Hugh Laurie stars in Avenue 5. He talks with Michele Manelis about space, imposter syndrome and why he hates waste
What's your relationship to space? Is it a dream of yours to explore the final frontier?
No, I don't dream about space. I find the world interesting enough. It's why I don't generally watch much science fiction and I don't watch fantasy stuff. I find people interesting enough without adding dragons, ghosts, spaceships, time travel or any of that sort of stuff. But I have to say, when they started talking about trips to Mars a couple of years ago, I talked about it with my wife and I'm actually quite tempted. I think that would be quite an adventure.
You're stranded on a spaceship on Avenue 5 ... have you ever been stuck on anything? Maybe an elevator, a ship?
I don't think so. I might be a little bit phobic because I'm a bit nervous about that kind of thing. If anyone ever says, "We're having a party on a boat," I just think, "Oh God. I can't get off, I need to be able to get off!" I can get off, of course, but that means swimming and I don't want to do that in a tuxedo.
So you play a captain of the ship. Do you have qualities that would make for a good leader?
I don't know if I have any leadership qualities. I certainly have more complaining qualities. I think I'd be better at the back of the room, complaining about the leader.
And actually, he's a fake leader. He's totally incompetent.
Yes, well, I do understand the fake aspect. I absolutely get that. I think ultimately everybody at some level has that feeling that they are going to be found out, that they don't quite have the skills everybody thinks they have. And there is an element to front and confidence to sell yourself, whatever it is you're doing. I would hope airline pilots know what they're doing, the same thing with surgeons. But even with surgeons, I bet there are times when a surgeon starts thinking, "God, I don't know if I can do this but I can't admit that I can't do it, so I'm going to try it and just hope it goes well." That must happen. It must.
Your captain has to deal with a catastrophe. What are you like in an emergency?
The times of my life when you're driving a car and you get into a slide or a truck pulls out or you're on a motorcycle, at that level I tend to go very cold and I'm fine, I'm all right. But anything below that I panic. Like missing a plane, panic. Often really quite trivial things can make me panic. Like, "Oh my God, what's going to happen if my suit doesn't come back from the dry cleaner?" It's a disaster.
What do you watch on TV?
A lot of sport. I think I was aware of the fact that I just didn't know what people were talking about most of the time, so I just wanted to watch so I knew what they were talking about. So, a lot of sport, a lot of documentaries.
And what about TV drama?
Succession, I think, was about as good as it gets. Succession actually made me want to give up acting, I just think it's that's good. It's so beautifully done. It's not really worth anybody else even trying to do anything after you've seen that.
How comfy is your sofa? Massive TV?
No it's not that massive, you don't need a massive TV anymore because TVs have got so good. You can now get the same quality from an iPhone. And also, I think the definition is too high because I don't think it's the way the human brain works. When you look at someone, you are not thinking about the hair that's growing out of their ear. The miracle of the brain is that we manage to ignore some things in order to concentrate on what matters. And when you have these ultra-high definition televisions it's distracting, I think, because it's not the way the brain takes things in. The brain is about discarding things rather than absorbing everything.
Would you let your boss move in with you for a week?
But you're not going to watch TV on an iPhone?
No, I'm not. I've probably done a couple of YouTube things on an iPhone but that's it. I would never actually watch a piece of proper TV. I would certainly not watch Succession on an iPhone, no.
What would you regard as one of your biggest pet peeves?
I inherited from my mother a very strong hatred of waste. I cannot stand waste, hate it. I was in a hotel room earlier and there was a plate of danish pastries laid out that nobody was going to touch. They sat there all day. I just knew that no one was going to touch them and at the end of the day they're just going to get thrown. And that drives me crazy. I've always hated waste.
Which leads me to the environment, which of course is a big problem and becoming worse. What do you do to make a difference? Big or small?
My mother was the first person I ever knew who recycled newspapers. When I was very, very young she would collect newspapers in the village and she would tie them up with string and take about a ton of newspapers, for which she would get £1 or something, which she would then give to charity. I can remember people at the time thinking, "What are you doing with these newspapers? Are you mad? why are you doing this?" She also couldn't stand the waste of paper and the waste of milk cartons, couldn't stand it.
Actually, we were never allowed to buy new paper for anything. She would write letters on the back of the gas bill. Even now, my family and my sisters still don't buy stationery. I will get a gas bill and it's come from the east coast of America and I'm thinking, "Why am I getting a gas bill? Oh it's from my sister." And she's written something to me on the back.
But yes, environmental issues are probably the biggest challenge that my children and particularly their children will have to face.
Avenue 5 screens on SoHo2 Thursdays, 8pm