It says a lot about the complete conquest of America by British actor Hugh Laurie that the most surprising thing about his probable next role is that it will see him speak with an English accent. Laurie, 53, whose star turn in the medical drama House has made him a household name in America, is believed to be close to signing a deal to play the notorious pirate Blackbeard in a new NBC drama. Called Crossbones, the series is set to feature Blackbeard as the pirate leader of an anarchic, rogue nation of cut-throats and sailors on an island in the Bahamas in the early 18th century. It is based on the book Republic of Pirates, by Colin Woodard. The new role, while very different to that of tormented medical anti-hero Dr Gregory House, is just the latest stage in Laurie's astonishing success in the US, where his British comic past in shows such as Blackadder and A Bit of Fry and Laurie has been all but forgotten. Since the programme first broadcast in 2004, Dr House has become one of the most famous characters in modern American television, building on a wave of anti-heroes who helped to overturn the conventional notion of what a popular TV show character should be. Few of Laurie's British fans would perhaps have predicted such fame for the Old Etonian and Cambridge Footlights stalwart. But House, which ended its eight-series run earlier this year, has achieved that. In fact, some suspect that many American fans of the show might be unaware that its central character is played by someone who is not American. "Some had seen Blackadder, but the vast majority of House's audience when they saw it for the first time would not know he was English. They would get a shock when they saw him appearing on chatshows and suddenly speaking in a different accent," said Professor Bob Thompson, a popular culture expert at Syracuse University. Laurie is in exalted company as an English-born screen actor who made it big in America. It includes people such as Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, the Lancashire-born half of Laurel and Hardy, and Bob Hope. Some experts believe Laurie's Englishness helped him to make the unusual role of House into a success. "It did not matter what he had done before. Brits get a free pass on that stuff in the way an American actor would not have done," said Hollywood correspondent Gayl Murphy. Nor is Laurie's talent confined to the screen. In 2010 he signed a contract with Warner Bros to record a blues album that was released last year entitled Let Them Talk. He has even played piano on a song by Meat Loaf. But it is his small-screen career that has made Laurie so beloved in America, nominated for no fewer than six Emmys and the winner of two Golden Globes. The challenge for Laurie is to prove he can move out from the shadow of House and create another role just as popular. Blackbeard certainly seems to offer that opportunity. The plot of the coming show features an assassin sent to kill Blackbeard, but who is gradually drawn into the orbit of the darkly charismatic pirate chief and the band of outlaw that he heads. "His biggest problem is going to be escaping the gravitational force of House," said Thompson. Laurie will be playing to a supportive audience in America. His admirers stretch from the millions of House fans to the more arty crowd who appreciate his musical talents and thespian background. Married with three children, and still living in London, despite spending most of his time in California, Laurie is also someone who has not succumbed to any of the pitfalls of American fame. "He is not out clubbing or dating starlets," said Murphy. "American viewers are standing on the sidelines cheering for him and saying, 'Bring it on. What else you got in that bag?'"
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