Hercule Poirot may have a gift for solving complex murder mysteries, but it seems that David Suchet – the man behind the moustache – has an equally impressive ability to spot stars before they were famous.
“This is quite true,” he says with a Poirot-like twinkle in his eyes. “As regards everybody who has now become a big name – I have said at the time, ‘Watch out for that one’. I’ve sensed it. There’s always been something special about them that you can’t put your finger on. But I’m so pleased that I’ve been right so often!”
And what a guest list it’s turned out to have been. Even though Suchet and the original production team never wanted it to be “a spotlight gallery”, over the course of nearly 70 episodes Agatha Christie’s Poirot has spawned a host of Hollywood A-listers, from Damian Lewis to Joely Richardson, and Emily Blunt to Michael Fassbender.
“I feel so privileged to have been involved at the chrysalis stage of their careers,” Suchet tells RT. “It’s absolutely fantastic.”
The Dream, 1989
THEN Richardson, 24, looks to be having a ball in one of her first TV roles as Joanna Farley, the daughter of a pork-pie magnate. She gets to toss her hair, do some fencing and say classic whodunnit lines like: “I had every reason to desire my father’s death”.
NOW The daughter of Tony Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave hit the big time with the BBC’s Lady Chatterley in 1993, then featured in American hit Nip/Tuck and later, The Tudors.
Wasps’ Nest, 1991
THEN Let’s hope that when Capaldi takes over as Doctor Who he gets to wear a better outfit than the clown costume he sported in an early TV role (he was 32 when the show aired). As avant-garde artist Claude Langton, he’s forced to declare his love for a fashion model in full whiteface. Poirot also suspects him of plotting a murder – but is Claude the killer or the intended victim?
NOW Capaldi will take over as the galaxy’s best-known Time Lord this Christmas, having already established himself as the UK’s sweariest spin doctor in The Thick of It.
Hickory Dickory Dock, 1995
THEN Damian Lewis, 24, was not long out of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama when he appeared as Leonard Bateson, a student residing at a hostel where kleptomania has broken out. For the guilty party, though, we need to look in the direction of another young actor by the name of Jonathan Firth (he’s the brother of Colin, by the way).
NOW HBO’s 2001 mini-series Band of Brothers brought Lewis to the attention of American audiences before he took on lead roles in US crime drama Life and now the conspiracy thriller Homeland.
Jewel Robbery at The Grand Metropolitan, 1993
THEN “Meek” and “mild” aren’t words that you’d normally use to describe characters played by Norris, then 26. Yet here she is as unassuming hotel chambermaid Celestine who comes under suspicion of stealing a priceless pearl necklace. Poirot, offering her his best twinkly-eyed smile, aims to prove her innocence.
NOW Norris has since made her name playing no-nonsense heroines from Karen in Cold Feet and DCI Carol Jordan in Wire in the Blood to Ros Myers in Spooks. Earlier this year, though, she did return to the world of Christie for the Marple tale A Caribbean Mystery on ITV.
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, 1992
THEN Don’t be fooled by the nursery-rhyme title – there’s an air of revolution in this story thanks to the appearance of a 28-year-old Christopher Eccleston as a fascist thug by the name of Frank Carter, who turns out to have a grudge against a murdered dentist. Despite his small role, Eccleston displays his gift for brooding intensity that would mark out his future performances.
NOW Within a year of making Poirot, Eccleston had won the part of DCI Bilborough in Cracker. Shallow Grave and Our Friends in the North followed before he starred in the 2005 revival of Doctor Who.
Evil Under The Sun, 2001
THEN A change from the novel sees 16-year-old Linda Marshall becoming 17-year-old Lionel Marshall, with a fresh-faced Russell Tovey (himself 19) getting a guest role in the process. Despite Tovey wearing a lovely period bathing costume, this is one of those rare occasions when a TV adaptation for Suchet was bettered by an earlier version: the 1982 film starring Peter Ustinov and Maggie Smith is much more atmospheric.
NOW Playing Rudge in The History Boys on stage (2004) brought him a lot of exposure; since then he’s appeared in Doctor Who, Being Human, Him & Her, Sherlock and What Remains.
Sad Cypress, 2003
THEN By this stage, the ITV series had generally become a lot more star-studded and cinematic, but there was still space for an actor who was on the cusp of hitting the big time. Penry-Jones, 33, features as Roddy, one half of a model English couple caught up in a murder case that was more dark and brooding than any we’d previously seen.
NOW Within a year, Penry-Jones had taken on the lead role in Spooks and hasn’t looked back since. The 39 Steps, Silk, The Last Weekend and Whitechapel all followed.
Death on The Nile, 2004
THEN At 21, Blunt may have been about to experience superstardom but she wasn’t able to make it all the way through this feature-length adventure. Here, she plays wealthy American heiress Linnet Ridgeway, who has more enemies than Poirot has grey cells. Needless to say she gets shot in the head during a Nile cruise, the first victim in what becomes an increasingly blood-splattered mystery.
NOW Lead roles in My Summer of Love, The Devil Wears Prada and The Young Victoria came next, with Blunt currently filming Into the Woods alongside Johnny Depp and Chris Pine.
After The Funeral, 2006
THEN Four years before he cut a dash on Poirot, Fassbender appeared with David Suchet in another crime drama – the BBC series NCS Manhunt. Hollywood was soon to beckon, but here – aged 29 – he gets to act louche in a dinner jacket, pass out drunk on a bench and yell “get out of my way!” while tipping over a butler’s tray, as George Abernethie.
NOW He’s won an award for Hunger, had Bafta and Golden Globe nominations for Shame, landed a high-profile role in Prometheus, plays a plantation owner in 12 Years a Slave and returns as Magneto in next year’s X-Men sequel.
Poirot is on tonight at 8:00pm on ITV.