'Roadkill': Hugh Laurie Previews His Slow-Burn British Political Thriller

Hugh Laurie Masterpiece Roadkill Peter Laurence
Fall Preview
PBS

Look both ways before crossing your political opponents! In this slow-burn British thriller that's as fun to watch for the understated performances as it is for the plot twists, House's Hugh Laurie tries to keep from being run down by scandal as charismatic Peter Laurence, a conservative politician with working-class roots.

Created and written by playwright and two-time Academy Award nominee David Hare (The Hours), Roadkill asks what happens when you embrace freedom and shun shame. You'll smile wryly at satirical one-liners, especially as uttered by this excellent cast, which includes Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders) as the prime minister.

Laurie tells us more about the MASTERPIECE on PBS series.

When we meet Peter, he's just won a libel suit against journalist Charmian Pepper (Sarah Greene, Dublin Murders) — but even his lawyer thinks he's guilty of accepting payments to help privatize the National Health Service. Why were you drawn to this role?

Hugh Laurie: I was intrigued by someone motivated by a picture of a future rather than the past. He finds the past a hindrance. Constant regret is not in his nature. He looks forward with a glad heart and thinks tomorrow can be better than yesterday if you approach it in the right frame of mind.

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Do you share that quality?

I find it exhilarating to play because I'm not like that. I spend too much time looking backward, regretting or wondering whether I did the right thing or could have done better. At the end of every working day, I recriminate and analyze the mistakes I made rather than making decisions about the following day. 

Peter could do with some more soul-searching. Even though he loves his family, he has hurt his wife (Saskia Reeves, Wolf Hall), who lied for him in court, as well as their two semi-estranged adult daughters (Ophelia Lovibond and Millie Brady).

Every now and then a degree of reflection and self-examination is called for. It is a dimension of a moral life. He has it — in a smaller degree.

Iain De Caestecker Hugh Laurie Pippa Bennett Roadkill Masterpiece Duncan Peter Rochelle

Duncan Nock (Iain De Caestecker), Peter Laurence (Hugh Laurie), and Rochelle (Pippa Bennett-Warner) (The Forge/Steffan Hill)

Not enough for some people. One delicious aspect of watching is slowly realizing just how many in Peter's circle seem to be actively plotting against him. We never know whom to trust!

It's an amazing cast, and wonderful to watch them reveal themselves piece by piece rather than coming in with a trombone announcing themselves. It's fun and a challenge for an actor to allow the audience to decipher things rather than present it to them in bold, which is my instinct. I talk too loudly and gesture too much. I'll probably lose my British passport for that — it's un-English. [Laughs]

This must have been challenging because Peter doesn't give a lot away. How did you rein in your performance?

Whenever I was inclined to stray into something perhaps too demonstrative, David Hare and director Michael Keillor, an immensely refined and subtle thinker, were there to fire some volts through the dog collar, and I would just get a slight twitch and calm down. 

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You played a U.S. senator turned presidential candidate on the HBO comedy Veep. Does drama require a different mindset?

I think of it as one assignment. If I see a story in which a character appears to have no semblance of a sense of humor, I am much less inclined to believe that character's real. Life is funny. It is also tragic and people are serious and committed, but that doesn't mean they are not capable of seeing the funny side of everything.

Roadkill, Premiere, Sunday, November 1, 9/8c, MASTERPIECE on PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)