Much like his most famous TV character, David Suchet knows what you're thinking.
Actually, though, you don't have to be Hercule Poirot to know that many viewers may be wondering why anyone would remake Agatha Christie's most famous mystery, "Murder on the Orient Express," when virtually everyone who tunes in will do so already knowing whodunit and why. After all, in 1974, the story was turned into a glossy, Oscar-winning blockbuster starring Albert Finney as Poirot. (An updated CBS movie version with Alfred Molina as Poirot followed in 2001.)
All of which may explain why Suchet takes pains to point out that this newest TV adaptation - which has its world premiere Sunday on PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery!" is more than a mere do-over.
The basic outlines of the case itself, in which an American businessman is violently murdered during the titular train trip, remain the same, but this version is "a completely different take on the film that was made before," Suchet says. "The other film, which is very famous and beautifully shot and acted, is mainly concerned with the journey on the Orient Express with the fastidious Poirot solving a case, and everyone goes home very happy.
"But there are suggestions in the book that Poirot has his own journey to go on, a journey of immense depth and crises, because . . . he believes that one of the reasons his 'bon Dieu' - his good God - has made him such a wonderful detective is to rid the world of crime - and now here he is faced with the dilemma of what to do. What does it cost Poirot with his morals and idealism and sense of right and wrong to let every person go free and every single person is, in fact, a murderer?"
What makes this new version so gripping, and its final scene so utterly shattering, is how Suchet takes us so deeply into the very soul of this character he has been playing now for more than two decades. The external eccentricities are still there, but this performance feels stripped away to the core essentials of Hercule Poirot to help us understand the searing pain in which he is left at the end.
Suchet, who carries an associate producer credit on the "Poirot" series now, got a chance to immerse himself even more deeply in this particular story when he was hired to host the recent travel documentary "David Suchet on the Orient Express."
"I was afforded the very great luxury of being asked to do that program, and I did it as much for my own research as I did for the program," Suchet says. "I actually slept in Poirot's compartment in that program, and I got to know the train very well, and I . . . was reading the book while I was on the train. I tend to work that way. I take my character, Hercule Poirot, really to heart, and I want him to be so right for my audience and for Agatha Christie.
"The role of an associate producer . . . gives me availability to talk to the director and writer about the concepts that they have, and we can share this together. I started filming ['Poirot'] in 1988, and I suppose I know this man and his world and his genre better than anyone else coming in. And I'm the one who has to protect him from anyone who wants to go back to the old style of comedic values that we had before, which the Agatha Christie estate wanted to move right away from."