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British actor David Suchet

Agatha Christie's Poirot, 1989—2013


“I am fastidious just like Poirot. I share his love of order and symmetry, although I wouldn't go as far as to insist that two fried eggs for breakfast are absolutely identical, which Poirot does. Like Poirot, I do have a tendency to be obsessive and, yes, you could say that one of my obsessions is the man himself

— David Suchet for A&E, 2000

 

 

Chronology and Production

There are 13 seasons of the series shot in 1989—2013. Over that time 70 movies have been produced including 34 full-length feature films. The TV-series as well as the full-length feature films were produced by the LTW (London Weekend Television) and Carnival Film, the company of the first series executive producer Brian Eastman. The first series were filmed for ITV channel, ITN Company, which showed them for the first time. The ninth and tenth seasons were shot by the companies Granada and A&E Television Networks. ITV Productions renewed the filming of the tenth season.

 

25 years
of filming

70
adaptations

1 124
actors

700 million
viewers worldwide

To put the idea into practice

In early 1988 a young director Brian Eastman brought about an idea to make a detective series. Rosalind Hicks, Agatha Cristie’s daughter, inspired this idea when decided that the famous Belgian should appear on the screen. “Poirot” turned out to be the first large project of Eastman.

Brian Eastman graduated from London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art as a producer of film and television. In 1978, Eastman founded Carnival Films of which he still remains head of production. The films and TV series produced by Carnival Films have won numerous awards including an Oscar, several BAFTAs, and an Emmy, among others. Besides “Poirot”, Eastman produced some highly successful TV series such as “Bugs,” and his first work, “Blott at the Landscape.” Eastman was an executive producer of this series in which David Suchet played the title character. Eastman s best known works are “Traffik” and the action/fantasy series “The 10th Kingdom.” Brian Eastman was the producer of the series since its inception until 2002. In total his company, Carnivals Film, released 49 films about Poirot (the last one was “Murder in Mesopotamia”).

I had worked with David on Tom Sharpe's “Blott on the Landscape” when the idea of doing “Poirot” came up. London Weekend had some of their own ideas about casting but we said if we're going to go ahead with it we're going to do with David. He was great at digging out all these sources and trying to be faithful to the character. I think David's guardianship of quality pulled us all along. I got to understand Poirot more and more and we got to the point where David and I were in complete agreement.

— Brian Eastman for theguardian.com, 2013


“But his [voice] is up in his head: Poirot is a brain.

— David Suchet for Strand magazine, 2000

 

 

Preparation

On receiving the invitation to play in Christie’s filming David Suchet began comprehensive preparation for the role of Poirot. The actor said:

“When I was first asked to play Hercule Poirot ten years and more ago I did a vast amount of research. I read all the books and the short stories, for a start, and I also watched how other people had portrayed him on screen. In some of the productions, I’m sorry to say, he appeared as something of a buffoon, a clownish character who was little more than one-dimensional.”

Suchet performed the task bearing the whole responsibility.

I started to write my private list of Poirot's habits and character. I called it my 'dossier of characteristics'. ‘Hates to fly,’ I wrote in my dossier. ‘Makes him feel sick. Regards his moustache as a thing of perfect beauty. A man of faith and morals. Regards himself as “un bon Catholique”.’

It ended up five pages long and detailed 93 different aspects of life. I have the list to this day — in fact, I carried it around on the set with me throughout all my years as Poirot, just as I gave a copy to every director I worked with on a Poirot film.

— extracted from “Poirot And Me” by David Suchet and Geoffrey Wansell, published by Headline, 2013

The famous through permanent mentions list was published in a hand-written facsimile version on the last pages of the book “Poirot and me” (Headline, 2013); identical in content to the hand-written list, the printed version of the “dossier of characteristics” was shown in the documentary “Being Poirot” (ITV, 2013).

© Photo by Steven Haywood from sghaywood.wordpress.com

The voice and the accent

“You see, every time somebody meets Poirot, they think he’s French, so I can’t use a proper Belgian accent. So I listened to the Belgian radio, quite a lot — to the French-speaking channel and also to the French radio stations. I understood it’s very, very specific, and it also had to be an accent that could be easily understood because there’s no point in speaking a brilliant accent if nobody can understand what you’re saying“, — David states smile. He had to land somewhere in between the Belgian and the French sounding.

In another interview, the actor adds: “I wanted to move my voice from my own which is rather bell-like and mellow and totally unlike Poirot. I wanted to raise that voice up into his head because that s where he works from. Everything comes from there. My voice is very much in my chest and in my emotional area, but his is up in his head: Poirot is a brain.“

Famous Hercule Poirot's mustache are also a necessary condition for the obtaining of the little Belgian's voice. In an interview for the Radio Times magazine Suchet explains:

As soon as the moustache goes on, I speak as him. It changes the flexibility of my top lip and it’s like a catalyst that, immediately, gets me into the little man. And the voice is so important to the human being. I don’t know whether you know this, but there is no such thing as two people with exactly the same voice. The word “personality” comes from per sonus [Latin], which means “through sound”. It has to do with the vibrations. You can never, ever fool anybody, because even identical twins have different sounds. So your voice is your unique gift. And the voice of Poirot is kicked in by the moustache, and once the voice is there, every single thing about him slots into place.

— David Suchet for Radio Times, 2013

The moustache

“She [Christie] did describe the moustache in about 12 different ways, so we had a little leeway.” — says Suchet. Actually, shapes of the mustaches strongly varies from series to series in the early seasons. From the 10th season, the legendary moustache of Poirot took its final shape which was based on the description that Agatha Christie herself gave in “Murder on the Orient Express”.

“The thing that really tips me into the character, where I feel I can’t be David Suchet any longer, is putting on the moustache,” — David explaines the secret to his success as TV detective, — “Poirot’s moustache is not intrusive, but it does restrict a certain movement of the top lip and that changes the way I sound and how I move my face.”

„Poirot: behind the scenes“

The walk

The next step concerned the famous Poirot’s walk: "Isn’t that funny. I’ll tell you the whole story about the walk. When I did the film testing, I had been cast and we did some film tests just to see how it all looked — the make-up and the costume and things before we actually went into proper filming. The producer, Brian Eastman, and I sat down to have a look at what we’d shot, and we were sort of pleased that the character was there, and he said, "Well, you know, it’s nearly there, but there’s something missing. There’s something missing. You know, the funny thing is, David I don’t know what it is. It’s something to do with the movement. And I turned around and said: And I turned around and said, „Could it be the way I’m walking because maybe I’m walking too much like me and it’s not reflecting the character.“ So we watched a bit again and he said, „You know, I think you’re right. I remembered reading something about his walk in all books that I read in my preparation and tried to walk the same. It was really difficult — the clothes restrained my motions. And I just practiced, practiced, and practiced until I was able to walk like that without it looking totally ridiculous. His walk should bring a smile to your face, but you should never really laugh at Poirot. You should always smile with him“.


“...but you should never really laugh at Poirot. You should always smile with him

— David Suchet for A&E, 2000

 

 

Filming

The first season of the series was shot and released in 1989. The series had the most favourable response from both of the critics and public. Moreover, it was nominated for the British Film Academy Award BAFTA in several nominations. The filming of the second season which also included 10 series began immediately. When it finished it was decided to shoot the first full-length made-for-television film „The Mysterious Affair at Styles“ — it was released as a special issue devoted to the centenary of Agatha Christie and had its first show during the writer’s anniversary celebration.

The series filming continued. The first big break in filming occurred in 1995–2000. Returning to his role after a 5-year-break Suchet noticed: „When I first heard that Poirot was returning, I underestimated how much revision I would have to do. I had forgotten how hard he was to find in the first place-his walk, his mannerisms, how he thinks and so on. In the six or seven years that I played him before, he had become like a comfortable glove I could slip on and off. After a five-year break, the glove had got a bit stiff in the cupboard and it didn’t fit quite so easily. I had to watch all the old Poirots again because I don’t want the audience to detect any differences.“ (David Suchet for A&E, 2000 г.).

Brian Eastman, the founding executive producer left the TV series after the 8th season in 2001.

© Photo from the website www.alekino.pl

Considerable changes happened beginning with the 10th season: the famous theme tune disappeared, the series name changed for „Agatha Christie’s Poirot“ (ITV made it in harmony with the name of its other project — „Agatha Christie’s Marple“), moreover such, characters as Captain Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and the secretary Miss Lemon.

The end of an era for Poirot

In celebration of the end of the world famous series, the official Agatha Christie website created an “advent calendar” with clips from all seventy of Poirot's TV cases.

Watch now »

An interesting fact

Interestingly, 4 years before starring as Poirot David Suchet played in other filming of Agatha Christie — an earlier version of „Lord Edgware Dies“ (it was called „Thirteen for Dinner“ in the USA and Russia). It happened in 1985 and with sir Peter Ustinov starring as Poirot and Suchet playing the Chief Inspector Japp.

David says: „I was in an earlier version of Lord Edgware Dies (it was called ‘Thirteen for Dinner’ in the USA), with dear Peter Ustinov, and it was one of the worst performances I’ve ever given in my life. I didn’t know what to do, I was playing his sidekick playing Japp, so all I did was eat — whenever I’m in a scene, there I am, munching away! I cringe when I watch it, with the silly hat and the suede jacket, I look like a bookie“.

That is such a praiseworthy criticism.

David Suchet speaking about Poirot

“... you find that Miss Christiee described him rather well. Or other characters in her books did — ’a dear little man’, ’a clever little man’, ’an odd little man’. And so I was able to build on his eccentricities, and I found that he was endearingly funny — vain, too, but he’s not just a silly voice and a silly moustache — d’you know that there are no less than twenty-four descriptions of that alone? He thinks of his moustache as ’the perfect thing of beauty’, and believe me, it took some selecting to make it look right on my face!”

About having to wear the fat suit

“... I’m a 34” waist, and Poirot is about a 43?, and he must be at least sixteen or seventeen stones, and no way am I going to do a Robert de Niro, and put that weight on my own frame. I once actually did do something like that, in a film called Sunday, and I played a New Yorker who was supposed to weight 27 stones. I just ate and ate and ate — everything that I shouldn’t have done. I find it very easy to pile it on — but God, it was the best part of a year in getting it all off again, and it was agony. Never again!“

Kudos from a blood relation

“... The great comfort is that I once went to lunch with Ms. Christiee’s daughter Rosalind and her husband Anthony Hicks, and she revealed that she never thought that Dame Agatha had never thought that any previous Poirot was right, that most of them had all been too jokey. But that Mrs. Hicks thought that she would have approved wholeheartedly of what I do. The whole point is to serve Agatha Christiee, and to get it right. And Mr. Hicks, bless him, gave me another vital clue. He said ’Never forget, we can laugh with Poirot, but never at him’, and I think that’s so true”.

How many more?

“The last story, Curtains, is different from all the rest, and I’d love to do that eventually. He’s in retirement, as thin as a rake, and he’s crippled with arthritis — Dame Agatha REALLY wanted to kill off her creation, but her publishers wouldn’t allow her to bring out the book until after her own death. And when he was killed off, the event made the front page of the New York Times — now you tell me which other fictional character has ever achieved that? Remarkable, isn’t it! It IS somewhat daunting to know that you are creating, in the flesh, one of literature’s most popular characters... I’ve filmed all over the world, and you know, if you go into a bookshop, whether it is in Tunisia, Morocco, The Far East or where-ever, there’s a Poirot mystery on the shelf somewhere”.

But, do you like him?

“I like him, because there’s something odd and quirky about the man. He’s right in the middle of a murder investigation, and he’ll stop and comb his moustache. Then the next moment he’s being nice to a serving girl, and rather pointed to the ’upper classes’. I wonder if Dame Agatha actually liked them very much? I always carry around a list of ninety-three things to remember about him. As mundane as how many lumps of sugar he puts in his tea, and how many in his coffee. Because, you know, people WILL notice these things if you make a mistake. And they do write in about my accuracy. One of the nicest descriptions of him is that ’his eyes twinkle’ and I’ve had some lovely fan mail in from some ladies who love him purely because of that. I wanted him to have.....charm”.

© Photo from the website chomikuj.pl

Actors starring

  • Hugh Fraser — captain Arthur Hastings (41 series, 1989–2013)
  • Philip Jackson — Chief Inspector Japp (39 series, 1989–2013)
  • Pauline Moran — Miss Felicity Lemon (31 series, 1989–2013)
  • Zoё Wanamaker — Ariadne Oliver (4 series, 2005–2013)

 

Hugh Fraser — captain Arthur Hastings

The theatre and cinema actor, theatre director, teacher. He was born in London on October,7 1950 and grew up in a suburb of Birmingham.

Being a son of two teachers Hugh Fraser was not keen on studying in the childhood. He admits his parents feel a significant relief when he entered the theatrical college. He studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. During the studies he began to be fond of music. The first TV job was the composer and theme song author for the TV show “Rainbow” (1972, the musical band was called Telltale). He used to be a musician in the same show (playing the bass-guitar). Hugh Fraser played in the theatre and on TV. He recorded several audio books based on Agatha Christie’s stories (including he last novel about Poirot “The curtain”).

Fraser played a big role in the film “The Draghtsman’s Contract” by Peter Greenway, the world-known director. Besides the role of Hastings TV audience knows him for the role of the Duke of Wellington — a series about affairs of the royal rifleman Sharpe (Sharpe’s Company) with Sean Bin starring.

The Hollywood movies include a secondary role in the famous comedy “101 Dalmatians” as well as the role of traitor-secretary J.Watkins in “Patriot Games”.

Nowadays Fraser is teaching at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, staging plays with its graduates and students starring. The completed director’s works include Shakespeare’s plays “Hamlet”, “Othello” and Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”.

© Photos from petulah.blog.cz, www.alekino.pl

Philip Jackson — Chief Inspector Japp

The theatre and cinema actor. He was born on June,18 1948 in Redford, graduated form Bristol University majoring as “actor”.

Besides “Poirot” Philip Jackson played in 20 series including a mini-serial “Shoulder to Shoulder”, 1974, the series about Robin Hood “Robin of Sherwood” (he was invited to star after he played the role in the full-length film with the same name), series “The Last Salute” and the recent mini-series “Black Cab” (2000). He also played in over 20 feature films such as “The Doctor and the Devils” (1985), “High Hopes” (1988), “Sista Dansen” (1993), “Our Boy” (1997), “Opium War” (1997), “Cousin Bette” (1998). In 1999 Jackson was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for his role in the Independent film “Little Voice.”

On stage of the theatre he played roles in Sheakspeare’s plays “King Lear” (1993, the Royal Court Theatre, director Max Stafford-Clark), “Romeo and Juliet” and the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1983, the Royal Shakespeare Company, directors John Caird and Sheila Hancock).

© Photo from the website www.golddisk.ru

Pauline Moran — Miss Felicity Lemon

The theatre and cinema actress. She was born in 1947 in Blackpool.

Interestingly, Miss Lemon appears only in the second season of the series. Beginning to work on “Poirot” playwrights had not considered that the series would have continuation and this character would be required.

The actress participated in theatrical stages of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the well-known Glasgow Theatre. She did not play a lot in movies. She could be watched in such films as “Three weeks” (1977), “The Five Minute Films” (1982), “The Woman in Black”, she plays the very Woman in Black as well as stars in such series as “The Cleopatras” (1983) and “The Good Soldier”. She goes in for astrology. The official website (is devoted to astrology): www.astrumastrology.com.

© Photo from the website www.alekino.pl

Where was the series filmed?

The apartment which served the Poirot’s flat for the first 8 seasons is located in Charter House square in London. It is a real edifice with the same flats as those shown in the series. In the film the edifice is called White Haven Mansions — this name was given by playwrights. Now the house is a shrine for tourist pilgrimage.

© Photo from the website yesilikethat.wordpress.com

Awards

Over the history the TV series won 4 the BAFTA Awards and was nominated for it another 20 times. The BAFTA Awards for the work on “Poirot” in 1989 were awarded to: Linda Mattock for costume design, Pat Gavin for graphics, Geoffrey Case, Paul Knight, Les Blair for make-up, Christopher Gunning for special music. The composer Christopher Gunning was also nominated for the Ivon Novello Award for the series and films music.

Interestingly, David Suchet was nominated for the BAFTA Award the year of the first series release (1989) as a supporting actor in the film “A World Apart” and only in 1991 he was nominated for the role of Poirot. In 2010 David Suchet was nominated for the Satellite Award for the role of Poirot. In 2014 RTS Lifetime Achievement Award was given to David Suchet in recognition of his outstanding performance as Poirot.


“He drives me crazy as I'm sure he drives the audience crazy, as I know he drove Agatha Christie crazy with his fastidiousness and his pomposity and his ego”

— David Suchet for A&E, 2000

 


— David Suchet’s moustache is made of wax following a special technology;

— David Suchet in real life is slim and fit, actually he wears a “fat suit” — plates of gas-expanded rubber. During 20 years of filming the series the technology has not changed. It is quite difficult to move in this “armadillo suit”;

— In 2006–2007 two computer quest games based on Agatha Christie’s novels “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Evil Under the Sun” were launched. The computer Hercule Poirot was sounded by David Suchet (further information »);

— HM Queen Elizabeth granting the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2002 to David Suchet admitted that she loves the series about Poirot;

— both David Suchet and Hugh Fraser make sound recording of Agatha Christie’s stories and novels. Suchet has recorded more than 40 stories, Fraser – about 100;

— In 1992 the series composer Christopher Gunning released a CD containing the series soundtrack which includes 14 records;

— David Suchet had come across Zoё Wanamaker, later starring as Ariadne Oliver (this character is likely to be regarded as Agatha Christie’s self-parody), on stage long before the filming of the series about the great detective began. In 1978-79 both of them they performed the play “The Taming of the Shrew” by Shakespeare: Zoё played Bianca, David — Grumio. In 2010 they were together on stage once again in the play “All my Sons”;

— all four starring series actors, namely Suchet, Fraser (Hastings), Jackson (Japp) and Moran (Miss Lemon) entered the scene in plays of the Royal Sheakspeare’s Company;

— Poirot sings songs with words twice in the series (in the series “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” and “The Adventure of Jonnie Waverly”) and both times drastically out of tune. On the contrary, the actor David Suchet has a good well-tuned voice; moreover he played roles in the Broadway musicals The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly (further information »);

— this photo above does not show Hercule Poirot having somebody shadowed using the camera but David Suchet who goes in for his favourite hobby just in the shooting area. Several photos from the filming taken by David Suchet included in his book, “Poirot and me” (published by Headline, 2013).

David Suchet shows how Poirot voice was created:

Filming

© Photo from the book «Agatha Christie's Poirot — a Celebration of the Great Detective» by Peter Haining

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© 2001—2014. Translated by Adelka, Kim Dolce, Elena Ukhina et al.

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