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Last updated: Sun. Jul. 27, 2014 - 09:01 am EDT

TV team: David Suchet, Hercule Poirot role paired for 25 years

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LOS ANGELES — British actor David Suchet has spent a quarter-century bringing to life a certain fussy Belgian sleuth with a mustache as impeccable as his intellect and crime-solving skills.

For Suchet's dedication to Hercule Poirot through 70 TV adaptations of Agatha Christie's works, he has been rewarded with the sort of critical praise — "miraculous" and "splendid" are among the applied adjectives — that any fellow classically trained actor would envy.

Fan reaction can be similarly fervent.

"The most extreme example happened to me in Newfoundland in Canada," Suchet recalled recently. He was there taking a coffee-shop break during production of a movie when suddenly, as in the best of mystery novels, a scream pierced the quiet.

"A lady shrieked, 'I would know the back of that head anywhere!' She rushed across the room and planted a kiss right there," he said, gesturing to his cheek.

The smooch is much-deserved. Suchet's beautifully realized Poirot is a remarkable feat of sustaining a character through an uncertain production schedule in which seasons were separated by large gaps.

It took 25 years to bring the supremely confident, 1930s-era sleuth to his 12th season and last case, a reward for the actor's and audience's patience.

Suchet's final TV turn as Poirot was to begin on PBS with "The Big Four" on Sunday and, on Aug. 3, "Dead Man's Folly." The episodes will be available the next day at British TV streaming service www.Acorn.TV and on Roku and other platforms, followed by Acorn TV's exclusive presentation of three more new episodes.

The trio includes "Elephants Can Remember" (Aug. 11) and "Labours of Hercules" (Aug. 18) and culminates with "Curtain: Poirot's Last Case" on Aug. 25. Christie readers know to brace themselves for the poignant finale.

The five new episodes and the 65 previous ones then will be available on Acorn TV, part of RLJ Entertainment Inc.

Suchet's portrayal of Poirot has left a lasting mark on TV, and the final episodes are "a fitting goodbye to his beloved series," said Miguel Penella, RLJ Entertainment's chief executive.

The off-screen Suchet, who was in Los Angeles in June while touring with the stage drama "The Last Confession," shares a set of prominent, deeply arched eyebrows with the fictional detective and little else.

The 68-year-old actor was casually dressed in jeans and a shirt sans necktie or jacket, in contrast with Poirot's attire — and waxed mustache — that's as formal as his old-world bearing. The detective's precise diction is clipped and his demeanor usually solemn, while Suchet's speech flowed in rich, supple British tones, often accompanied by an easy smile.

Their now-ended partnership was both long and fruitful for Suchet. (The idea of a big-screen Poirot movie has been floated, but Suchet said he considers that unlikely.)

"Poirot allowed me to do big, zonking great roles in the theater because the television profile for theater producers means bottoms on seats," he said. "Therefore I can command big roles, and wonderful roles," including such modern favorites as George in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" as well as Shakespearean turns.

He received a 2000 Tony nomination for the Broadway production of "Amadeus," and he has received honors for Poirot and other TV roles, including an international Emmy for 2007's "Maxwell."

Suchet hopes to expand his movie career post-Poirot and has retained an American agent. He doesn't seem anxious about the future — except, perhaps, for one key review.

Christie, who died in 1976, was known for disliking any and all screen depictions of the characters in her novels and short stories. Suchet was once reassured by her daughter, however, that the author would have approved of his efforts.

"I still have to meet her at the pearly gates for that to be confirmed," he said.


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