David Suchet interview - 'I hope we'll do Arthur Miller justice in The Price'

David Suchet

As of February next year, David Suchet will have spent 50 years on stage. Whether he’s being directed on stage by Harold Pinter, or on screen as one of the most recognisable characters of a generation, he has been pretty much omnipresent and worked his way to being the ever-reliable actor he is today.

Coinciding with his 50th anniversary on stage, he will perform in Jonathan Church’s acclaimed production of The Price, one of Arthur Miller’s plays lesser-known on this side of the pond. The piece transfers to the West End from its original run at Theatre Royal Bath. 

Fresh off his run in Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season, just before he begins preparations to return to the role of furniture dealer Gregory Solomon, we spoke to Suchet about why Miller’s plays still stand up today, the importance of the little details, and whether he gets bored of being asked questions about Hercule Poirot.

We last spoke just before you were about to open the Pinter at the Pinter season, how was that experience?

I think it was one of the most extraordinary moments of my career, without trying to sound too theatrical about it. I knew Harold very well, but I’d never been in a full production of one of his plays before. When I read it, I thought it would be something I’d like to do, if anything because it was going to remind me of Harold, and I wanted to do it for him. What I didn’t realise was how much it was going to challenge me and take me out of my box. It proved to be one of the most exciting rehearsal periods I can remember. Working with Jamie Lloyd was a complete revelation.

You knew Harold for many years, what would he think of his work being performed in this way?

He was a very down to earth man and I have no doubt he would be thrilled. Especially in that theatre, he loved the Comedy Theatre.

In February, you will celebrate 50 years in acting, which is a monumental achievement…  

Yes, it was February 1969 when I joined the company at the Gateway Theatre in Chester, that was my first job in repertory theatre. It makes The Price the first play I’ll do in my 50th year, I’m looking forward to it very much indeed.

You’ve already had a successful run of the production in Bath, does that make it easier to bring the production to London?

I’m always loathed to talk about things that have been a success already because you don’t know how it’s going to be the second time. Plays have a life of their own. It can take off in the right place at the right time, but then in the wrong place at the wrong time the same production can go completely the other way. But I’m hopeful because as a production, Jonathan’s production is excellent.

The Price
David Suchet in The Price

It’s a 50-year-old play that is often seen on Broadway, but why is it seldom staged in the West End?

The cast – if I’m allowed to say this – all of us are on song. It’s a play that famously, for some reason, it’s hard to get everyone up to scratch on it. It’s never had a terrific major revival. It went down very well in New York a year or so ago, but that’s thanks to Danny DeVito playing my role.

Your performances are often praised for their attention to the little details in a character, do you spend a lot of time working on the little things?

The detail for me has always been vitally important for the development of a character, because it’s the detail of human beings that you notice in life. It isn’t the general attitude towards someone or something, it’s the little details, so it’s very important I find them for the character.

Alongside The Price, we have All My Sons and The American Clock coming to the Old Vic, and Marianne Elliott is directing Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic. It’s almost like a mini-Miller Season…

I think it’s pure accident. It wasn’t planned that we’d all be doing Miller in the London theatre scene at the same time; we didn’t know we were coming in, and this is just when the theatre was vacant. It’s a wonderful accident.

It may be an accident, but does it also say a lot about how pertinent his work still is?

He writes, like Shakespeare, about love jealousy, hate, greed, failure, success, these are timeless qualities. Most of his plays are about with family – none less than The Price – and because of this, they will last and last. I personally respond to Arthur Miller. I really enjoy speaking his language and being in his works.

With all the choice that will be on offer, what makes The Price stand out?

It’s a major play that, for many years, hasn’t had a production in London that would do Arthur Miller justice. I hope with all my heart that the production we will be putting on will be providing that production.

Flicking through the Christmas TV listings, it’s hard to avoid the presence of Agatha Christie. Do you often find yourself sitting down and seeing Poirot portrayed by other actors?

I haven’t watched Ken’s [Kenneth Branagh] in Murder on the Orient Express, and I won’t be watching The ABC Murders when it comes out. I will no doubt catch up with them at some point, but it’s not something I’m desperate to do because I know it so well. The only reason I would watch them is to see how they play Poirot and to be honest, that’s not my main concern anymore.

Do you think people will see the character draw comparisons with your portrayal of him?

Because my version was on television for 25 years, it’s inevitable, much like there are comparisons made between new James Bonds. It would be wrong for anyone to try and copy what I did, and I hope their work will be assessed as a separate interpretation.

My final question is, five years after you last portrayed him on screen, do you get bored of being asked about Poirot in interviews?

[Laughs] No, it’s something that I know will happen. I still miss the old boy. I miss playing him, because I had such a wonderful time portraying that character.  

The Price is at Wyndham’s Theatre from 5th February.

The Price tickets are available now.

Photo credit: Nobby Clark

Looking for the best seats...