Words of Advice From a Character Actor

DAVID SUCHET is a man with a mission. He wants to see more superb character acting in motion pictures and on television.

Mr. Suchet worries that "actors today only want to be personality actors." Today there is too much emphasis on self, he says, and not enough on playing unique roles.

"Gone are the days when people wanted to be chameleons," he says. "Gone are the days when people took pride in not being recognized. Well, I'm trying to bring that back."

Mr. Suchet speaks from experience. Besides his role as Hercule Poirot on "Mystery!," he has played on the London stage ("Separation"), in the Royal Shakespeare Company (Iago in "Othello" and Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice"), and in more than two dozen movies, including "The Falcon and the Snowman."

He tells nervous young drama students: "Try to forget about yourself and become a servant of the text. Then you won't worry about yourself so much.... If you spend your life trying to serve self, you will only end up tying yourself into the biggest knot possible."

He says: "If you spend your life trying to serve others, then that's a whole different ballgame. If we performing artists really develop that attitude, then character acting will once again become an art form. It will not become, 'Oh, look, there's a young guy playing old.'

"It will no longer be caricature. It will be the craft and the art and the ability and the talent with the right state of mind to become a different person for the sake of your playwright. Now with that attitude, taken into work every day, you haven't got time to be shy, you haven't got time to be worried about, 'Are my eyebrows straight? Do they like me?' You lose that. That is the approach I would like to advocate."

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