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End of an Era

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David Suchet bids adieu to role as Hercule Poirot

By Craig Tomashoff
New York Times
TV POIROT ADV20
MICHAEL LEWIS - NEW YORK TIMES
David Suchet says he’s ready to move on after 25 years playing Hercule Poirot, one of fiction’s most legendary detectives, on "Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot."

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LOS ANGELES

You’d think that after 25 years playing one of fiction’s greatest detectives – Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot – David Suchet might have picked up a few clues about how to solve puzzles.

But as his final shows air in the United States, Suchet, a British actor, seems determined to put some distance between himself and his tailored-suit-wearing, walking-cane-toting alter ego.

“It’s a pleasure to talk about him, but there will come a time very soon where I say, ‘I’ve done that, I am closing the door and moving on,’ ” explained Suchet, 68, clad in a very un-Poirot-like blue dress shirt and jeans. “He can leave my mind, but, hopefully, the work will live on for generations to come.”

He’s lived with the character for 70 episodes of “Agatha Christie’s Poirot,” or just about all the stories ever written about this Belgian detective.

Of the final five episodes, two will be broadcast on PBS and the final three exclusively on Acorn TV, the streaming service that concentrates on British programming. Suchet says 730 million viewers worldwide have seen at least one.

“David Suchet is the definitive Poirot,” said Eirik Dragsund, creator of a blog that chronicles every episode of the series. “The walk, the accent, the order and the method make Poirot recognizable and, more importantly, believable.”

Even Christie’s daughter, Rosalind Hicks, invited him to dinner to explain how much her mother, who died in 1976, would have loved his portrayal of her famous creation.

“I was always scared stiff, because it was well known Agatha Christie was never happy with any of the cinematic portrayals of her characters. But Rosalind had my wife and I over to the family house, and it made me absolutely well up when she said, ‘My mother would have been absolutely delighted with what you’ve done.’ It meant so much because that was my whole reason for doing this role.” (Hicks died in 2004.)

He never read her books while growing up. He did appear in a 1985 telefilm “Thirteen at Dinner,” in which Peter Ustinov played Poirot. When the British network ITV approached him to star in a Poirot series, he intended to say no.

“I only knew the character from seeing Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov play him,” Suchet recalled, referring to Finney’s Oscar-nominated role in “Murder on the Orient Express.” “So when they offered me the role, those were my only reference points for Poirot. I rang my brother to ask his opinion, and he thought that the character seemed a bit thin. I thought it might be done as light comedy, very two-dimensional. It was only when I started reading the novels that I discovered what Agatha Christie had written was not what I had been seeing.”

After reading several Poirot novels and short stories, Suchet quickly discovered there was more to the Belgian investigator than a French accent, a healthy paunch and a mustache that looked much like a stray piece of black licorice. “Some areas of my life touched his,” he said. “Some areas of his life touched mine. So we grew closer very quickly.”

For instance, they are both formal men with a fondness for suits and ties, a penchant for holding doors open for women and a love of order. (“I do like symmetry as much as he does. If I see chaos on my desk, I feel chaos.”)

Then there was a kinship between their childhoods. Suchet was “brought up with a father who was very Edwardian,” so when he decided to take the role, “I realized Poirot would have grown up in the Edwardian era. So I really went back to study that period’s attitude and etiquette.”

Because the series managed to turn every Poirot novel and short story into an episode, Suchet insists there is no reason for him to ever play the character again.

“If I’ve been anything, I’ve been Agatha Christie’s Poirot, so now I can happily pass the baton to another actor. And I do hope there will be another. I just also hope my body of work will be regarded as most true to her original work.”

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