Interview: David Suchet on Poirot

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Interview by Graham Chalmers

Such was the solemnity of the screening of Poirot’s last-ever case, I was made to agree to certain restrictions by ITV before I could even talk to David Suchet.

Before interviewing the man behind one of TV’s greatest achievements, I was sworn to secrecy on certain key developments in the final episode.

I was not allowed to reveal the identity of the first murderer.

I was not allowed to reveal the identity of the second murder who kills the first murderer.

And, as for what happens to Poirot himself, I was forbidden from mentioning this in the paper or online on pain of death!

But nothing has ever been straightforward in the 25 years that Suchet played Agatha Christie’s famous fictional detective in his distinctive hat, moustache, suit and dicky bow.

Perhaps that’s the reason the love affair between Poirot and TV audiences lasted so long.

If it is, that’s largely down to the seriousness with which Suchet himself approached the task of portraying this arch-perfectionist.

“The earlier hour-long episodes were based on the short stories which were more jocular and lighter in tone with the lovely Miss Lemon, Chief Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings. I played the role as an eccentric but not too much so.

“When it came to the novels, the Agatha Christie estate decided we should try to do the original books as they were written as much as possible.”

I’m talking to the award-winning 67-year-old actor in the lead-up to his visit to Harrogate next month for a show at the Royal Hall presented by Harrogate International Festivals called Poirot and Me: An Evening with David Suchet.

By rights, I ought to ask him how it felt to make the final run of episodes in which he was reunited briefly with those colleagues of the light-hearted early years.

Or perhaps bring up his recent remark that he developed his famous Poirot rapid waddle by clasping a coin between his buttock cheeks!

Instead I suggest to the man who first learnt his craft in the early 1960s at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art that the real marvel lies not in the multitude of physical tics he captured so brilliantly but in the moral anger and righteous indignation he showed in the later, darker two-hour episodes.

In reply, Suchet sounds a little like Poirot without the accent or the legendary ego.

“The tone changes in the novels, especially the later ones; they become more sombre,” he replies in a rich, actorly voice as deep and warm as a good cup of hot chocolate.

“She was using Poirot to poke at the class system in this country but doing it through the little Belgian. She was a really brilliant writer. I much prefer those books.”

It’s true there have been other TV detective shows which have been nearly as popular and run nearly as long - Columbo, Sherlock Holmes, er, Taggart, Midsomer Murders.

But Suchet, a veteran of the stage, has given Poirot such gravitas on the small screen.

“I’ve always tried to be true to the author’s intentions. I’ve never tried to make Poirot popular.

I venture that the heavyweight nature of his performances hasn’t quite been reflected in the amount of awards he’s received for Poirot, perhaps a side-effect of the perceived frivolous nature of the genre.

Surprisingly, Suchet, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of Robert Maxwell in 2008, admits his annoyance, too.

For a moment it’s like talking to an exasperated Poirot.

“We were the only TV crime story over the years to win every single BAFTA – costumes, design, production, everything except one category – best actor. I was nominated two or three times but they always gave it to someone else.”

Not only did Suchet’s Poirot not get a ‘gong’, he never got the girl either.

Beautiful women of all ages fell for Poirot in almost every episode – and not only in the sense of a father figure or knight in shining armour.

They were all wasting their time, Suchet says, even the beautiful Countess Rossakoff played by Orla Brady who popped up in the penultimate show, The Labours of Hercules.

“She’s deeply in love with him. She genuinely adored being in Poirot’s presence but it’s certain they had no physical relationship.

“Christie gave him an element of a ‘twinkle in his eye’ which made him attractive to the ladies and he does love the company of women but he doesn’t flirt. It’s not in his nature.

“People have asked in the past if Poirot is gay. He’s not gay, he’s totally asexual.”

On the road to last week’s last-ever TV episode of Poirot, a suitably bleak but memorable affair in which the legendary detective sprang his final surprise, he’s surrounded himself with a legion of up-coming actors, from Emily Blunt to Damian Lewis.

Now that he has shot every Agatha Christie story except one for TV (“it’s a story which is almost impossible to adapt, we included parts of it in The Labours of Hercules”), he’s already planning a world tour on stage next year.

He also reveals that he’s considering offers for possible new roles from both the BBC and ITV.

Before that, however, the greatest Poirot of all is saying a leisurely farewell to his famous alter ego with a book (Poirot and Me) and a talking and book signing tour.

He’s looking forward to giving the inside story of how he developed the character with the help of his co-author Geoffrey Wansell.

He is also is keen to emphasise that he will be very happy to answer questions from the audience and sign copies of his book afterwards.

Harrogate International Festivals presents Poirot and Me: An Evening with David Suchet, The Royal Hall, Harrogate, Tuesday, December 10, 7.30pm.

For tickets, call Harrogate International Festivals box office on 01423 562 303 or book online at http://www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/