British actor David Suchet

David Suchet: In The Footsteps Of St Peter for BBC One

Extended interview transcript

In the Footsteps of St Peter — what is it all about?

In the Footsteps of St Peter, I’m following a man who is now a Saint — one of the great iconic figures of the past 2,000 years as far as the movement of Christianity is concerned and what did I discover? I found a flawed, wonderful, simple, fisherman who tried and tried to get his faith right to please this person called Jesus, who he believed was the messiah, and I found the most wonderful, sensitive, flawed human being that allows us all to do our best and fail.

What was it like taking the journey?

Down the centuries, water levels rise and fall but walking along this shore, I feel I’m following in Peter’s footsteps and the gospels tell us that somewhere here, Jesus recruited Peter, his brother Andrew and some of the other fishermen to his cause. Come follow me and I will send you out to fish for people. A beguiling call, but where would it take Peter?

What was it about this series that enticed you to get involved?

When I first did the footsteps of Saint Paul, I became fascinated by the character of Saint Peter, and realised that in words of a famous song, you can’t have one without the other. The appeal to Peter for me was that he was so diametrically opposed to Paul. Going around Israel and moving around Galilee, I really felt I could get close to the man, especially when I was out on the fishing boat, on the lake of Galilee itself where I knew he fished. What I also found really moving was that there was a Jesus boat, and it’s a funny name for a boat, that they had discovered in the mud in the sea of Galilee.

They had found and uncovered from the mud a preserved fishing boat, 2,000 years old. It’s rather like finding the Viking boats around England, you know you suddenly go wow, and I was able to get on a wonderful platform with the curator there who was part of the discovery of the boat, and we went over the top of this boat on this moving platform, and I was able to look down on a boat which would have been almost identical perhaps, to the one Peter would have fished in. That gave me such a feeling of closeness to him and his world.

What did you discover?

We met archaeologists, we met biblical scholars, we met historians. This whole programme really, is about me finding out about one of the most iconic characters that lived 2,000 years ago. And to meet these scholars, who have knowledge far beyond mine or will ever have, was such a pleasure because I was discovering with you the audience watching, through these great people talking to me and teaching me what it was really about. That not only took me into Peter’s world, but gave me a real sense of the life and times of 2,000 years ago.

How would you sum up your experience?

For me the Story of Peter is an epic drama with a strong lead character at its heart — a first-century Galilean fisherman turned Pope and ‘rock’ of the Church who straddles 2,000 years of Christianity and Western civilisation. It plays directly to my interests and passions, not least as an actor. What really interested me was to try and disentangle, as best we can, the human Peter from what history and 2,000 years of tradition say about him.

Although Peter straddles the New Testament story, it is silent on his enduring connection with Rome and the Catholic tradition. Peter is a man of shifting identities and, for me, this is what makes him a compelling and controversial character.

What is the main thing you learned about Peter while filming?

What I discovered was a strong-willed, devoted but often flawed disciple and first Christian leader. Behind Peter’s celebrity status is a rich and complex character striving to make sense of his profound encounter with Jesus Christ that would radically change his life forever. He in turn would change the lives of others as the first Bishop of Rome and the first Pope.

Did you find out anything new about St Peter that you hadn’t considered previously?

There is a great deal we know about Peter but I was surprised to discover that there is more to the Peter story than first appears. It is commonly held that Peter was a poor Galilean fisherman. My travels around Galilee talking with people and visiting places associated with Peter such as Capernaum suggest he might have been more of an entrepreneur, running his own fishing business. His financial security made it possible for him to leave a wife, family and dependents to follow Jesus for some three years.

Video and text by BBC Media Centre

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