Hugh Laurie discusses his role as a fake space cruise captain on The Graham Norton Show (aired January 24, 2020) while promoting his new TV series, Avenue 5.
He says: “That’s right. I am a fake. The captain is actually not a proper captain. He doesn’t really know anything about space travel and isn’t even American. He has absolutely no qualifications whatsoever.
“Because the premise is that what matters is confidence, is reassurance, is – the façade is what matters rather than the technical competence. And I think that is a pretty telling statement about the world in which we live.
“That fronting things out has become a more valuable gift than actually knowing how things work. And I think that partly accounts for the great anxiety that the world now feels. That we are now bossed by people who have the confidence without . . . or at least with much much less competence than the confidence – you know what I mean.”
“I hear what you’re saying,” Graham Norton says, tugging on his ear.
There’s so much I want to say about this clip, and so little space to do it in. So let me bullet point a few things, and we can discuss it at length in the comments.
1. Graham Norton is a fabulous entertainer, and my favorite interview/host. He often puts together a great collection of stars, and puts them on the Red Couch to interact, with just a nudge or two from himself and his cards. This particular couch is made up of Robert Downey, Jr., Emma Thompson, and Hugh Laurie. It’s joined later by Terry Gilliam with a toast to the recently departed Terry Jones and also a clip from his new movie, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (starring Adam Driver). Oh, and a lovely musical performance by Sara Bareilles singing “She Used to Be Mine” from the musical Waitress. If you have a few hours to spend, Norton is well worth looking for on YouTube, both for his talk show and other interviews and appearances.
2. Hugh Laurie! Emma Thompson!! Who dated in college when they were members of the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club (former president and vice-president respectively; Footlights produced a whole lot of comedic genius including Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson).
3. “The façade is what matters rather than the technical competence.” I’m still letting that sink in. That’s often been true, especially in show biz, but often in politics and even places where the competence really, really matters, such as structural engineering. It’s OK to have a veneer of razz-ma-tazz as long as there are clearly marked exits that lead to safe, grounded spaces. See also: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, blind them with bullshit.” (Source unknown.)
4. “Fronting things out has become a more valuable gift than actually knowing how things work.” This is a great way to give a villain some dimension. They are very, very competent in managing their public persona, but problems keep happening, because they aren’t very competent at their real job. It can be farcical, sad, tragic. This kind of fakehood, though, feels very, very real in 2020. Readers and viewers all over the world will connect with this, and know exactly what you, the writer, are talking about.
5. Yeah, but . . . does anybody really know what they are doing to the extent they probably should know? This adds dimension to heroes and heroines, as well. Relatable.
The whole show is well worth searching out and spending 45 minutes on. But you’ll have to hurry. If my math is correct, the BBC will take it off their website around February 22, and if you look on YouTube (ahem), it may be gone by Monday. Season 26, Episode 15.