End of a mystery: David Suchet puts away Poirot
Mike Snider, USA TODAY 4:57 p.m. EDT August 1, 2014
From the grave, the late Agatha Christie seduced actor David Suchet to take the role that would define his career: Hercule Poirot.
Suchet had known a little bit about the famous Belgian detective when he was approached about starring in Agatha Christie: Poirot in 1985: He had recently played Inspector Japp to Peter Ustinov's Poirot in the TV movie Thirteen at Dinner.
Previous Poirots had often been portrayed comically, and Suchet had no interest in such a treatment. So, before deciding on whether to take the role — which he has played now for 25 years — he returned to the novels written by Christie, who died in 1976, to explore the detective.
The acclaimed "Queen of Crime" presented a far more dimensional character who used his "little grey cells" to solve crime, says Suchet. "I don't have to work out how to play it, all I needed to do was be the Poirot that Agatha Christie actually wrote. So I started to make notes and build a whole file and document on his character solely based on her novels. That made me so excited that I said, 'Yes.'"
A quarter century and 70 episodes later, Suchet, 68, has completed his work, which The Guardian has deemed "the definitive Hercule Poirot."
The final five installments of Agatha Christie's Poirot have begun airing, with Dead Man's Folly on PBS' Masterpiece Mystery starting Sunday (check local listings). Like last month's The Big Four, the episode will be available to view on PBS.org and on streaming service Acorn TV.
And Acorn TV will be the only place to view the last three episodes: Elephants Can Remember (Aug. 11); The Labours of Hercules (Aug. 18); and Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (Aug. 25). At least until later in the year, when Acorn syndicates the episodes to local public TV stations.
The last wave of movie-length episodes reconnects many prominent recurring characters from previous installments, including Capt. Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Assistant Commissioner Japp (Philip Jackson), Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) and mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver (Zoe Wanamaker).
And — spoiler alert! — there's a reason Curtain is truly the detective's final mystery. Ill and bed-ridden for much of the story, Poirot passes away before the case is resolved. "There will be a segment of the American audience that (doesn't) know he dies," Suchet says. "You would think, because it's been on the bookshelves since the 1970s, that people would know. But in England they didn't know. I still have people on my Twitter page saying they cannot watch it, and they won't."
Suchet, who has also been an executive producer since 2003, opted to film Curtain first. The story takes place in the same setting as The Affair at Styles, the initial mystery that teamed Poirot and Hastings.
"Playing his death in the studio was the most difficult day's filming I have ever had in my career of 47 years," Suchet says. "It was very, very hard to say goodbye. And I thank goodness now that I made that choice, that (he) died and a few weeks later I was doing another Poirot story. So that made it much easier for me."
Reuniting with his fellow actors was a treat, too. "I missed them when they went away," Suchet says. Not all of Christie's stories included the characters of Japp, Hastings and Miss Lemon, and the Christie estate decided the newer productions should stick to the script.
Fraser admitted to a bit of nervousness after not playing the character for many years. "But we got back into the old routine very easily, actually," he says of the "classic Holmes and Watson relationship. Originally, when I read the first two or three scripts, I could see there was plenty of depth."
Now, Suchet is continuing his accomplished stage career, taking the role of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest in London's West End. He also has written a book, Poirot and Me, already out in the U.K., and coming to the U.S. after the episodes air.
"I discuss every single episode that I ever filmed, and at the end of the book there's a whole list of my short notes that I carried around with me from my file to remind me of his characteristics while I was on the set," Suchet says.
He was outfitted in "armadillo padding" to round out his frame and wore the slick, ornate mustache. "I would manicure and polish my nails and I would dye my hair because Poirot's hair was also dyed," Suchet says. "He wouldn't admit to it. He said what he put in his hair was 'Revive it.' We made my hair black and took out every speck of gray as we got older during the series."
As for reports that crime novelist Sophie Hannah is writing a new Poirot mystery, he said he would decline to appear should it be made into a film or TV show.
"If there was ever a movie and they wanted to do a remake of one of the stories that I did that would be really great. I would never be in an original screenplay," Suchet says. "I don't want to do that. I'm Agatha Christie's Poirot."