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British actor David Suchet

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More than half a billion people follow his every move, from the meticulous eating habits and cleansing rituals, to the now-trademark rapid short-stepped walk.

David Suchet's Hercule Poirot, the fussy sleuth created by Agatha Christie, has become a television hit in 53 countries.

Ever since the original series ended in 1994, fans have been calling for more installments. This month, A&E Television debuted "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd," the first of two new feature-length Poirot films it will air. The second, "Lord Edgware Dies," is not yet scheduled.

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After a five-year hiatus, David Suchet was thrilled to reprise his popular role as Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's brilliant and eccentric Belgian detective, in the new A&E movie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, premiering Sunday.

In fact, the British actor thought it would be a snap to get back into Poirot's shoes, having played the legendary sleuth on TV for more than six years. But that wasn't the case.

"It was strange," Suchet said by phone from New York, where he is appearing on Broadway as Mozart's nemesis, Salieri, in Amadeus.

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photo by Casey Curry // The Seattle Times

David Suchet // Limelight

The actor discusses the power of Mozart, duetting with his wife and taking up the clarinet late in life.

Music has touched me in so many areas of my life, going right the way back to being a teenager. My brother formed a jazz band at school and in the holidays he and his mates used to come to our house and play trad jazz. He was a great musician, my brother John. He played the clarinet, trombone, violin, the piano — everything. He was a natural musician. I was not. Anyway, I learned to play the drums. So my introduction to music, to use the classical term, would be as a percussionist.

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The English term “yeoman” was once defined variously as a manservant in a royal household and as a person who owns and cultivates a small tract of land. The British actor David Suchet, best known for assaying the role of Agatha Christie’s Belgian gentleman detective Hercule Poirot on the long-running BBC series Poirot, is a yeoman actor in the sense that he learned to serve the material, not his ego, in the royal household of the Royal Shakespeare Company, where we worked from 1972 to 1986; also in that he has cultivated within his short, stout frame the sort of offhandedly formidable acting craft that only years of stage time can produce.

If that sounds like faint praise, it is meant instead to honor Suchet’s unique achievement in building a modestly thriving trans-Atlantic career without a knighthood or the kind of leading-man glamour that typically bring great British actors, from Laurence Olivier to Ewan MacGregor, international attention. The U.S. media are full of solid, unflashy character actors like Suchet—guys like Joe Pantoliano, Charles Dutton, John C. Reilly — but apart from such anomalies as Ben Kingsley or Alan Cumming, the English actors we see cross over successfully typically fit our image of the fine-boned, well-spoken Englishman, or his ruddy-cheeked, foul-toothed Cockney cousin.

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David Suchet has shrugged off Poirot to play...another detective. He explains why.

David Suchet is playing mother. Immaculately dressed as one would expect from the man who has made Agatha Christie’s natty Belgian detective Hercule Poirot his own, he’s wandering around a BBC meeting room, pouring the tea, serving the biscuits and smiling. “Everyone takes me so seriously,” he grumbles, stirring his cup. “Everybody I know takes me seriously. I’m actually desperate to do some comedy.”

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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.

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You hardly recognize David Suchet when he walks into a room. The man who portrays Hercule Poirot on the hit cable series doesn’t have Poirot’s mustache and hat or Poirot’s Belgian accent, isn’t heavy and isn’t formally dressed.

“Everybody seems surprised when they see me,” the British actor says with a smile, “but I keep getting stopped on the street here in New York by people who recognize me. I don’t know how they do it, but they do.”

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One of the many ways David Suchet prepares for a theatrical role is by making private lists of the attributes he shares with his character and those he doesn’t. Seeing him without the weight and waxed mustache of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, then it’s fun to imagine what he might have in common with the brainy, pompous, irritating and charming Belgian detective with whom he has become so identified.

It is somewhat more daunting, however, to consider what the 53-year-old Suchet might see of himself in the character of Antonio Salieri, Mozart’s nemesis in Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus,” which opens at the Ahmanson Theatre today before heading for Broadway.

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David Suchet, dressed for work as the brainy Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, is turning his mind to the mysteries of God and Mozart. In his imminent Broadway debut, Suchet aims to make playwright Peter Shaffer’s envy-ridden, murderous Salieri seethe anew.

"Its a first for me, and Salieri has provided enormous challenge, “says Suchet, 53, talking on a location shoot for the second of two upcoming Poirot adventures. (The first of those films, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” will air Feb. 13 in the United States on the A&E Network, with the second, “Lord Edgware Dies,” to follow later.)

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