David Suchet: Looking for Something Beyond

Somewhere right now someone is watching David Suchet portray Agatha Christie's famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. An estimated 600-700 million people watch the television series worldwide. The reruns get better ratings than many new programs. Suchet has filmed more than 60 episodes, with only six to go to complete Christie's entire body of work about the eccentric little sleuth.

Suchet was an actor long before he began doing Poirot in 1988. One of Britain's most popular performers, the 65-year-old Suchet began his acting career in theater. At age 23, he became the youngest professional actor in Britain to play Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. He spent thirteen years with the Royal Shakespeare Company and has played such diverse parts as Salieri in Amadeus, George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the predatory professor John in Oleanna. His film credits include A Perfect MurderExecutive Decision and Bank Job.

Although everyone recognizes Poirot, not everyone recognizes Suchet when they see him perform. And he loves that: "It means that they've been caught up in the role rather than the actor . . . . I don't just play a part, I inhabit it."1

Suchet's last name is derived from the profession of his great-great-grandfather on his father's side, a Lithuanian shochet, one who performs (according to kosher law) the ritual slaughter of animals. But when his grandfather married a gentile, his family lost acceptance in the Jewish community. Suchet's mother was of Lithuanian/Russian Jewish descent on her father's side, but she was a practicing Anglican (Church of England). His Jewish father was agnostic, and Suchet says that in terms of religion, "I was brought up as nothing—nothing at all."

Yet, he goes on to say, "I am very pleased that my whole background is rooted in Judaism. . . . I remember my first visit to Israel, when I went with the Royal Shakespeare Theater Company and did some performances in Jerusalem. I really was so thrilled to be there because of my Jewish roots."

His mother, Joan, a former professional dancer and actress, was his inspiration to become an actor. His maternal grandmother was also an actress. But his father, a distinguished gynecologist, was less than enthusiastic about his son's interest:

"My mother and grandmother were behind it, but my father was not and never really was until I joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. He felt I was giving him a bit of status. But at a certain point I realized I was proving to my father I could act rather than doing my work for the reasons I should be doing it."2

His parents sent him to boarding school in Kent when he was eight. They were only allowed to visit him three times a term and boys could only go home on the holidays. "I missed home very much and I loathed every minute of [boarding school]," he recalls. "My next school, Wellington, where I went at thirteen, was a real breath of fresh air and I felt much more at home there."3

To his father's disappointment, he did not excel academically. But he did shine at rugby and tennis. His tennis coach, Joe Storr, who also taught English, introduced him to acting. Suchet joined the National Youth Theatre and went on to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, followed by his years with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

But even as he was attaining success as an actor, he was "always looking for something beyond."4 In his late twenties and early thirties he explored Zen Buddhism. Then, at age 40, while in Seattle making a film, he had a life-changing experience.

"I was lying in the bath in my hotel, thinking about my grandfather," he says. "And I remember thinking, Isn't it interesting that I feel my grandfather is with me and yet I don't believe in an afterlife? So I went straight out and bought a Bible and read Paul's letter to the Romans . . . and it slotted right into what I had been searching for, something beyond, something quite mystical, but also a way of being that I could relate to."5

In the same way that he meticulously studies for an upcoming role, he began to investigate the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. "I couldn't just accept it on face value. I have never had blind faith in anything."6 The questioning continued, as Suchet explains, for 21 years!

"God would not let me go and I often feel like my faith was rather like Jacob wrestling. I've ended up with a few bruises and a few dislocated hips, but I'm still there and he has blessed me and loved me and I feel very cherished by him."

Though he struggled with his faith, he says his Jewishness was not a stumbling block: "As soon as I realized Jesus was a Jew, I felt more at home than ever before."

Although it was not until four years ago that Suchet felt comfortable enough with his faith to declare it publicly, it has guided many of his decisions, particularly in regard to his acting.

"Being a Christian has made me think about parts I play," he says, "even though to this very moment, I'm asked to play terrorists. . . . And I've played murderers, and certain Christian groups have written to me saying, ‘How as a Christian can you play these roles?' And I had to search very deeply within myself. And it's very clear biblically that where you are found, most often that is where God wants you to be. Unless there is a clear direction to change, which I never had."

Wrestling with his faith has also solidified it, Suchet notes: "I have been through 21 years of real struggle to come to this place, and now I have a faith that is the most important thing in my life. It governs how I behave, how I think, and makes me who I am. . . . We go to the gym to exercise our bodies, we read and do crosswords to exercise our mind, but we do very little in this cynical, secular age to exercise our souls."7

Suchet and his wife of 35 years, Sheila Ferris, started their spiritual quest together. "As a couple," he says, "we'd long been looking for the right philosophy to sustain us. When I turned to the New Testament, I suddenly found the very belief about life, people and way of living that I'd long been searching for. . . . The thing about faith is that it forces you to look in the mirror and appraise what you see. You're not shown the good bits. It really is mirror, mirror on the wall, and you see the ugliest of them all."8

He and Sheila, a former actress, are a true team. She supervises his career, pores over his scripts, attends every first performance and gives him a critique of each one. They have raised two children, Robert, 30, an officer in the Royal Marines, and Katherine, 28, a physiotherapist.

"Whatever my children have wanted to do in life," says Suchet, "I have encouraged them—which is probably a reaction to the fight I had against my own father to become an actor."9

When he's not acting, Suchet enjoys photography and music. He learned the clarinet later in life, and he joins his wife for a duet with the piano from time to time. He and Sheila also love to go boating on the canals and rivers of England. In between roles, he likes to read theology and philosophy.

"My favorite book is the Bible," he says. "It's got everything: verse, poetry, songs, wonderful stories. I love going back into the Old Testament—the early books are so dramatic, really wonderful."10

Although his favorite after-show haunt is his home, other actors find him very approachable on the set and look to him for advice. Though Poirot has made him an international celebrity, Suchet never wanted to be a star. He doesn't want to be seen; he just wants people to see the character he is playing. And he has succeeded in that.

"People always ask who is the real David Suchet because I've always done character parts," he says. "I started off as a 23-year-old actor playing an octogenarian. I knew I was never going to be six feet three inches and the next Cary Grant. I'm short, stocky, with a deep voice and the biggest makeup bag in the business."11

Even as the incredibly popular Poirot, he takes nothing for granted and is obsessive in his preparation for each episode. He carries around with him a list of 93 things to remember about Poirot. "What I'd like to hear someone say," he reflects, "if I were to pick up any Poirot book, the man that I was reading about is the man I saw on the screen."12

Asked if it upsets him that many people only know him from the character of Poirot, he responds: "How lucky I am that I will be remembered at all. There are thousands of actors out there who have done some wonderful work and have never gained the recognition that they deserve. . . . I am just very thankful that they know of me at all."13

He is very eager to film the six remaining Poirot episodes for television as his legacy. "I am desperate to leave that body of work behind me when I go to my theater in the sky," he says. "The sadness, of course, will be having to bury Poirot. He is part of my life now."14

But the biggest part of Suchet's life now is Jesus, who he describes as, "My best friend. And as an actor, that's a wonderful thing to have. A wonderful person to have by your side, day and night. My very, very best friend. And sometimes in the back of my mind, even when I'm performing, I know he's with me, I know he's holding my hand."15

1 Lucy Cavendish, "The Labour of Being Hercule," The Sunday Telegraph, 11 March 2001.
2 Celia Dodd, "David Suchet: Still on the Case," The London Times, 9 January 2009.
3 Ibid.
4 Dodd, op. cit.
5 Ibid.
6 Lester Middlehurst, "Poirot and the Case of the Star Who Found God," Daily Mail, 21 June 2007.
7 Ibid.
8 Ian Woodward, "David Suchet: How the Definitive Poirot has Found New Faith and Health," Hello!, 22 July 1989.
9 Ibid.
10 Anonymous, "20 Questions With . . . David Suchet," Whatsonstage.com, December 26, 2005.
11 Fiona Maddocks, "Suchet's Act of Faith," London Evening Standard, 19 June 2007.
12 Anonymous, "David Suchet: The Masterpiece Mystery! Interview".
13 Ken Windsor, "Interview: Actor David Suchet".
14 Dodd, op. cit.
15 All quotes without attribution in this article are, with permission, from "Haven Today: Interview with David Suchet," aired July 19, 2010.

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Sheri Margulies

I LOVE David Suchet's performances, and I have no right to criticize him for his 'spiritual' beliefs although I can't UNDERSTAND them at all. But how can he, as a person of Jewish descent, as I am too, be a MEMBER of the Christian community? Think of what these 'noble' Christians have done to Jews for 2000 years! Think of the pogroms, the Inquisition, the ghetto-ization....an d don't even MENTION the Holocaust! How can he connect himself to THE CHURCH when the evil of the CHURCH is beyond imagination? More murder and harm has been done in the name of the CHURCH than any OTHER institution on earth! Join the Anglicans? Join the Protestants? Was Luther any less evil than the Catholics in persecuting Jews and calling for their annihilation? To join the CHURCH is the greatest of denials of history. It's shameful!


He loves Jesus,what more love proof do you want?

Caitlin Brown

Shame on you with your bigotry.I can't imagine what sort of a soul you must be branding all Christians as evil.
Peace be with you ....you troubled soul I hope you find peace.

Matt Sieger

Thank you for your comment. I hope the article below will help you to see that David Suchet has linked himself first and foremost to Jesus, not to an institution. Yes, much evil has been done to our Jewish people in Jesus' name by those who claimed to be his followers. But I hope you will discover, as I did, that true followers of Jesus love the Jewish people. Here's the article: http://www.jewsforjesus.org/answers/community/antisemiticchristians

Paul Cohen

There is a professional recording out of David Suchet reading the Complete NIV Audio Bible. Being 'British' some of the names and places are pronounced a little different, but I do listen to this often.
Blessings in Messiah

sandy cox

the very first time i heard of David Suchet was when i purchased a childrens bible/dvd set by Sally Lloyd Jones...David is the narrarator. When he reads the bible it makes such perfect sense and an overwhelming feeling of the love of God fills the room and all hearts in it! i always wondered about his story because it is obvious that he has a love and understanding of the true God and His Son Jesus. Jesus said we must be as little children to enter the kingdom of God and i would recommend grown ups everywhere listen to his narraration of the childrens bible, i got copies for my grandkids but also one for me and i keep going back to it and listening again, because it is truly showing me the real God and Jesus and their great love for all of us!

Ina Reed

I have been a big Agatha Christie fan for many many years. I've read everything I could find of hers. I've enjoyed just as much, watching her stories being portrayed by David Suchet and have collected every dvd I could find. I am long widowed, my disabled daughter lives with me and we have watched these DVDs until we've practically memorized them. We are both Christians and are delighted to find that David is also. In reading his feelings about his Christianity and his struggles with it, I see that he feels similar to me and my walk with Jesus. God bless you David. I am 72 years old. My favorite Miss Marple actress is Joan Hickman. But David does my favorite Poirot. No contest there. We were so sad to see Hercule Poirot die.

Greg Bellinger

Mr. Suchet,
Blessings on you for your genuine faith in Christ. It encourages me so very much.

I have appreciated your acting for so many years, especially the murder mysteries. Examining how any of us could selfishly take another persons life allows me to examine how easy it is to do something wicked even as a Christian.

Greg Bellinger

Christine Ablade

This is one of those times I have so much I would love to write but where do I begin....David Suchet has done an Outstanding performance in displaying the Detective Poirot...Several years ago I spent six months in London I have had a Splendid holiday it was like home away from home I have so many wonderful friends....I should say family and I miss them dearly...Watching Poirot has brought back many fond memories of my Trip to England .....It is Wonderful to read about the Suchet Family and Standing for and by there beliefs....I LOVE ISRAEL and JESUS.....Maybe one day I would have the blessing of Meeting Mr David Suchet and his Lovely Wife....Love, Joy , and Peace to the Suchet Family

Cindy Reinertsen

Dear Sheri, You are right. I want you to know I hear you. There have been many atrocities committed over the course of history and still today so many do not recognize the horrible wrongs done in the name of Christendom toward the Jewish people. I am so sorry more are not hurting over this. I am feeling the hurt as best I can from the studies I have been doing. I am grateful for the ones who have pointed these things out to me. It breaks my heart that Luther is quoted only from the "sane" things he wrote and we skip right over the things he said that have made such a harmful impact on the insane (Hitler). I wish I could wipe it away. I have been thinking of this a lot lately. It will take many apologies and faithful friends crying for the pain that has been caused before we will have your listening ear. I pray the process can begin. Please know there are those out there who get it. We are listening. We want to communicate humbly.

Terry J Brown

Thank you for such a great testimony of the grace of God in the life of Mr. Suchet. Romans is one of my favorite books of the Bible. May God continue to bless you.

Beverly S. Ophoff

I was so happy to read this article about David Suchet. I have watched the Poirot series several times and was so intrigued with who Mr. Suchet was in real life. To know he has Jesus in his life in such a personal
way is so gratifying. Jesus is my best friend too. Thank you so much to this wonderful organization Jews for Jesus for this article. Blessings.

Lou Anna Mullins

God Bless David Suchet!!! My Husband and I are on our second time through Poirot. When I learned that Mr. Suchet was a born-again Christian, my heart rejoiced! God will never let you go.....remember that! :)

Christina Richards

Truly inspiring David, may The Lord continue to bless you as you tell others how you came to know him as your saviour . Please consider writing your testimony . God bless . Christina
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