Evil presents itself in many forms, and sometimes well-intended actions can twist even the greatest of heroes into the very monsters they've sworn to destroy, as seen with Anakin Skywalker's emotional fall in Revenge of the Sith, now in theaters.
Actor Ian McDiarmid recently commented on his complex character as Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious, who has an impressive talent for turning hopeful, young Jedi like Anakin into tormented souls dominated by their own fears.
"He has a black irredeemable heart," McDiarmid says of Palpatine. "There's nothing that can be said about him that's good. When we first saw Vader in the original trilogy we thought he was the heart of darkness, and nobody could be darker. But now we understand what happened to him. And one of the exciting things about seeing this movie is that you can follow Vader through Anakin's journey every step of the way even if you don't agree with the choices he's making. In partm his decisions stem from his traumatic childhood, and his impatient lust for power. And it's that which my character takes and then uses again him."
"When you're playing a character of solid blackness, that in itself is very interesting, in the sense that you have no other motivation other than the accumulation of power," McDiarmid continues. "It's not so much about not having a moral center, it's just that the only thing that mattered is increasing power."
Yet even though Palpatine represents a truly evil character, McDiarmid still attempted to seek out his human side, however faint it may have been.
"I've been trying to find a redeeming feature to Palpatine, and the only one I've got so far is that he's clearly a patron of the arts because he goes to the opera," McDiarmid laughs. "Originally, that was a scene in the office and George [Lucas] thought a change of location would be better, so he decided on the theater, and Hayden and I agreed immediately. Watching a play while talking to each other quietly in a box is a terrific additional bonus. Because you can always take your face away quite naturally and appear to be watching the play while other things are going on in your head. Hayden had hoped the play would be Hamlet, and we'd be watching a play within a play within a play."
As he prepared for a larger role in Revenge of the Sith, McDiarmid noticed comparable references in not only other films and literature, but also historical moments where the lure of extreme political domination wreaked havoc across nations.
"The interesting thing about these movies is that they refer back to lots of cinematic influences," McDiarmid explains. "When my face changes in the film, my mind went back to the early silent movie of The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney. In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin makes a Faustian pact with the devil, and I do everything I can to use him as raw material in every sense to become the best apprentice yet. So even when he's horribly savaged from the fight and it's not clear if he'll live, he's reborn as this Frankenstein monster. Sidious then realizes Vader will be an even greater asset because his humanity has been mechanized, which is exactly what happens to people when they are seduced by Fascism."