The English actor David Suchet has portrayed the detective Hercule Poirot on television since 1989. Many hail his portrayal as the most accurate and precise. This article discusses a little on his preparations, his portrayal, and thoughts on the character of Hercule Poirot. For the featured article on the costume David Suchet wore for the role, please click here.
To prepare himself for the role, Suchet actually read every Poirot novel and short story by Agatha Christie. Said he on The Strand Magazine online: "What I did was, I had my file on one side of me and a pile of stories on the other side and day after day, week after week, I plowed through most of Agatha Christie’s novels about Hercule Poirot and wrote down characteristics until I had a file full of documentation of the character. And then it was my business not only to know what he was like, but to gradually become him. I had to become him before we started shooting."
To further prepare for this role of a lifetime, Mr. Suchet perfected his accent. He didn't want an accent that was Belgian because people mistook Poirot for being French, but it couldn't just simply be French, either. Especially that from Paris. He said his accent was a "mix and match really, a mixture of French-speaking Belgian and country French." Suchet honed in on the specific accent by listening to Belgian and French radio stations, and perfecting it. Suchet adds that it was very specific and perfect, but it needed to be easily understood at the same time.
David Suchet is careful in his performance as Poirot. He knows that fans are aware of the oddities and mannerisms that are Poirot's. Suchet says this on his accuracy of Poirot: "I always carry around a list of ninety-three things to remember about him. As mundane as how many lumps of sugar he puts in his tea, and how many in his coffee. Because, you know, people WILL notice these things if you make a mistake. And they do write in about my accuracy. One of the nicest descriptions of him is that 'his eyes twinkle' and I've had some lovely fan mail in from some ladies who love him purely because of that. I wanted him to have . . . charm."
When interviewed for The Strand, Suchet said this about Poirot's mannerisms: "I had to make his mannerisms and eccentricities not as though they had been put on to be laughed at, but as if they had come absolutely from within that person. I had to make it look real for the audience, yet in a way so that they could find themselves smiling at this strange little man. His mannerisms and eccentricities have to be real and not jokey, so he must never be aware of them or comment on them--even things like putting a handkerchief down on the floor before he kneels. They mustn't be commented on. This is just what he does."
Of course, vital to Mr. Suchet's portrayal of the Belgian sleuth is also his costume (for more information of the Poirot costume David Suchet wears, please click here). He says this in an interview for the US television show "Mystery!" (aired in the early 1990's) regarding the costume: "One letter [from a fan] in particular stands out—but this is a fun one, it’s not a real one. For some strange reason, this person found Poirot sexy. Very often, you’re shocked by this. They wanted to see Hercule Poirot with a bare chest. I had a great difficulty in knowing how to reply, because I try to reply to the letters that come. So, I decided to say that if you would like me to send you a picture of Poirot bare chest, I’d have to take off all my padding first, and that is not possible. You see, as Poirot I wear a lot of padding and I may look fat, but I’m not fat. In fact, this is all illusion."
When he was presented the role of Poirot, Mr. Suchet already decided how he was going to interpret it. Suchet said: "I also watched how other people had portrayed him on screen. In some of the productions, I'm sorry to say, he appeared as something of a buffoon, a clownish character who was little more than one-dimensional. A bit of a Music Hall joke." Suchet wanted to personify Hercule Poirot the man, not just act out what Poirot would be like. He says this about past actors in the role (from the "Mystery!" interview): "If you like to look at the most recent Poirots, Albert Finney in 'Murder on the Orient Express', Poirot is written there is what he played, which is quite a stern, severe Poirot, and then look at Peter Ustinov who has attempted Poirot I believe more—-it was suited to his own personality and character. Then mine, if it's different or it stands out at all differently, is because I've gone back to my roots. I've gone back to my grassroots. I've gone back to Agatha Christie. And the series is called 'Agatha Christie’s Poirot'. And I have studied that character in her novels and I haven't tried to lay down just one or two characteristics, I've tried to present him as he appears throughout the whole of his progress through the novels."
And, seeing David Suchet as Poirot in the stories filmed for TV we can clearly see "his progress". That is perhaps another unique advantage for an actor to portray a character for so long (19 years!). Suchet says this (in the "Mystery!" program) about the advantage of fully realizing a character through many stories: "My interpretation of Poirot has one great opportunity in that I have in front of me and in front of you—-the viewers-—you will be able to see many many hours of the same character. In other words, for the first series that you will see I will be Poirot for 10 hours. The other Poirots have only been seen in major movies—-one-offs—-therefore, the great advantage that I have as an actor is to play the character not only as he appears in one story, but as the character may appear throughout many many many stories. And therefore, I'm able to get the full dimension of characterization over a long period of time. So, I didn't just have to read one story in which I was Hercule Poirot, and how might I be Hercule Poirot in that story. What I was able to do is get the character from all of her novels and become him in what amounts to what we will be doing which is 30 short stories." (In all, 57 episodes of "Agatha Christie's Poirot" have aired!)
David Suchet had this to say on Poirot's character (from the online news site PRAVDA): "I love him. There is something incredibly irritating in him, but at the same time this feature is very attractive. He drives me mad, I am sure he does so with the audience and probably did with Agatha Christie as well. I think he drove her mad with his selfishness, fastidiousness and pomposity. It's great that he makes a woman feel a lady. One actress told me once that she understood why women adored Poirot: she said it was because women felt safe with him."
Suchet described Poirot's eccentricity with others like this: "There's something odd and quirky about the man. He's right in the middle of a murder investigation, and he'll stop and comb his moustache. Then the next moment he's being nice to a serving girl, and rather pointed to the 'upper classes'."
One must ask himself or herself: is David Suchet the actor like Hercule Poirot at home? Also quoted from PRAVDA, Suchet says: "All things in my home must be in their places, what is more, all of them must make up a finished composition. If the habitual order is broken, I feel irritated. I realize it is unbearable for other people to endure this habit of mine, but I cannot help anything. If there are two books on the table, they must lie symmetrically. But you know, I'm not so fastidious as Poirot. When I have boiled eggs for breakfast, I don't demand they must be of equal size."
When interviewed in the early 1990's for the US television program "Mystery!", Suchet said this about "bringing Poirot home": "I’m brought down to Earth beautifully at home. If at all they suspect that I am bringing Hercule Poirot into my house, my daughter of six and my son of eight and my wife of several years older than they will tell me to stop being stupid. And it’s very sanitary and very good for me."