Case closed: Suchet's adieu to Poirot ; After a quarter of a century playing Hercule Poirot, David Suchet has finally reached the end of the line. The actor talks to Albertina Lloyd about bidding adieu and tells Erik Petersen on a visit to Nottingham about his new book charting his days as the Belgian detective
IT all feels a bit like the big reveal at the end of a murder mystery.
David Suchet is holding court at the head of the table in a formal meeting room, with a small group gathered around, hanging on his every word. Small, smart and commanding, he's wearing a burgundy waistcoat, his dark hair slicked back around his polished head. Only Hercule Poirot's trademark moustache and sizeable paunch are missing.
The 67-year-old actor is saying goodbye to the role after a quarter of a century, having filmed every case Agatha Christie ever wrote for Poirot. I tell you exactly what it feels like, he says, a twinkle in his eyes, when asked about his emotions on seeing the series through to completion.
You suddenly realise, although you never knew it, that you've reached Everest! And having suddenly stood on the top of Everest, that you never expected to climb, there is a complete strange mixture of, 'Oh, I now have to say goodbye because I've done it', and then euphoria, for the same reason - 'I've done it!' The predominant emotion is celebration, that actually it is time. And what a thing to leave behind.
He helped bid adieu to the fastidious Belgian on Thursday at the Theatre Royal, where he appeared on stage before about 900 people to talk about the character and Poirot and Me, the new book he's co- authored. The Nottingham visit was the first since he appeared on the same stage in March of last year, when he gave a masterly performance in Long Day's Journey Into Night.
Appearing on stage with writer Geoffrey Wansell, his longtime friend and Poirot and Me co-writer, he at times choked back a tear or two as he described what playing Poirot meant to him.
I never read him as a caricature, he said. I don't think Agatha Christie wrote him as a caricature. He spoke of getting the role in the late '80s and reading every Poirot novel and short story. He made a long list of Poirot's characteristics and endeavoured, he said, to serve the writer - to give Agatha Christie's voice on screen.
All I did, he says, was embody that little man.
Suchet will appear as the quirky crime cracker for the last time in Curtain: Poirot's Last Case. Set during the Second World War, the story has a very different mood and appearance to the glamorous art deco extravagance of classics like Death On The Nile and Murder On The Orient Express.
Poirot is now very old and very ill, residing in a remote and gloomy country house, but still surrounded by the usual extravagant eccentrics and mysterious strangers he always seems to attract, and his 'little grey cells' are still as sharp as ever.
Suchet, who usually has to be padded out to play the gourmand with a weakness for chocolate, had to lose two stone this time round.
It was extraordinary preparing for the end, he admits. Not a pleasant thing to do. And that's not me being theatrical. I've lived with this man for 25 years and [so it's difficult] to say goodbye to a dear, dear friend, who's been part of my life for a quarter of a century. When he signed up to play Poirot in 1988, he never imagined he'd reach this point.
In fact, he admits there were several times he thought he would never get there.
I've just been doing a job every year and Agatha wrote all these wonderful books, and then all of a sudden I've done them.
It was recently revealed that crime novelist Sophie Hannah has been commissioned to write a new Poirot novel. But despite his attachment to the role, Suchet is not keen to reprise it for the new adventure.
I don't see how I can revive myself for a story that is not Agatha Christie, he says. However, I'd love to do a remake of one of the stories for movie. I would love to do The ABC Murders, which is my favourite. There's nothing to stop me reprising the story for cinema, because I've never done a cinema Poirot. Ironically, the first time Suchet appeared in a Poirot adaptation was as his friendly rival Inspector Japp, in a 1985 TV film of Thirteen At Dinner, opposite Peter Ustinov.
There will be another Poirot, of course there will, the actor continues, explaining his willingness to hand over Poirot's silver- topped cane on the small screen.
And if I'm alive, I look forward to encouraging him, exactly the same way as another great actor encouraged me - Peter Ustinov. He said, 'You'd make a much better Poirot than I ever will, because you could look like him'.
A method actor, Suchet becomes completely absorbed in his character's accent, mannerisms and posture when filming. In short, he becomes Poirot. He may insist he has no problem watching another actor take on the part, but if a director was ever to challenge his own interpretation, he'd fight his corner to the end.
In fact, he almost quit during filming for the very first episode, The Adventure Of The Clapham Cook, when he clashed with a director who disliked one of the quirky detective's little foibles - placing a handkerchief on a park bench before sitting on it.
As charming as I may appear, when it comes to defence of character or my work, then I will fight, and I will not compromise, says Suchet.
I will not ever be told how to play a role.
That's my job! And if the time comes when it's make or break, I will walk.
So now, as an associate producer, he has the final say on everything when it comes to the moustachioed sleuth. No dialogue is even written for him; it's up to Suchet how he voices his very exact opinions and observations.
Certainly, if there were things in the script that I thought, 'No, Poirot wouldn't do that', then I really had that voice.
And also nobody writes for me as he speaks, so I have complete carte blanche to put it into 'Poirot speech'.
The final curtain may have fallen for Poirot, but Suchet is very far from reaching his own last act.
I don't have to wait to see if they're making any more, and I'm freer to say yes to all the other things that are very, very happily coming in, he says, smiling.
Next year, he goes on a world tour with Last Confession, a play about the mysterious 33-day papacy of John Paul I. And though he's bid an emotional farewell to the character who has become such a huge part of his 44-year career, he will always remember him fondly.
I was allowed to take, for my own possession, everything there was a double of. I have his ring, his studs, I've been given a moustache. And I've got his chair, with 'Poirot' written on it.
And I believe that I will be presented with my number one cane, and if that happens that will be my very prize possession, because I've held that for 25 years.
Like legions of fans all over the world, Suchet is also devoted to the late creator of his now iconic character, I'm not interested in fame, money, Hollywood, or anything like that. I chose to become an actor, to give my writer their voice.
So when I chose to do Agatha Christie's Poirot, that was my raison d'etre, to try to get it right for her.
The first time I had any idea that she would have been pleased - and I was very nervous because she hated her characters being shown on television - was when the late Rosalind Hicks, her daughter, said to me, 'I think my mother would have been delighted'. That, coming from her, was quite something.
Would he like to meet Christie now, if he had the chance? I think I'd still be frightened, he admits, chuckling. Just in case...
. ? Curtain: Poirot's Last Case is on ITV on Sunday at 8pm.
? Poirot and Me is available now, priced Pounds 20. It is also available as an eBook and an audio download, read aloud by David Suchet.
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