Q&A: David Suchet

David Suchet won the hearts of the world as the long-running lead in Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Now he’s taking time to reflect on 50 years in showbiz with his 2020 live shows, Poirot and More: A Retrospective.

Kia ora, David. You’re coming to New Zealand next year – are you looking forward to it?

I’m really excited about this tour and I’m really excited about coming to New Zealand because I’ve never performed in New Zealand, ever. It’s going to be a great treat for me to be with you all there. I can’t wait.

When did the idea strike you to put this one-man show together?

It really was started with an invitation, an invitation from the producer Liza McLean, who produced my last tour of Canada, America and Australia in 2014 with a play I was in called The Last Confession. It was so well received in Australia that one thing led to another, and I was asked if I would enjoy coming back and going onstage, and having an evening talking about my life, my career, experiences I’ve had, all of those characters I’ve played – of course Poirot – and more. As the title of my show projects. And to not just appear in a play as a character. You know I’ve done that for 50 years – it’s my 50th year this year – but I’m going to celebrate it by coming up onstage as just me. Throughout my career people have been very interested in knowing about the man behind the characters that I’ve played, and that’s going to be really interesting and enjoyable.

Is it more or less daunting going onstage as David Suchet, as opposed to walking onstage as a character? 

In some ways it is more daunting but in another way I think I’m going to feel freer. Because when appearing in a play, one’s always bound by the plot and the character, and you’re sort of limited in what you can do. In this it’s freeing, because I’m not going to stick to any script. I’m going to be with somebody onstage who is talking to me – interviewing me – but it will be just me as me. And I think that is daunting, maybe, but freeing in so many ways.

What are the most common questions you get from people who approach you in the street?

When people come up to me in the street it’s usually for a quick autograph, but when I’m having dinner with people or friends or strangers, they’re always fascinated by how I might portray a character – especially with Poirot. How did I develop his voice? How did I develop his movement? How did I approach Robert Maxwell? How did I approach playing Shylock? How did I approach playing Iago? They’re very interested in the way that an actor works and my experiences – not only in front of the curtain but behind the curtain. How do I rehearse? My relationship with writers? All those sorts of questions that people seem to want to know.

Poirot was such a big part of your life, and the lives of so many others – do you feel like Agatha Christie’s work is a part of your identity now? 

Oh yes, very much so. I go on record as saying how my obituary will be three-quarters Poirot, but I really hope that the last bit will include my other characters as well. What Poirot gave me was the opportunity to be cast in so many other things. I was well-known as a character actor before I actually became Hercule Poirot so while I was playing him – and as I’ve said, I never knew from one season to another if I was going to be asked to do any more – but I was able to do so much more interesting and challenging work in between doing Poirot. That kept Poirot fresh for me.

When you look back over your career, is there one character or show of which you’re particularly proud?

I think on a very deep and personal level it would be a theatre play, and it was playing Joe Keller in All My Sons by the great, great playwright Arthur Miller. I don’t know what it is but I have a wonderful relationship with his writing. I love Arthur Miller’s writing and Joe Keller proved to be such an extraordinary character to play. I really enjoyed it. But at the same time as I’m talking to you I’m thinking about Iago and Shylock and other roles, too. But just off the top of my head I think I would say Joe Keller.

Cityscape’s behind the curtain dinner party question would be this – do you have any pre-show or post-show rituals when it comes to the theatre? 

Yes, I do. I have rituals both before and after. That’s a very interesting question and one I’ve never been asked before, thank you. The ritual that I have before goes, if the show starts at 7:30pm I will always make sure I’m in the theatre at the latest by 6 o’clock. I will immediately start doing a physical and vocal warm-up like any of the musicians do with their instruments. I am my own instrument. My body, my voice, my mind is my instrument through which I can play my characters to the best of my ability. I can only do that if I feel like my body, my voice, my mind are like a finely tuned vehicle at the beginning of the show. And then after I’ve spent some time doing vocal exercises I’ll go into my dressing room very quietly and just sit. Not looking at my script, but just sit very quietly and very slowly ready my mind and my heart to hum with the character I’m about to play. Then I will very gently put on my makeup and my costume and just walk around my dressing room.

What about after the show? 

After the show I have to do what I call a decompression. I look in the mirror and I have to get out of character, so I go through personal details about me and my life. Simple things like my telephone number, my children’s names, their date of birth, my address et cetera, et cetera until I am back. That’s the thing I’ll be sharing in my show. People really want to know these things.

Seeing as it’s your first time properly coming to New Zealand, is there anything you’re looking forward to in particular? 

I’m looking forward to meeting people and I’m looking forward to being in a country I’ve never been to before. I’ve been around the outside and just hopped off a ship every now and then – when I was in Australia I used that as a sort of holiday – but it’s a chance to actually spend time in the theatre with a New Zealand audience. I’m looking forward to that so much.

If it’s a Sunday afternoon and you’ve got no plans, how do you spend it? 

You know, I’m a great family man. Because I’ve had such a busy 50 years as a professional actor – and it has been busy, thankfully busy – when I do have a day off, I really, really like to do virtually nothing. If I’m in an area that my wife and I are together we will be in each other’s pockets so to speak, and just enjoy that. If I’m on my own usually I will pick up my camera and take it out to do some photography. That’s a hobby that I love and I find it very meditative.

What are you reading at the moment? 

I’m not doing a lot of reading at the moment but I just finished doing a sort-of autobiography. When I say ‘sort-of autobiography’ I mean there’s a slight difference. I’m not a great fan of autobiographies because I suppose I get bored with the sequential nature of an autobiography. You know, ‘I did this and then it led to that’. I’ve often been asked to write an autobiography, but I was very taken by an offer last year to put together my life and my perspective on my life through words and also my photographs, so it’s almost a photographic retrospective of my life and what I think about certain things, and certain aspects of me – being David Suchet. How do I relate to my faith? How do I make my work fit in with my family? How do I deal with fame? Et cetera, et cetera. So within the book you can flip through and just look through the photographs and learn about me. That photographic autobiography is entitled Behind the Lens. 

When’s that coming out? 

It will be launched in England on October the 3rd and I’m told bookshops all over the world – including Australia and New Zealand – are chomping at the bit. So I’m hoping it will be around when I’m there, and that people might want me to sign their copies.

 

Poirot and More: A Retrospective
Wellington Opera House, February 17, 2020
Christchurch Town Hall, February 19, 2020
Auckland ASB Theatre, February 22, 2020

ticketmaster.co.nz (Auckland and Wellington)
vbase.co.nz (Christchurch)