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Why David Suchet Came So Close To Missing Out On Poirot

Photo of Darwyn Carson By Darwyn Carson | Leonard Maltin July 26, 2014 at 6:59PM

By Darwyn Carson - David Suchet shares where he was in his life and career at the moment he was offered the role of Hercule, the meticulously bespoke Belgian detective with the mincing walk; Poirot that is.
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By Darwyn Carson - If not for a twist of fate and a bit of luck we might never have been witness to David Suchet as the titular character in the long running television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot. It’s true. Skilled actor (and my newest hero) Suchet, was in Los Angeles recently performing in the award winning play, The Last Confession, at the Ahmanson.

Curtain-David Suchet-Poirot
Photo Courtesy of Acorn Media

While Suchet was here, and in anticipation of the premiere of Poirot’s thirteenth and final season, Acorn TV took the opportunity to host a showing of Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case at The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.  The Q&A afterward, with Suchet, led by Los Angeles Times Television Editor Robert Lloyd, revealed a man as thoughtful and kind as he is gifted. There’s a lot going on behind those intelligent brown eyes that, when the man is in character, crinkle so adeptly into a gleeful twinkle, and then just as quickly dissolve into a look as sharp as a well-honed knife.

Suchet shared where he was in his life and career at the moment he was offered the role of the meticulously bespoke Belgian detective with the mincing walk. When addressing the audience in his deep baritone, with no hint of the nasalness with which we are familiar, he tells why a little bit of bad turned out to be, in the end, his good fortune:

“It was 1987. So I had done three big television series. I’d played Sigmund Freud, [I’d done] the Tom Sharpe novels, Blott on the Landscape, [and] I’d done a big series Oppenheimer for the BBC.

In terms of my film career it was pretty non-existent. And my theatre… I was really a classical theatre actor. Because I joined the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company in 1973 and I left it in 1986, so that’s a long time in the classical stable. And I left it in 1986 having played Iago with Ben Kingsley as Othello.”

It was in 1985, right before Suchet was about to do Iago that he was hired for a role in a television movie. And this is where fate took a turn:

“I’m here to tell you that … in 1985… I had been in a Poirot film, playing Inspector Japp… I wasn’t very happy playing Inspector Japp. I knew that I was about to go to Stratford to rehearse Iago in Othello and when the film came out, it was quite clear that it was one of the worse performances that I have ever given. But I was so grateful for that. Now let me tell you why.

How can an actor be grateful that he’d been so bad? Well first of all, I didn’t know how to play Inspector Japp. I had no idea...I’d read the story “Thirteen at Dinner” and I still had no idea. It wasn’t my role, really. But Peter Ustinov went on to make four other television films with the same supporting cast. If I had been good, I would have played Japp for the next four films, and I’d never had played Poirot, because they wouldn’t have let me.”

Here he looked to the sky, pressed his hands together and said “Thank you.”

Daivd Suchet and Cast of Poirot
Photo by Patrick Redmond - Courtesy of ITV Apart from the many actors who got their start guesting on the show over the years, there have been a handful of skilled players making up Poirot’s world. They include Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon, Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp, and Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings. All return to aid David Suchet as Poirot in 'The Big Four.'

We viewers concur; for without that twist of fate we would have not born witness to an already iconic literary figure being brought to life, by Suchet, with such creative precision and unwavering enthusiasm.

The fact that he loved playing the character, and in fact, called him “my best friend,” is evident and makes watching the Poirot library of titles over and over again that much more pleasurable. Through the creation, Suchet has become as iconic as the detective he interpreted for the screen, although he explains that to become rich or famous or to have any of the trappings that go with fame was never his intention as those things, he stated, don’t last.

“I found that I had a purpose in life as an actor, when I realized that writer’s write… they write either to be read as a novelist or they write to be performed as dramatist… …My job is to serve my writer. If I am to serve them and if Poirot is going to be dramatized, then I have to go back to source and try to be as true to them, my writers, as I possibly can be…

So it gives me an important function in my life to become the voice of my (writer) so an adaptation of an Agatha Christie story, my writer then will be an adaptor, my creator will be Agatha Christie. So I will study and study and study and study and study the Poirot from Agatha Christie’s point of view to bring him as close as possible, so that if Agatha was alive she would say “Yes… or No.”

We think she would say “yes.” To be sure, Suchet’s dedication has turned out to be our win.

Poirot has been on air for over 25 years now and is seen in over 100 countries. And while he continues to hit the boards, the thirteenth and final season of Poirot, which aired last fall in Britain, will launch in the states on Sunday July 27 on PBS. The first two episodes debuting on Masterpiece Mystery (the 27th and Aug. 3rd) will be available for streaming beginning the day after on Acorn TV.  Then a first: the last three Poirot films starting with Elephants Can Remember on Aug. 11, will show solely on Acorn TV.

(Also see: David Suchet speaks about life as Poirot)

These final five episodes make for a total of 70 titles in the Poirot canon and with the airing of the final episode, The Curtain on August 25, the complete library will be available for streaming only on the Acorn channel.

Here’s a peek at what will be in store as the end of an era draws near:


This article is related to: Television, Poirot, TV Reviews, TV News, Acorn TV, Masterpiece Mystery, PBS