newman, Professor Longhair, Son House, Nina Simone, Lester Young–Buddy Rich Trio, and Van Morrison as his eight favourite discs. This was his second appearance on the show, having previously been a "castaway" in 1996, when he chose tracks by Muddy Waters, Max Bruch, the Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra with Count Basie, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Van Morrison. In October 2016 he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.2011 – Winner – GQ Music Man of the Year
2013 – Winner – New Zealand Film Awards – Best Actor for Mr Pip
2013 - During "Sport Movies & TV - Milano International FICTS Fest" Laurie was awarded with the Excellence Guirlande D'Honneur and entered in the FICTS "Hall Of Fame".
2014 – Winner – Lunas del Auditorio – Jazz & Blues
2014 – Nominated – National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers (NAVGTR) awards – Performance in a Comedy, Supporting (Newton in Little Big Planet 3)