David Suchet


Chris Diamond interviews David Suchet, Off the Telly,  May 2002
Renowned actor David Suchet spoke to OTT in April, shortly after the transmission of Get Carman: The Trials of George Carman, QC on BBC2.


OTT: Congratulations on your nomination for a BAFTA. You've been nominated before for film, for A World Apart in 1988. Is it satisfying to now gain a nomination for television?


DAVID SUCHET: I was nominated three times for Poirot on television also but what makes this so gratifying is that I think it makes me what I like to see as a real blue-blooded cast iron character actor. If one is to look at the likes of Melmott [August Melmott, Suchet's character in The Way We Live Now] and then Poirot and even Blott then you can see that I have been lucky enough to be afforded the chance over the last 30 years to play extremes of character and avoided being typecast.


OTT: The Way We Live Now is a splendid piece that's received much critical acclaim but it was accused of failing to gain sufficiently high ratings. Is it becoming more difficult to produce such work now?


DAVID SUCHET: It is becoming very difficult, yes. Everything now - everything - is so ratings based that it is becoming extremely difficult to survive and produce a real quality product in this ratings war. When The Way We Live Now went out ITV put Cold Feet up against it and even the tabloids picked up on the competition and made an issue out of that struggle. Even NSC [NSC: Manhunter, his latest series on BBC1] and before that Murder in Mind have had everything set against them - even at one point Victoria Beckham, I believe - so that it's a struggle from the outset. ITV obviously have to pursue advertising and therefore ratings mean a great deal but it has become so negative and destructive that it is a serious threat to quality drama. Anyone can make a show that everyone will watch: like the old saying, if you have no morals you can make money. I could make a show that everybody would watch but it would not be worth watching. Ratings have nothing to do with quality and if this isn't addressed then the relentless dumbing down will continue and that's no way to form a strategy for television. The BBC have recently said that they would pull back from this relentless drive for ratings and I sincerely hope they do and keep to their word and we can see the likes of The Way We Live Now being made. I can also only hope that ITV does the same; that is considering quality as well as popularity.


OTT: Your most famous role on television is obviously Poirot. Has that been retired now or will it return?


DAVID SUCHET: Well, we are in the process of seeing how we can make some more. That is, David Liddiment has said to me that he would like to do some more but they have yet to find a way to organize the contracts to commission them. But hopefully he will be back quite soon.


OTT: Jeremy Brett made Sherlock Holmes his own with his performance on television and I think it's true to say that you have done the same with Poirot. Brett gave a very studied performance that made much of mannerism, habit and so forth and I know you did much research for Poirot, didn't you? Does that character development ever stop?


DAVID SUCHET: I did do a lot of research into Poirot and his mannerisms and little quirks but now I have reached the stage where, if I am to play the role again, I read the original story and pick up on a few gestures or movements, incorporate them and I am fully acquainted with Poirot once more.


OTT: I think it's fair to say that whereas Brett wrestled Holmes away from Basil Rathbone you did the same with Poirot taking the character away from Peter Ustinov. You did however play Inspector Japp to Ustinov's Poirot in the film Thirteen at Dinner though not altogether successfully I understand?


DAVID SUCHET: No. I was so awful as Japp, so extraordinarily bad - it was about my worst performance I think - that it was ironic that Agatha Christie's granddaughter saw me in that - and then realized I had been in Blott which she enjoyed - and said "I want you to be Poirot".


OTT: I believe you have a very methodical approach to capturing a role, even writing letters to the character you are to play. Did you do that with Poirot?


DAVID SUCHET: No, I didn't. The letter writing is only a part of my approach which I have only because I need to build the confidence, the 100% cast iron confidence to play a part as I want to be able to give the best performance I can. I can't just dive into a role and do well, I need that build up to help me with that confidence. I am not totally instinctive so I do much preparation so that I can do my best for the writer and the work.


OTT: You first came to prominence in Blott on the Landscape - which you have already mentioned and which was a wonderful piece - and you have already mentioned the research you do and representing the writer. On Blott, Malcolm Bradbury adapted Tom Sharpe's novel for television but in this instance did you start with the script or go to the original book to find your character?


DAVID SUCHET: In this instance I stayed originally with Malcolm's script but wanted to know whether this was a script that was merely loosely based on the book or whether it was faithful to the story and characters in the novel. I eventually asked Malcolm if he thought it would be a good idea to consult the original work for inspiration and he agreed enthusiastically so I did that.


OTT: Many of the cast had great comedy careers - Simon Cadell, George Cole, Julia McKenzie and of course John Junkin. Would you like to do more comedy and in what genre?


DAVID SUCHET: I would love to do more comedy but I am rather frightened of sitcoms. I enjoyed very much the one with Judi Dench and her late husband [A Fine Romance, starring Dench and her husband Michael Williams] and I have enjoyed the recent one with ZoŽ Wanamaker [Our Family, with Robert Lindsay] but I am wary because I just don't think most of them are any good. I hark back to the likes of Ronnie Barker and Morecambe and Wise for my own preferences in comedy but if a sitcom were to come along that I thought was really very good then I would say Yes! Yes! Yes!


OTT: Going back to your practice of referring to the original work, how did that reconcile with portraying George Carman?


DAVID SUCHET: I was not sure whether I wanted to be in it [Get Carman for BBC2 based around the book written by Carman's son Dominic] at all. I was very much afraid that it would be an exercise in mudslinging especially since the book had received reviews that had called it an act of patricide and the like, so I told the producer Colin Barr that I was very concerned. I don't like trial by television, I never have and though people watch such things it can often seem like voyeurism gone bananas. But my fears were quelled and I was given access to all Carman's interviews and so forth by the BBC. He really was a fantastic silk and when I became convinced that it would be done tastefully I went ahead with it.


OTT: Finally, is it true that you provided the voice-over for the titles on Sapphire and Steel?


DAVID SUCHET: Eh? I don't remember that. If I did it must have been a long, long time ago. I am however the voice of BMW ... and the Phoenix from The Phoenix and the Carpet of course.


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