- "I first encountered Emperor Palpatine at Elstree Studios in the early 1980s. He was staring back at me from a make-up mirror, larger than life and 50 times as ugly. Yellow contact lenses stung my eyes and afforded little peripheral vision. As I walked onto a vast sound stage that had been transformed into a starship hangar, populated by seemingly endless platoons of gleaming white stormtroopers, the scale of George Lucas's vision hit me. This was space spectacle, a back-drop for a space opera of Wagnerian dimension."
- ―Ian McDiarmid
Ian McDiarmid (born August 11, 1944) portrayed Sheev Palpatine in the Star Wars films. He appears in every film of the prequel trilogy, as well as in Return of the Jedi. He did not play the Emperor in the original release of The Empire Strikes Back, but was edited in for the DVD release of the original trilogy. He has the distinction of being one of the few actors from the original trilogy to reprise the role of a Human character in the prequel trilogy.
McDiarmid has also had a distinguished career in British theatre, working as Associate Artistic Director for the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester (1986 - 1989), joint Artistic Director at London's Almedia Theatre (1990 - 2002) and as a Board Member of the National Theatre of Scotland.
Recent and upcoming projects include a return to the role of Teddy in Brian Friel's Faith Healer (for which he won a Tony award) and in the world premiere of Robert Holman's Jonah & Otto, which marks his return to the Royal Exchange.
Ian McDiarmid was born in Carnoustie, Scotland, in 1944. He became a theatre aficionado when he was five years old, when his father took him to see an act by the name of Tommy Morgan in a theatre located in Dundee. In 2001 he stated, "It sort of fascinated me, and it also scared me. All those lights, all that make-up. I said to myself, 'I don't know what this is, but I want it." However, fearing his father's disapproval, McDiarmid attended the University of St Andrews, where he received an M.A. in psychology. Soon after, he decided to pursue a career in the theatre instead, and took acting training courses at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. In 1968, McDiarmid received a gold medal for his work. This would later prove to be the first of many recognitions given to him for his work in the theatre.
He now has a highly successful career as a theatre director, and from 1990 until his retirement in 2001 was Joint Artistic Director of London's Almeida Theatre in Islington. He and his co-director Jonathan Kent revived the Almeida and persuaded many Hollywood stars including Kevin Spacey, Ralph Fiennes and Anna Friel to tread the boards in their humble theatre. They won the coveted London Evening Standard Award in 1998 for their efforts.
His directing work with the Almeida Theatre includes Scenes from an Execution with Glenda Jackson and Lulu with Joanne Whaley. McDiarmid himself portrayed many roles, including Goya in the opera work Terrible Mouth, the title role in Volpone and The Jew of Malla—which was performed at the Almeida and on tour in 1999.
Introduction to Star Wars
In 1982, he played Harry Hackamore, a Howard Hughes-type character, in the play Seduced, by Sam Shepard. This showed his ability to convincingly play, in close-up, a character much older than himself. This is what attracted the attention of George Lucas and Richard Marquand, who decided that he could play the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, which was already in production at the time.
- "She came round and said, 'I really enjoyed your performance, but I think we should call an ambulance'. That’s the best review I've had."
- ―Ian McDiarmid
On October 22nd, 2008, McDiarmid suffered a suspected heart attack while on stage performing in Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author at the Gielgud Theatre in London's West End. The actor suffered dizzy spells during the performance, but finished the show before going to the hospital.
After a week's recuperation, he returned to the show but, as with much of his personal life — little is known beyond his living alone for much of his time in London — the subject is not one he is willing to dwell on.
Many magazines and websites cited McDiarmid as a heroic actor, but he says in Times Online that he never even thought that way: "It was a big house, the pressure was on not to be crap. Very early on I thought, I really should not have eaten that sandwich so quickly, and I was irritated with myself. As the evening went on, I realised it was more than mild irritation, but I wasn’t being heroic. When I got off the stage, I said to the stage manager, ‘I think I need a doctor’, and she said, ‘my friend’s a doctor and she’s here tonight’. So then I surrendered, an ambulance arrived, took me to the hospital, and doctors examined me."
- Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace (Palpatine)
- Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (Palpatine)
- Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith (Palpatine)
- Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back (Palpatine) (post-2004 versions only)
- Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi (Palpatine)