British actor David Suchet

David makes switch from hero to villain

AGATHA Christie may have hated her creation, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, but the actor who played what many describe as the definitive Hercule has nothing but affection for the man. David Suchet goes from hero to villain when he appears at the Malvern Theatres next week, playing Salieri in Sir Peter Hall’s production of Amadeus.

I caught up with him just a couple of hours before the curtain went up on the opening night at Bath’s Theatre Royal.

Now in his 30th year, he has consistently attracted the plaudits of critics, hence the long list of awards and nominations which accompany the bewildering number of plays, shows and films.

Despite all this, he will be making his Malvern debut when the play opens on Monday (September 21).


He describe’s Salieri as a “complex” character, more than just the villain of the piece but one almost an object of pity.

“He represents all of us who look over our shoulder and look who’s coming up behind us, of course who was coming up behind him was Mozart,” he said. “I try not to play him as a two dimensional villain, I try to make him understandable, not sympathetic, but you do feel for him, he’s wracked with guilt and shame.”


The play opens in 1823, when Salieri, now an old man, recalls events surrounding the downfall of Mozart, which he masterminded in jealousy at the young man’s astonishing talents.

Sir Peter’s revival of the Peter Shaffer play also stars Michael Sheen as Mozart and will tour to Norwich and Sheffield before beginning its West End run at the Old Vic.

All this is a far cry from the Belgian with “the little grey cells”, who made David a household name and won him two of his three BAFTA nominations. There are hopes for the future of the character, there is talk of a film, possible The Blue Train, and even a sniff of money for a new series, although “possibly” is a word which keeps cropping up.

Meanwhile David still gets about 100 letters a week inquiring after the future of the character, who he really never knew until offered the role.


“I actually only really knew Poirot from the films, therefore my impression of him was obviously Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney, and all the others that did it, Charles Laughton did it,” he said.

“Before I said yes to it, I read some of the novels, I met the real Poirot, I thought this is a real challenge.”

He admits Poirot is “eccentric” but “he’s not an idiot or a comic clown”. What he did was recreate Poirot as the novelist would recognise him, even in the teeth of opposition from worried television executives fearful of departing from the norm.

“I was faithful to Agatha, I’m pleased it was so acceptable to all those who were such fans of Poirot.”

There is a great deal more to the actor than Hercule Poirot, as his body of theatre work has shown Iago in Othello, Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, Caliban in The Tempest, Best Actor in the Evening Standard Awards for Timon of Athens and, recently, a Critics Circle Award and Evening Standard and Olivier best actor nominations for George in Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Aldwych.

“It’s the way my career has gone, actors really can’t plan a career. For the press we say we do but, to be honest, we take what we can, even with the fortune of Poirot, I have still done more theatre,” he said.

“I did enjoy George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, that has been my favourite really to do in the theatre, my favourite on television is Poirot the actor’s ego will always go top where one’s successful.”

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