Of the more than 40 Poirot novels and short stories, David Suchet has starred in adaptations of most of them, and aspires to finish Agatha Christie's Poirot canon. A graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Suchet has an extensive background in theater, and in 2010 starred in a London revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons. On Masterpiece, Suchet has been seen in The Secret Agent, Henry VIII and The Way We Live Now, among others. Suchet was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2002.
Hercule Poirot star David Suchet put on his spats and waxed mustache (so to speak) to answer questions from Masterpiece's Facebook, Twitter, and discussion group fans about his 21-year career as Hercule Poirot, "the world's greatest detective." Suchet spoke with Masterpiece's Richard Maurer in June, 2010, from London.
Select a topic from the list below to see Suchet's thoughts, or choose Show All to see the entire interview.
Preparing for and Portraying Poirot
How do you prepare for each episode of Hercule Poirot?
My approach is very detailed. If I haven't filmed for a year or so, I watch about six or seven full episodes so that I can get back in character and talk, and walk, and think in exactly the right way for my audience. And, of course, I make sure with my costume designers that the suits I wear are all impeccable, so that I come on the set absolutely ready to be the man that everybody knows.
Has the way you prepare changed over time?
No, it's the same. Apart from the fact that I'm getting older, which I can't help, Poirot doesn't change much — just as the man that Christie wrote about hardly changes. He does get lonelier as he gets older, which we are beginning to bring out in the films. But the thoroughness with which I approach him hasn't changed for over 20 years.
Are there aspects of your own personality that go into your portrayal of Poirot?
Inevitably, every part an actor plays contains some of himself. So there are aspects of my own character that are similar to Poirot. There is no need to reveal those! Suffice to say that those that are similar I don't have to worry about, but I really have to work hard in developing all those characteristics that are very different.
In terms of approaching the character of Hercule Poirot, was it a conscious decision to soften the character's manner and develop him as a more well-rounded individual, as opposed to the more rigid character Christie wrote?
Please forgive me, but I think the premise is mistaken. When I was asked to play Poirot, the Agatha Christie estate made the point that she wrote a character who was far more full-dimensional than we had seen up to that time on the screen, where he had been turned into a kind of buffoon. Agatha Christie's fans would never have been gripped by someone like that. From my own reading of nearly every single word that she wrote about Poirot, I would agree. In some books, some short stories, yes, he's less developed than in others. But in books like Murder on the Orient Express, there are sections that point to a very perturbed inner life. This side of him was totally ignored in the 1974 Sidney Lumet film of Murder on the Orient Express. People who see Poirot as just one- or two-dimensional are those who are basing their opinions on the movies rather than the books.
After so many years, how do you maintain interest in this role?
Fortunately, I have a career outside of playing Poirot. At the moment, I've got another television series being developed for me here in England that has nothing to do with Poirot. I'm also playing Joe Keller in Arthur Miller's All My Sons in London's West End. At the same time, I'm about to start a radio drama. So Poirot stays fresh for me because I'm always doing other things.
The Character Hercule Poirot
What characteristics of Poirot have kept the public so captivated by him over the years?
It's different for so many people. But there's one thing that comes up again and again in my fan mail, and that is his kindness. People warm to his kindness, his gentility, his courtesy, and his manners.
What is your favorite Poirot quirk?
His attention to detail is just wonderful. In Christie's books, he is always talking about the details, the details, the details. That is very ME as an actor and as a person; I'm an appreciator of detail. So I guess I have revealed one trait we have in common!
Conversely, which of his traits do you find most peeving?
He can be a bit of a pain in the backside, because of his overly tidiness. His dedicated bachelorhood is also something that I have to work hard at. Although I am tidy and I like to maintain a certain order in my life, it's nothing like his; his is almost clinical.
Poirot's mustache is his trademark — is yours real?
No, it's not. And thank God it's not because it would mean that I would have to go around in life wearing that moustache all the time! In fact, I have a wonderful makeup artist who puts it on for me — and it's a very painstaking task.
How do you imagine Agatha Christie might have reacted to your portrayal of Poirot?
I wish I knew. Of course, I would have loved her to have been pleased, because we know that famously she was not pleased with the interpretations of any of her characters. But the nearest I've got to knowing was what her daughter once said to me, which was: "I'm sure my mother would have been absolutely delighted with your interpretation, because it is so close to how she wrote him." That made me very happy and enormously, emotionally proud.
The Hercule Poirot Television Series
Of all the Hercule Poirot episodes you've done, do you have particular favorites?
It's difficult, isn't it? I did have a favorite, but now my favorite is Murder on the Orient Express.
ABC Murders [first broadcast on MYSTERY! in 1992]. I think it's brilliant.
Why are these your favorites?
Because I could never guess them myself. The ABC Murders is a brilliant concept; I won't give it away. And when I originally read Murder on the Orient Express, I never came near to guessing the ending.
How would you compare the newer adaptations of Hercule Poirot to the ones you did in the 1980s?
They are indeed very different. Now, they are all very high-quality productions made like big movies. So that is quite a change from 20 years ago. I think that those watching will agree that the scripts have got less clichéd over the years, and they now go into character study far more.
You've said you'd like to finish adapting all the Poirot stories. Will this happen?
I don't know yet. The money is very tight here in England at the moment. I'll probably know this autumn. I've only got six more stories to go!
Do you envision finishing with Curtain?
That would be both a joy and a great sadness, wouldn't it? But it would have to end there — with Poirot's last case. I would not do any stories after that, since one can envision Poirot being written into other plots, but I'm not going to do that.
Do you have any aspirations for directing?
I would love to start. I'm 64 years old, and I've been acting now for 42 years. Only recently have I thought to myself, "Hmmm, it may be interesting to start directing." I would begin in a small way in the theater and gradually build up.
Are there any other famous — or infamous — sleuths you would like to portray?
No. I'm going to leave it at Poirot. I don't think it would be in my bag now to play another sleuth. I've done the best of them all. And in his own words, he's the world's most famous, so where would I go from there?
Last question: What's the most memorable question you've had over the years from your many fans?
The most memorable are two similar comments, not questions. A long time ago two elderly women wrote me — separately — and said something like the following: "I wish I could spend time in the company of Hercule Poirot, because in all my life, I would love to know what it was like to be treated as a lady." It's so poignant, not just for those two, but for a world of people that are hungry for, yes, good old-fashioned courtesy, and manners, and respect — which is what Poirot represents.