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Interview with Poirot star David Suchet

Most famous for his role as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, actor David Suchet has been entertaining viewers over four decades. Eleanor Glover caught up with the 62-year-old to discuss his love of London, how he hates the idea of celebrity and why the character of Poirot is still a challenge...

Hope you had a good weekend. How are you today?

I am very well thank you and I had a lovely relaxing weekend.

Have you any plans for fireworks night?

My plans are completely boring for fireworks night as I am staying in. You see I finished filming part of the new series of Poirot on Friday, Mrs McGinty’s Dead, and am starting on the next episode on Monday so I’m having a night off and taking the opportunity to relax.

Suchet's act of faith

Perhaps it’s the Da Vinci Code or Dan Brown or a fascination with Opus Dei, but I’ve been stunned by the amazing response," says David Suchet, star of a gripping mystery thriller about to open in the West End following rave reviews at its Chichester premiere last month. “Letters and messages have been pouring in. It’s touched a nerve.”

A pontiff found unexpectedly dead in bed, a crisis of faith and a nest of vipers in the Vatican — these are the fantastical true-life ingredients for Roger Crane’s new play The Last Confession, about Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciano), the “smiling” Italian who occupied St Peter’s throne in 1978 for only 33 days. Just weeks after his triumph as a burly, gravel-voiced Robert Maxwell in the BBC2 drama about the late tycoon, Suchet is tackling another fact-based role that once again centres around a sudden, unexplained death.

The Big Interview:David Suchet

He has played some complex characters in his time and now David Suchet is tackling another — a Cardinal in Rome grappling with guilt and doubting his faith after the death of his friend, the Pope. The man best known for playing television detective Poirot tells Caroline Bishop why he is so fascinated by the real-life murder mystery he is starring in at the Haymarket, Roger Crane’s Vatican-set thriller The Last Confession...

With his deep, commanding voice, powerful presence and arguably the most expressive eyebrows in the profession, 61-year-old David Suchet has become one of the most respected character actors of his generation across theatre, screen and radio. Right now though, he is as excited as a fresh-faced RADA graduate about to make his debut on the West End stage. “I’m so excited! I’ve waited 38 years for the Theatre Royal Haymarket. I have never played it. All my peers have,” he tells me on the phone from Milton Keynes, where he is on tour. “I’ve always been eyeing with certain envy the most fantastic dressing room that I’m going to have.”

Inside the mind of a media monster

Robert Maxwell fooled and bullied people he worked with and finally ruined the lives of many by wrecking their pensions. Jane Dudley talks to David Suchet, who plays the crooked media tycoon in a new drama

Craig Warner’s drama about Robert Maxwell begins just as the tycoon’s business and personal worlds are imploding — multi-billion-pound business empire on the rocks, marriage in difficulties, rival Rupert Murdoch sprinting ahead, leaving an ever-fatter Maxwell in his wake.

The flotation of The Daily Mirror doesn’t raise enough cash to get him out of the hole, his secretary tells him to get lost when he tries it on with her, and his finance chief tries to quit. So Maxwell retreats to the heart of his web, at the offices of The Daily Mirror, and sets about saving his skin. His attempts to stem the tide of debts culminate in him stealing millions from his companies and their pension funds.

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Interview: Actor David Suchet

David had been called in at short notice to perform in a one-nighter at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, and our meeting was always going to be short as he had to drive straight back to London after the show to catch a plane to America.

On the morning of his performance his co-star was taken ill and had to withdraw. The show was in serious doubt, but fully aware of the sell-out audience, David managed to persuade his wife, actress Sheila Ferris, to step into the vacant role.

This now meant an extended rehearsal time, and although I was quite willing to postpone our chat, David was insistent that we grab at least 5 minutes. It became obvious that he was very keen to talk about his chosen subject the emergence into his life of a strong religious influence.

20 Questions With…David Suchet

Actor David Suchet — who, now at the NT in Once in a Lifetime, is reprising a role he first played 26 years ago — recalls myriad highlights, the legacy of Poirot & how Laurence Olivier & Sigmund Freud influenced his career.

David Suchet is probably best known to TV murder mystery fans as Hercule Poirot in the drama adaptations of the famous Agatha Christie detective books. However, he is also an award-winning stage actor who has performed extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

David Suchet

Most famous for playing Agatha Christie’s suave detective, Hercule Poirot, David Suchet is the brother of newsreader John Suchet. Winning acclaim in 2002 for his TV role of Augustus Melmotte in The Way We Live Now, he returns to the dark side as Gregor Antonescu in Terence Rattigan’s Man And Boy, which has just opened on London’s West End.

Does it feel nice to be on the wrong side of the law again?

Yes, it’s great. Gregor’s not on the wrong side of the law. He’s the wrong side of heaven and earth — in the depths of hell and quite happy to be there. He’s a nasty piece of work.

What’s the nastiest thing you’ve ever done? For publication, that is.

I don’t know. I can’t answer that. You’d have to ask someone else.

NCS MANHUNT

The National Crime Squad (NCS), an unconventional, highly skilled team of top detectives, are back to combat serious and organised crime. David Suchet returns as the enigmatic and obsessive Detective Inspector Borne. He admits to being fascinated by the many layered character. "He’s a very troubled person, full of inner turmoil, and that is wonderful to play. He’s such a serious man. We have never once seen him laugh — and I don’t suppose the writer will ever let us!

David Suchet

DAVID SUCHET, 55, stars in the second series of the Beeb’s drama about the National Crime Squad — Britain’s FBI — NCS Manhunt. He plays emotionally repressed DIJohn Borne. Forever associated with Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, he was also acclaimed for his recent role of Augustus Melmotte in BBC1’s The Way We Live Now. He is married to actress Sheila Ferris. Criminals and policemen inhabit the same world. What separates them?

People become criminals out of a sense of need. It seems like a quick and easy way to better themselves. They think crime will pay; they don’t believe they’ll get caught.

What made John Borne a policeman?

We don’t really know but I think he was in the SAS, which gave him a sense of right and wrong; a sense of how society could be better if it rid itself of crime.

How much of his and Poirot’s emotional repression is in you?

[Laughs] Not much as an extrovert actor, I should think. But a lot of actors can be quite restrained in public. Only a few are responsible for the ’luvvie’ name. Most of us are serious, hard-working people. There is a great deal of me that is introverted. I draw on my own strong sense of self-discipline.

The way I act now

From Inspector Poirot to Melmotte in The Way We Live Now, David Suchet becomes one with his characters. He tells Emma Brockes how Robert Maxwell was his rogue role model.

In the second between being stopped in the street and being asked for his autograph, David Suchet allows a faint hope to prosper: that the celebrity-spotter’s “are you...?” concludes otherwise than, “the bloke who plays Inspector Poirot?” Of course, he is usually disappointed he says. "But I’m occasionally surprised when someone stops me and says, ’I’ll never forget your Sigmund Freud.’ Or, as happened last week, ’Oh, I saw you in Murder in Mind, you were wonderful, have you ever played a homosexual before?’ I get caught out by that. You see them coming and you immediately think it’s going to be about Poirot. And I get surprised and very pleased when it’s not."On Sunday night, the 55-year-old appeared in the role he hopes will unseat his association with the skittle-shaped Belgian detective. He was Augustus Melmotte, the villain of Andrew Davies’ BBC adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s novel The Way We Live Now. Suchet wasn’t the main focus of the first episode, but the reviews still seized on his portrayal of the vulgar plutocrat. He folds himself into the part with total conviction — divests himself of charm and becomes a stoop-shouldered, swivel-eyed maniac. It is a rendition, he hopes, that will promote the character of Melmotte to a notoriety equalling Dickens’ finest. “It was one of the most alien characters I have played,” he says. “He bore absolutely no relationship to me at all.”

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