Best known as the moustached eponymous hero of Agatha Christie's Poirot, David Suchet has now bade farewell to the iconic role and fulfilled a "27 year ambition" to make an audio recording of the entire NIV Bible.
To be released this Thursday, it marks the result of over 200 hours in the recording studio while filming the final series of his hit detective TV series, which ran for an astonishing 25 years. Though he speaks in his usual British accent, rather than the dulcet tones of his fictional Belgian counterpart, Suchet's velvet-smooth voice nonetheless carries a melody befitting the greatest story ever told.
It's arguably his most personal project yet. After becoming a Christian while reading Romans 8 in a hotel Bible in 1986, Suchet quickly realised that he could use his talents to share his newfound faith.
"I thought: 'Well one thing I can do, or I think I can do, is to read.' And I've for many, many years felt that I wanted to put my voice to the Bible, and not only bits of the Bible, but the whole thing.
"It will, for me, fulfil what I suppose is a 27 year ambition," he muses.
Christian Today caught up with David to find out more about his exciting latest project, and just why he took on such a momentous task.
CT: Hi David, recording the entire NIV is no mean feat. What led you to do it?
DS: It was a mixture of things, going right back to my early school days when I loved reading the Bible. I wasn't a religious boy at all, my conversion came later in 1986, but when I was young I found that people said they enjoyed listening to me read in chapel, and I absolutely loved it.
As I grew up, when I became an actor I was asked to read passages for various radio programmes and the like. When I became a Christian, and I read the Bible for the first time as a person of faith - reading something that gave me my worldview and my lens - I found it to be the most extraordinary collection of literature, and it formed my way of looking at the world. I realised that the Bible has shaped Western civilisation, and I thought what better thing can I leave behind me? What about the most important book in the world that's barely read at all, even though it's the world's best seller?
CT: And how does it feel to have fulfilled that ambition now?
DS: It's lovely. In the same year I have finished the complete works of Agatha Christie and also read the whole Bible. It's lovely to feel that whenever I go up to the sky, I've left that behind.
CT: Do you think there's something significant or valuable in listening to the Bible rather than, or as well as, reading it?
DS: Yes, absolutely! When the Bible was originally written, going way back before it was all put together, it was written to be heard, because no one could read! It was meant to be heard, and when I was reading aloud for the recording, the words "Hear the word of the Lord" kept jumping out at me. So now, whenever I read the Bible, I read it out loud, even at home.
It was such a surreal experience during recording, because as I was recording I had my headphones on and so was listening to myself speak at the same time. The Bible makes the most wonderful collection of literature; it's got stories, poetry, songs, drama, fortune telling and prophesy – it really is an extraordinary collection of works. When you're holding the Bible, you're holding a library.
CT: Did you discover anything new for yourself when you were recording?
DS: It confirmed my faith; even in the most difficult passages full of blood and guts, which people often shy away from or think 'How could a loving God be like that?' But the Bible was written at a particular point in time and years later God was mirrored by Jesus, who said 'If you've seen me you've seen the Father'. In Jesus we meet a God who is full of love and compassion and gentleness – yes, he can be angry, but to see him reflected in Jesus is incredible.
CT: You've recorded the Gospel of St John before. In what way did this feel different?
DS: It felt very different, because I wasn't just lifting one book from the whole; I was reading it all together. The Gospels are interesting, because they aren't trying to prove anything – well, actually John is, he says he's writing so that people will come to know Jesus. But they were just men who were getting old, and were putting down what they remembered, which is why there are different versions of the same stories. We remember things differently! I think that proves they are true, rather than not. And actually, reading John in context was really helpful for me.
CT: It took you over 200 hours altogether! What were the challenges?
DS: For me the big challenge was Chronicles – it's filled with numbers, families, names and tribes, and I just thought how am I going to get through this? And then I realised that behind every name was a human being with a life, so I told myself not to rush it, to remember that it would have originally been read out loud to people who would have known those people, and it would have meant a lot to them, so it should to me too! These people had families and lives, just like you and I do.
CT: Some of the names are pretty difficult to pronounce though aren't they?
DS: Oh goodness me yes! I had people behind the glass coaching me in the recording studio.
CT: So what are your hopes for the people who listen to the recording?
DS: I hope that it won't necessarily just be Christian people who listen, but those who are just interested to hear what I'm reading too. I want those people to be introduced to a collection of literary works that were written by human beings, inspired by the Great Maker of the sky, and to hear the books that have shaped the whole of Western civilisation.
It really is a wonderful thing to listen to! And the glorious way in which it's being introduced by Hodder with a read along e-book is very exciting, and I hope it will appeal to many.
CT: You've already presented a documentary on St Paul, and now have taken on this project, do you have any further plans to explore the Bible?
DS: I've actually just come back from Israel, Turkey and Rome, where I filmed a documentary called "In the footsteps of St Peter", which was wonderful and I enjoyed very much. We don't hear much about Peter in the Protestant Church, other than as someone who made mistakes, but he was a glorious person and a very charismatic leader of the disciples.
It's the year of religion really, because I'm also about to go on a world tour of my play "The Last Confession" which centres around Pope John Paul I and his early death.
The NIV Audio Bible read by David Suchet is available for pre-order here.