Past Poirot Portrayals

Since the late 1920’s, Agatha Christie’s famous fictional creation Hercule Poirot has been reimagined and depicted on stage, screen, radio and in games by over 40 actors. The assortment of portrayals includes a moustache-less Austin Trevor, a parodic Hugh Laurie, a hugely popular Japanese Mansai Nomura and the longest standing Poirot, David Suchet.

We’ve taken a look at five of the actors who have taken on the challenge of bringing Poirot to life on stage and screen over the past 90 years.

Charles Laughton – The First Portrayal of Poirot

The first portrayal of Hercule Poirot came in the form of Charles Laughton who played the role of the fictional sleuth in Alibi; a stage adaptation by Michael Morton based on Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. This was the first time that one of Christie’s books had been adapted into a play, and it opened in London’s West End in 1928. Laughton wasn’t an obvious choice for Poirot as he was too young and physically stockier than Christie had described him in her books. Alibi ran for over 250 performances with Laughton in the role before it closed at the end of the year. In 1932 he reprised the role on Broadway in The Fatal Alibi – a production he also directed.

Austin Trevor – The Clean-Shaven Poirot

Three years later there was a new Poirot on the scene - Austin Trevor - who was the first actor to bring Hercule Poirot to the screen, and did so in three British films; Alibi and Black Coffee in 1931 and Lord Edgware Dies in 1934. Alibi producer Julius Hagen and director Leslie Hiscott turned the character into a typical Thirties sleuth, choosing a good-looking clean shaven young Austin Trevor as their Poirot. Contrary to Poirot being Belgian, it is believed that Trevor claimed that he was cast because he could do a great French accent!

Albert Finney – The Young Poirot

Often pinpointed as the turning point in the history of Agatha Christie screen adaptations, in 1974 Murder on the Orient Express was released, starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot. Being just 38, at first Albert Finney was considered too young to play Poirot, but eventually he was chosen regardless as it was decided that he could be made up to resemble an older Poirot. This required many hours of make-up to become Poirot, every morning of filming, Finney would be picked up from his house in an ambulance where he would sleep whilst make-up artists would begin work on the transformation, that would then continue in the studio whilst he would remain asleep. As well as having a false nose, to achieve a short solid looking body he wore body padding in the form of a t-shirt draped with cotton wool!

Despite Agatha Christie enjoying the film, she had one major reservation about Albert Finney’s portrayal of her famous sleuth. “I wrote that my detective had the finest moustache in England, but he didn’t in the film. I thought that was a pity. Why shouldn’t he have the best moustache?”

Peter Ustinov – The Charming Poirot

Four years after Albert Finney’s take on the sleuth, Peter Ustinov appeared as Poirot in Death on the Nile, before taking on the role in a further two big screen films and three television productions. Purposefully, Ustinov’s impersonation of Poirot was different to Finney’s, partly to avoid judgement that he was impersonating his predecessor. Ustinov’s success in the role came from his insight and attention to detail in Christie’s character. He focused on Poirot’s personality and even referred to the role as exhausting, explaining that “Poirot is so terribly accurate and tidy in his mind and habits. So meticulous.”

David Suchet – The Long-standing Poirot

In 1989 David Suchet took on his first role as Hercule Poirot, which would be the beginning of a 25-year career which saw him depict Poirot in 70 episodes across 13 series, watched by 700 million viewers in over 100 countries worldwide. Suchet attributes his popularity of portraying Poirot to the attention to detail that he paid to the personal eccentricities that Christie described in her novels. Each day before filming Suchet would read through his list of character notes which contained over 90 traits of Agatha Christie’s sleuth, to help him get into the Poirot mindset. The notes ranged from highlighting Poirot’s ‘passion for tidiness’ to the fact that he ‘hates golf!’

Back to the Hercule Poirot character page.

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