Fortysomething - 2003. Paul Slippery
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On the set - Hugh also directed the first 3 episodes
WEEKEND: TV: Forty reasons to watch Hugh.(Features)
Coventry Evening Telegraph (England); 6/28/2003
Byline: MARION McMULLEN
BEMUSED: Hugh Laurie plays an anxious GP in ITV comedy Fortysomething
FARCICAL: ITV comedy drama Fortysomething stars Hugh Laurie (centre), Anna Chancellor and (left, front to rear) Neil Henry, Joe Van Moyland and Benedict Cumberbatch
IT took Hugh Laurie three years to get used to being in his 40s. But the affable actor, with the huge blue eyes and permanently perplexed look, recently turned 44 and is now comfortable with the idea of being a middle-aged man.
"It took time for it to sink in," he says. "I still had that teenage feeling that there was lots of time to do the things I wanted to do.
"And then suddenly I found myself grunting as I got out of a low chair, and you think, hold on, I'm not 17 any more, I've got to get on with stuff.
"Sometimes I worry a lot about this, about whether myself at 40 is a betrayal of what I hoped I would be when I was 20."
He jokes: "When I was 20 I certainly thought I'd have opened the batting for England by now, and I'd have climbed Everest and written a great cello concerto. I've done none of those things and therefore I've let the side down."
So Laurie's return to British television comedy after an absence of 10 years is perfectly timed for the role of Paul Slippery, an anxious Putney GP beset by the tribulations of oncoming middle-age.
Slippery is the main character of Fortysomething, ITV's new Sunday night six-part comedy drama series dealing with male mid-life angst.
It is Nigel Williams' dramatisation of his own comic novel taking a funny and sympathetic look at middle-aged man. In the novel Slippery is an actor in a BBC radio soap. For the television version the satire about bureaucracy is transferred to the health service.
"Fortysomething is about marriage and growing older and, as more farcical and absurd events happen to these people, we wonder how they will survive," says Williams.
Slippery is the traditional middle-aged man - bewildered by the world and agonising about the long time passed since he last had sex. To make matters worse his wife suddenly wants a life of her own outside the home.
And to top it all he has to see his offspring engaging in sex lives that would leave Casanova exhausted.
Like Slippery, Laurie is married - to Jo, a former theatre administrator. And like Slippery he has three children - Charlie, 14, Bill, 12, and nine- year-old Rebecca. But the actor laughs off any comparison with his character.
"My experiences wouldn't make a six-hour television show for a start," he says. "I suppose I'm more bemused rather than panicked. I'm not as neurotic as Paul. Friends of mine might disagree but I think of myself as vaguely puzzled by life rather than neurotic."
Fortysomething starts tomorrow at 9pm on ITV.
A JOLLY FARCICAL COMEDY ABOUT TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF ONCOMING MIDDLE-AGE
PAUL SLIPPERY ( Hugh Laurie)
PAUL Slippery is a hardworking, GP who likes to cure people despite the bureaucracy of the NHS.
He's a lot more of a male chauvinist than he thinks - he's more old man than new man - but he's fortysomething and under pressure.
And he struggles to understand the sexual shenanigans and rivalries of his three teenage sons, his wife has decided to go back to work and, worst of all, he can't remember when he last had sex.
"Fortysomething is a jolly farcical comedy but it does have underneath it an anxiety about when you reach this point in your life," says Hugh Laurie.
ESTELLE SLIPPERY (Anna Chancellor)
ESTELLE (left) is the long suffering self-effacing wife who, now that the three sons can take of themselves, decides to go back to work. She wants to find a new role for herself but all does not go according to plan.
After playing domineering women such as Miss Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, Anna Chancellor - of Four Weddings and a Funeral Duck Face fame - is happy to be portraying a kind, understanding wife and mother.
"Estelle was much more in the realm of playing myself than many roles I've had," she says.
" It was nice for me to play a part where I could wash my hair, put on a bit of make-up and say 'Good morning. How are you?' I could be a mum which is something I understand."
RORY SLIPPERY (Benedict Cumberbatch)
RORY is the eldest son, a bit of a dreamer, rather idealistic and quite moral.
DANIEL SLIPPERY (Neil Henry)
DANIEL is a bit of a lad, very bright and very keen on the ladies. He is a charmer and has done well at college.
EDWIN SLIPPERY (Joe Van Moyland)
EDWIN is the youngest of the boys and is still at school. He is keen to lose his virginity.
SURINDER (Lolita Chakrabarti)
SURINDER is the voice of sanity at the surgery. She is a partner in the eccentric medical practice as well as Paul's friend and confidante. "She is the only sane voice in the surgery and the person Paul calls when things go wrong," says Lolita Chakrabarti.
RONNIE PILFREY (Peter Capaldi)
PAUL feels threatened by Pilfrey, a younger doctor who also has a crush on his wife. He has a dreadful bedside manner and a complete lack of interest in curing patients.
Even the actor who plays him is shocked by the shoddy treatment Dr Ronnie's patients receive.
"He thinks he is terribly smart but really is sleazy and quite mad!" says Peter Capaldi.
GWENDOLEN (Sheila Hancock)
GWENDOLEN is a lesbian head-hunter who throws Estelle a timely lifeline. She is very much her own woman.
"I think Gwendolen is the most together character in the series," says actress Sheila Hancock. "Although she is sexually ambivalent she is happier than the tortured married souls around her. She has a great lifestyle with lots of friends.
"I think she is perfectly happy with her lot."
BEMUSED: Hugh Laurie plays an anxious GP in ITV comedy Fortysomething;
FARCICAL: ITV comedy drama Fortysomething stars Hugh Laurie (centre), Anna Chancellor and (left, front to rear) Neil Henry, Joe Van Moyland and Benedict Cumberbatch
Review from shineyshelf.co.uk
WARNING! Article contains spoilers!
‘Fortysomething’, a loose adaptation of Nigel Williams’ novel of mid-life crisis, is that great rarity of twenty-first century life British television which is actually worth watching. It’s appropriate too, that this tale of suburban panic and boggle-eyed incomprehension should arrive slap in the middle of Wimbledon fortnight, and consequently at that inevitable point in June when we middle-Englanders slouch quietly into facing up to another intermittently wet British summer of the kind that writers like Williams love to hate.
For, while ‘Fortysomething’ is, in its own way, as much of a middle-class liberal fantasy utopia-fest as ‘The West Wing’ is, it is, at least, a reassuringly self-aware one. While Williams’ vision of farce-in-SW19 shows us the kind of sexism, racism and classim free ‘Guardian’ reading suburb that we all are quietly convinced we inhabit, he doesn’t go as far as to remove from his setting such good old fashioned British virtues as sexual repression, disastrous attempts to be ‘sophisticated’, a genetic inability to plan ahead, a mild contempt for mainland Europeans and vast gulf of affection-heavy miscomprehension separating parents and children.
Hugh Laurie, a man simply incapable of not being entertaining, plays the central role of GP Paul Slippery with a manic rigour and stiff-upper lipped bewilderment that is nothing short of a joy to behold. Whether staggering around gazing in horror at the sordid antics of his adolescent children, or failing to engage (in any sense) with his undeniably sexy wife (Anna Chancellor) he’s always utterly watchable. Laurie has a star quality that many British TV actors (even those elevated to celeb status by the horrors of our media) spectacularly lack. Have you seen those adverts for ‘The Bill’ which advertise the addition of Todd ‘Tucker’ Carty to the cast as if it’s James Spader joining ‘The Practice’? The word ‘delusional’ leaps to mind, and then does a little run around the cerebral cortex for good measure; playing the bongos and singing ‘Tequila!’ as it does so.
Laurie’s a star, and Chancellor is a guarantee of good screen time and they’re backed up here by quality cameos and fine bit part players whose general excellence proves that you really can cast light British drama without digging through the horrors of the regular casts of our vast number of offal-mungous soap operas. Peter Capaldi is always good value, and Sheila Hancock is delightful as Estelle’s lesbian boss. Laurie’s old mucka, Stephen Fry turns up in episode 2 as a brusque fishmonger who objects to the use of the word ‘cleft’ and delivers a wonderful little speech about how it’s fishmongery that made Britain great. This near incomprehensible rant is backed by strings playing ‘Pomp and Circumstance No.1’ and succeeded by both a round of applause from other patrons and Laurie humbling accepting Fry’s lunacy as if it’s fine advice for the ages, then tipping him by way of thanks. It’s non-sequiters like this (just what is son Edwin doing with his life and why isn’t he at school?) that add richness to ‘Fortysomething’ and prevent the series from descending into being either utter chaos or the charmless cliché that ITV’s poster hoarding adverts for it seemed to threaten.
‘Fortysomething’ is strangely wise, very funny and worth every second of the time it takes to watch. There isn’t much homegrown comedy or drama you can say that about these days.
Hugh Laurie has revealed how he saved his new ITV1 show, Fortysomething, after three directors walked out and put the entire project in jeopardy. The Blackadder and Stuart Little star simply agreed to direct the first few episodes of the series, which starts on Sunday June 29, himself.
According to Hugh, the others left for, "a variety of reasons, both personal and professional", but his decision to step in wasn't all plain-sailing. One of the hardest moments for Hugh, who plays dippy dad Paul, came when he had to direct in the nude, standing in a residential street in London's Crouch End.
"I was wearing a towel, but a dog ran up and whipped it away," he laughs. "I spend far too much time in the series without my trousers on. It wasn't embarrassing at all.
"Directing is exciting - in the same way that a car crash is exciting. But directors kept pulling out and as the weeks went by there was a danger the plug would be pulled altogether."
Fortysomething also features Four Weddings And A Funeral star Anna Chancellor, as Paul's wife Estelle. Meanwhile, Hugh is so glad to be back on the box he's signed up for more shows.
"I've not done anything on TV for a very long time, so I thought it's now or never," he says. "I'm going to be dead in a minute, so what am I keeping myself pure for?"
His next project will be the BBC's Edwardian drama The Young Visitors, written by 12-year-old Daisy Ashford in 1890. He says, "I play a melancholic figure called Bernard Clark who moons around a castle in dressing gowns being tragic."
The Mirror (London, England); 3/29/2003
BLACKADDER star Hugh Laurie got down to bare essentials yesterday filming a new movie.
The actor quickly grasped the essence of the part he is playing on the set of 40-Something in Crouch End, North London.
One onlooker said: "Hugh gave us all a bit of a fright - but he was having a great time of it. He didn't mind who saw him."
Strife begins at 40; He may have been in denial about his age for a couple of years, but Hugh Laurie has come to terms with being 40, he tells Wil Marlow.(Features)
The Birmingham Post (England); 6/26/2003
Byline: Wil Marlow
It took Hugh Laurie three years to get used to being in his 40s. But the muchloved comedian and actor, who recently turned 44, is now comfortable with the idea of being a middle-aged man.
'It was only after three years that it sunk in,' he says. 'Before I still had that teenage feeling that there was lots of time to do the things I wanted to do. Then suddenly I found myself grunting as I got out of a low chair, and you think, 'Hold on, I'm not 17 any more, I've got to get on with stuff'.
'Sometimes I worry a lot about this, about whether myself at 40 is a betrayal of what I hoped I would be when I was 20. When I was 20 I certainly thought I'd have opened the batting for England by now, and I'd have climbed Everest and written a great cello concerto. I've done none of those things and therefore I've let the side down.'
Laurie is joking, of course. He can hardly describe himself as an underachiever. As well as being a popular television star, he's made a successful crossover into film, starring in hits like Maybe Baby and the Stuart Little films. He's also an accomplished musician and successful novelist.
But given his worries, it's perhaps fitting that he makes his return to British television in a comedy drama on the very subject of life in your 40s.
In Fortysomething he stars as troubled GP Paul Slippery, an anxious husband and father who is beset by the tribulations of oncoming middle age and feeling increasingly confused by his family.
Slippery struggles to understand the sexual shenanigans and rivalries of his three sons.
His long-suffering wife Estelle, played by Four Weddings And A Funeral's Anna Chancellor, has decided to go back to work. Worst of all, he can't remember when he last had sex.
'It's a jolly, farcical comedy,' says Laurie, 'but it does have underneath it an anxiety about when you reach this point in your life -your children are growing up, you are established in your career and then you ask now what? What am I here for?'
Like Slippery, Laurie is married (to Jo, a former theatre administrator) with three children, Charlie, 14, Bill, 12, and nineyear-old Rebecca. But the actor laughs off any comparison with his character.
'My experiences wouldn't make a six hour television show for a start,' he says. 'I suppose I'm more bemused rather than panicked. I'm not as neurotic as Paul.
'Friends of mine might disagree, but I think of myself as vaguely puzzled by life rather than neurotic. Also my own children are younger than Slippery's.
'I've still got the teenage years to come. But I'm just starting to get a glimmer of it, with the odd door slamming starting to raise its head.'
The production of the series seems to have been as troubled as the family it was portraying, with two directors leaving just as filming began.
'There's a variety of reasons,' says Laurie. 'But who knows? Certainly I don't know, all of it happened without my involvement or knowledge and it was slightly alarming. When you see the captain of your ship jumping past your porthole it's slightly worrying.'
But the unexpected departure of the directors offered up a chance for Laurie to dabble in another area of showbiz that he's only briefly touched on before, directing. At the suggestion of the show's producers, Laurie directed the first three episodes of the series, but he didn't adapt to the challenge well.
'I wouldn't recommend it,' he says. 'It was insane and very misguided. It was rewarding in some ways and certainly exciting but only in the same way that a car crash is exciting. 'I did it because the very stupidity of it made it appealing. If it had been easier, if someone had said I had three months to prepare and I could change whatever I wanted, I probably would have said no. There was something about the very insanity of it that made me say yes.'
What made the challenge even more difficult for Laurie was that at one point he had to both act and direct in the nude.
'Slippery is following his wife out into the street wearing a towel, keen to discuss matters of a sexual nature,' explains Laurie, 'and a passing dog -you know how this happens, it's happened to all of us -a passing dog steals the towel.
'I didn't find it embarrassing at all,' he continues, deadpan. 'But obviously I was careful with my hand gestures, I tended to point with only one hand at a time. But, yeah, it was rather stressful.
'The dog was slightly hard work. We'd actually filmed this scene before under one of the previous directors and that time the dog had behaved very well, he was a very good actor.
'But in the meantime, and no-one told me about this, he'd been castrated. Chaps, I can assure you it's not a way to go if you want to be focused on your work.
'It took a lot of vim out of the dog and he lost his edge. He was fine but he took a lot of coaxing.'
It seems Laurie will take a lot of coaxing to go back to directing as well. But luckily his experiences in the nude haven't put him off acting.
Next he'll be seen in a new BBC film The Young Visiters , but whether he'll be making a return to the bright lights of Hollywood after the success of Stuart Little 2, he's unsure.
'I've got no plans to go back at all,' he says. 'As an actor you go where the wind takes you. It's very hard to be in films if you've not been asked, believe me I've tried.'
Fortysomething begins on Central on Sunday, June 29.
PREVIEW: Telly to kill your social life;
Hugh Laurie, cheeky chappie and erstwhile comedy partner of Stephen Fry is back on our small screens again. Fresh from Hollywood and huge success in the Stuart Little movies, he's now starring and directing a new sixpart comedydrama series, called Fortysomething.(Features)
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales); 6/28/2003
FORTYSOMETHING IT sounds like a very bad dream, but one day last year Hugh Laurie found himself naked, outside in a street, not only surrounded by fellow cast and crew members of his latest project, but also having to direct them.
You couldn't really make it up, and as Laurie recounts the slightly surreal events, he all but shudders at the memory of it.
`In the first place I would not recommend directing oneself at all, it's very misguided - but particularly when you have to do it without any clothes on and in the middle of the street,'' says Laurie, the star (and indeed director of three episodes) of Fortysomething, ITV1's new sixpart comedydrama series starting tomorrow.
Laurie stars as Paul Slippery, a Wimbledon GP facing a midlife crisis. (Laurie's father was a GP, and at one time he had considered following in his footsteps).
The clothesfree scene in question arises when Slippery follows his wife (played by Anna Chancellor) out into the street, conducting a heated discussion whilst wearing just a towel - which is pulled away from him by a passing dog. All of which left both character and leading man distressingly vulnerable, especially when Laurie was required to carry on directing the scene as though everything were completely normal.
`I was obviously careful with the hand gestures,'' he smiles. ``I would tend to use just one hand at a time. I never went, `I want those two trucks moved'!'' (He gestures with both hands outstretched). ``So it was stressful - not least because the dog was hard work. We had filmed that scene before under one of many previous directors this project had had - and the dog had acted very well. In the meantime, the dog had been castrated - and chaps, I can assure you that it's not the way to go, if you want to be focused on your work. It seemed to take a lot of vim out of the dog. He'd lost his edge, as it were, and he took a lot of coaxing.
When news of Laurie's stint of naked acting and directing was leaked, a tabloid photographer attempted to enter the street to take some candid shots but luckily for Laurie, to no avail.
`We also strove to avoid school chuckingout time,'' he recalls. ``It's not the kind of thing you want to film with a dozen 16yearolds laughing from the other side of the street. It's meant to be in Wimbledon, but we actually filmed the scene in Crouch End - very appropriately named .''
As is more than apparent, oldEtonian and Cambridge graduate Laurie thrives on the amusing anecdote; he is a natural raconteur, and evidently full of enthusiasm for his new series, and his first starring TV role for ten years since playing Bertie Wooster opposite Stephen Fry in Jeeves and Wooster. (Fry has a guest spot - as a fishmonger - in episode two).
The eleventhhour task of directing himself in three episodes came to Laurie after two previous directors had to leave the production. ``It was all about logistics, scheduling problems, nothing too sinister - but when you see the captain of the ship jumping past your porthole, it is rather worrying,'' says Laurie. ``The producer asked me would I consider stepping into the director's chair, and for some reason I agreed to it. It was a big challenge, and I suspect the very stupidity of it made it more appealing.''
Fortysomething is based on Nigel Williams' endearingly funny novel about the male menopause - a subject already addressed by two recent BBC series, Manchild and Happiness. At 44, Laurie, a successful actor on both sides of the pond, and happily married (to former theatre administrator Jo) with three children (Charlie, 14, Bill, 12, and Rebecca, 9), should surely have no need for any such middleage neuroses. Indeed, he readily admits - without a smidgin of smugness - that he is nothing like as neurotic as his smallscreen alterego Paul Slippery.
`I'm such a lazy person,'' he muses. ``I can't be bothered to be stressed about things. I just get bored with it after a while.
`As for being in one's 40s, on the whole I think we all worry too much. I think now is a good time to for a man to be in his 40s. We're not fighting in the trenches in northern France, there's no bubonic plague ripping through the streets - there are all sorts of things we must not lose sight of. Generally we live more comfortable, healthier, diseasefree lives than we have at any time in human h s o r y.''
Laurie had a pretty neurosesfree time when he reached the age of 40 four years ago. ``If I do worry about anything, it's whether myself at 40 is a betrayal of what I'd hoped I'd be at 20, or whether at 20 I was just a callow youth - and whether looking back, I'm more embarrassed at me at 20,'' he says.
`When I was 20, I thought by 40 I'd have opened the batting for England, climbed Everest and written a cello concerto. So I've probably let the side down.''
When pushed to find anything that truly does get his goat, Laurie suggests it is the concept of change - and if there is one thing he does share with Fortysomething's Paul Slippery, it is fear of change.
`I never see much point in changing things,'' he says.
Maybe fear of change is one reason why Laurie has never been tempted to up sticks and emigrate to Hollywood, even for a short time - despite recent success in the two Stuart Little films.
`Hollywood is a fantastic place to visit on safari, and take pictures of the wild animals there - that is, film stars, Sunset Boulevard, all of that. But that's enough. .''
Fortysomething starts on ITV1 Wales tomorrow at 9pm
HUGH'S BACK; Laurie signs pounds 500,000 TV deal for new comedy.(News)
The Mirror (London, England); 8/17/2002
Byline: NICOLA METHVEN
HUGH Laurie has signed a pounds 500,000 deal to make a comeback after a decade away from TV comedy.
Hugh, 43, is to play Paul Slippery - a GP worrying about looming middle age - in ITV series Fortysomething.
A Carlton TV insider said yesterday: "We're thrilled Hugh is taking the lead role. It promises to be funny and sexy.
"His character can't remember the last time he had sex, and finds his wife and sons very confusing."
The series has been adapted for TV from the novel by Nigel Williams - though in the book Paul is a BBC radio actor.
Carlton drama chief Jonathan Powell said: "We've kept the satire about red tape, but transferred it to the NHS."
Hugh's last TV comedy, alongside Stephen Fry in Jeeves and Wooster, finished 10 years ago.
Since then he has forged a Hollywood career in movies such as Stuart Little and Maybe Baby.
Filming on the six, hour-long shows begins in November. The first will be shown next year.
Earlier this summer Hugh played an MI6 chief in the BBC's Spooks.
But now the ex-Blackadder star is returning to his TV comedy roots.
Last month he said: "Comedy is a revenge against the slights we've received, or the people we just hated when we were 15.