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British actor David Suchet

We meet: David Suchet

photo by PA // clublife.csmaclub.co.uk

Vicki Power // CSMA Club Life

Although Poirot has become his trademark role, Suchet has also starred in TV films as Robert Maxwell, Sigmund Freud and Cardinal Wolsey, as well as playing a wide range of acclaimed roles on stage.

Q. Was filming every Poirot story an aim when you started out in 1989?

David Suchet: It was never on the cards when I first got the job. By the time I had filmed 50 stories, I remember thinking, ’Wow! This could be a possibility,’ because there were only 20 more to go. As long as my acting career was still expanding, it meant I felt able to take Poirot without limiting what else I was doing.

Q. You’re acknowledged as the definitive Poirot — but has being so identified with one role held your career back in other areas?

David Suchet: I’ve never been typecast, despite playing Poirot for 25 years. I started acting in 1969, so by the time I became Poirot in 1988, I had already established myself as a classical theatre actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and played Iago to Ben Kingsley’s Othello. The great gift this profession has given me is my experience on stage before I ever played Poirot, so in every gap between filming I’ve been able to do high-profile theatre. It’s a two-way thing — I wouldn’t have got such great theatre roles unless Poirot had been there to raise the profile and put bums on seats.

Q. Filming the last Poirot scene after 24 years must have been emotional...

David Suchet: I found it very moving to film Poirot’s death. It was the hardest day’s filming ever, because I said goodbye to a very, very dear friend. I know him as well as I know anybody. I know what he would have done every single moment. It’s been almost like a marriage. We actually filmed that final story before the last four, though. I had to lose two and a half stone because in it Poirot is a wizened, tiny old man. I wanted to look exactly like that and for the audience to get a shock. It meant I could film that one and then put some weight back on before I went back for the final four films. My very last Poirot scene was such an anticlimax. I just had one line in a scene with Zoë Wanamaker, who plays Ariadne Oliver, in Dead Man’s Folly. The last day of the shoot — the end of 25 years — we had a wrap party — I stayed a brief while, said my goodbyes, and then just went home. You do come down to earth with a bump.

Q. Was it difficult to keep the character of Poirot consistent over such a long period?

David Suchet: I’m a perfectionist by nature. Before every Poirot series, for example, I’d spend hours watching previous episodes, getting back into his walk and his voice. When I did additional voice recording after filming, I would put on his moustache and use his cane in the sound studio. I can’t speak like him without the moustache, and you can’t mime using a cane.

Q. What has been your favouite Poirot location?

David Suchet: The highlight for me has to be Egypt when we filmed Death On The Nile. What a treat! Visiting Luxor and seeing the pyramids, tombs and temples was phenomenal, although if you’re an actor you mainly see the camera. I’ve never been a huge traveller. I suppose I’ve travelled so much in my work that I’m a great home bird in my private life.

Q. Can you tell us what you are doing next?

David Suchet: It was my great privilege to present a documentary on St Paul for BBC1 — they’ve asked me to do another documentary, on St Peter this time, and I’m hoping to find time for it. I became a Christian in 1986, when I was suddenly drawn to it. I started reading the letters of St Paul in the Book of Romans, because I knew that somebody called Paul actually existed and wrote letters. So I read them as personal letters from Paul to me because I wanted to know what he was saying.

From: clublife.csmaclub.co.uk

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