David Suchet is best known for his portrayal of Agatha Christie's eccentric and brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. But he's never been defined by the role.
This accomplished character actor sees it as a privilege - indeed, his duty - to bring a character to life on behalf of an author. On his upcoming Australian speaking tour, audiences will meet the man behind the many faces he's portrayed on stage and screen in a career spanning five decades.
"I wasn't born wanting to be an actor. I was born wanting to follow in my father's footsteps and be a doctor and, even to this day, I have a desire to heal."
Suchet is talking by phone from the UK. His deep voice and eloquent turn of phrase is unmistakable.
"I never became a doctor - I couldn't, I didn't have the intelligence - but I think what made me want to continue as an actor was that I realised there were writers who chose to write not for the novel, but for the performance. They would give their work to directors, and actors like myself, in order to be put on film or television or the stage and in so doing, they relied on people like me to develop the characters that they had written. I realised that this was a huge responsibility and so I wanted to spend my life serving my writers rather than myself.
''It's been a great joy and a great service that I have been able to find a real reason to continue acting rather than just for fame and money."
This reasoning has served him well over the years. Suchet is revered for his portrayal of characters the likes of Lady Bracknell, Cardinal Benelli and Freud, and has graced the world's stages bringing literary greats Shakespeare, Wilde and Albee to life. He starred in all 74 Poirot television movies over 25 years as well as The Life of Freud, The Way We Live Now, Great Expectations and more recently Dr Who and Press. His international film credits include Harry and the Hendersons, The Bank Job and American Assassin. He is an Associate Artist and Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company, won an Emmy Award in 2007 for Maxwell and in 2011 was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Unlike many actors of his calibre, Suchet chose to live and work in the UK rather than move to Hollywood.
"I did a film called The Falcon and The Snowman in Hollywood and it was directed by John Schlesinger and as a result of that I was invited by a studio to come out to America for a really good picture deal," he explained.
"I came home and discussed it with Sheila, my wife. Our two children were very young at the time so they could have made that transition, but then I thought 'You know what? That's not why I became an actor. If I do that, all I am looking for is fame and money. That's not how I want to spend the rest of my life'. So the answer was no. That was one of the big decisions in my life.
"I think to act just for fame and money and success, oh my goodness, it can only end up in disappointment. We all know the cliche: money does not buy happiness or satisfaction. It might help you buy the best health insurance but it doesn't give you a fully rounded life and it doesn't give you a purpose for being."
Suchet believes he has avoided being pigeon-holed as Hercule Poirot because he was a character actor well before he was cast as Poirot. What, exactly, is a character actor?
"The character actor is an actor who has the ability to be able to change himself or herself to become another person, rather than a personality player who will always play him or her self, irrespective of what the character as written may demand," he explained.
"I have no doubt that I will be remembered for Hercules Poirot. That's what my obit will say. But the great satisfaction is that, because I am a character actor, I have been able to do roles in theatre, television and film that bear no relation to Poirot."
This is all the more remarkable because if the costume was on, Suchet was Poirot. He couldn't switch it off.
"The blessing that I was given was that Poirot himself was an extreme character to play," he said.
"The Poirot moustache helped me enormously. It was a trigger of sorts. As soon as it went on I was speaking like him. If the moustache came off at lunchtime I would speak like myself, but if I did interviews and that moustache was on me, the person interviewing me would have still heard Poirot's voice."
Interestingly, and perhaps necessarily, Suchet developed and was taught techniques to help him shed his characters at the end of the day. He plans to discuss these in detail at his shows.
"There were roles in my early career that did come home with me. I avoid that now and leave most of my characters on the dressing room table. But it is true, if you're a real character actor you do take on the character, and you've got to learn to get rid of it or it can consume you."
Suchet is returning to Australia in January for his Poirot and More: A Retrospective tour with journalist Jane Hutcheon. She interviewed him for ABC TV's One Plus One in 2012.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for me to share my life; my work; how I work - this tour is about people getting to know who I am and what is beneath the characters that I play. Jane really is a very talented interviewer and a great listener, and very positive and supportive and challenging at the same time. I think she's brilliant."
Poirot and More: A Retrospective Australian tour dates
PERTH: January 18, 2pm and 7.30pm, Concert Hall (perthconcerthall.com.au)
CANBERRA: January 20, 7.30pm; January 21, 7.30pm, Canberra Theatre Centre (canberratheatrecentre.com.au)
SYDNEY: January 23, 3pm and 8pm, Concert Hall - Sydney Opera House (sydneyoperahouse.com); February 7, 8pm, State Theatre (statetheatre.com.au)
MELBOURNE: January 25, 3pm and 8pm; February 13, 8pm, Hamer Hall - Arts Centre Melbourne (artscentremelbourne.com.au)
GOLD COAST: January 29, 8pm, HOTA (hota.com.au)
BRISBANE: January 31, 8pm, February 1, 2pm and 8pm, QPAC, (qpac.com.au)
NEWCASTLE: February 8, 8pm, Civic Theatre Newcastle (civictheatrenewcastle.com.au)
ADELAIDE: February 11, 8pm, February 12, 3pm and 8pm, Festival Theatre - Adelaide Festival Centre (adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au)