LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hugh Laurie is bleary-eyed and tired. It is late afternoon, and he's been awake since 5 a.m. shooting an episode of television drama "House M.D.," which has made him a huge star in the United States.
His lead role as the cranky, brash Dr. Gregory House on the top-rated Fox hospital show is far from the comic parts that first made the versatile British actor popular back home, and Laurie is again shaking up his image as a Los Angeles cop in "Street Kings," a movie opening in major cities on Friday.
Laurie, 48, is weary at the end of his long day. But after a quick "gasper," or cigarette, and cup of tea, he said he was glad to be working again following the long U.S. screenwriters' strike that halted production of his TV show.
When asked whether taking the role in "Street Kings" could be a clever career shift by a big-name star, Laurie counters that he does not see the film role that way, nor does he consider himself a big name in Hollywood.
"I hate to shatter any illusions about my place in the pecking order but very few actors, apart from Denzel Washington, get to choose from a big supermarket shelf of possibilities," Laurie said.
"The rest of us are trying to find things we can do, and I hadn't set out to find a noirish police thriller."
Laurie said he was "secretly amused that a middle-class English boy from Oxford could end up playing a veteran L.A.P.D. detective. I even get to carry a gun in a Hollywood movie -- every young boy's dream."
"Street Kings" is the latest project by writer David Ayer, whose 2001 film "Training Day," about a corrupt cop, earned Washington a best actor Oscar.
Laurie plays Internal Affairs Capt. James Biggs, a smart and pragmatic cop investigating the suspect actions of Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves), who is part of a special unit headed by Capt. Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker).
For Laurie, whose film credits include family fare such as "Stuart Little" and "101 Dalmatians" as well as "Sense and Sensibility," based on the Jane Austen novel, "Street Kings" was a definite change of pace.
"It's a world I know nothing about," he said.
While Laurie has become a star playing the antisocial and prickly Dr. House, for most of his career back home in Britain he was best known as the dithering, comedic foil in such TV shows as "Jeeves and Wooster" and "Blackadder."
"Suddenly being associated with edgy, nasty characters is quite a shock," Laurie said with a laugh. "Maybe after a couple more seasons of 'House' I'll be craving the chance to go back home and play a twit again."
Laurie said it was easy to slip back into the shoes of Dr. Gregory House after roughly three months off due to the writers' strike, which ended in February.
He added that his time away was well spent.
"I'm pretty good with idleness," he said. "I played the piano, walked our dog, read and just sat around at home. No wonder my wife's glad I'm back at work."