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Feature: Star Wars Episode I: Production Notes
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[ Episode I ]

The Man of Mystery
The Exercise of Power
A Return in Episode II
Of Acting and Actors
Other Projects
Ian McDiarmid: Dark Force Rising
January 24, 2002

A Return in Episode II

How has Palpatine -- now the Supreme Chancellor -- changed between Episode I and Episode II?
Well, we're about 10 years on from Episode I, so he's had a chance to get on with it. Of course, his status has obviously gone up, because his office is better. The power has now manifested itself. His office -- through the windows, there will be lots of stuff added later on -- was a big set, a real power base.

[ Ian McDiarmid: Dark Force Rising ] The costumes, too, have got much more edge to them, I think, than the mere Senator had. So we see the trappings of power. And I'm also slightly aged. In the last film, I had a fairly standard make-up on, but now, they're starting to crinkle my face.

I'm sure it was still easier than the make-up you were under for Return of the Jedi.
Yes -- that was a four-hour job, initially, although we got it down to about two-and-a-half in the end. But this was just a little bit of latex here and there, a little bit of skin-scrunching.

The last time we spoke (Insider #37), we talked a lot about Return of the Jedi. So this time, I'm just wondering, nearly 20 years later, what sticks out most in your mind about your first Star Wars experience?
Actually, I looked at it again the other day, because I was watching the re-issue of the three videos, and I thought, "Oh God, there's such a young person underneath all that." I have nothing but happy memories, because, as you know, it just happened out of the blue. I met George and I didn't know what the part was or what I'd be required to do, because it was very secretive in those days. I just knew that he was called the Emperor, which didn't sound bad. And I was right. I also remember I liked that chair.

What can you tell us about your latest Star Wars experience on Episode II? I understand you were in the first scene shot.
Well, the script came to us quite late, but I knew I was going to be in the first scenes because of the nature of the scheduling. I wondered if it might be because I was in the first scene shot for Episode I, or if it was coincidence, but indeed I was in the first filmed scene of Episode II.

There I was, with this new but absolutely committed and fantastic Australian crew, on that first day. Of course, everyone was properly nervous. I, at least, knew what it was like to stand on a pod against blue screen because I'd done that in Leavesden [for Episode I]. But I didn't know what it was like to stand in the Supreme Chancellor's pod, because that belonged to Terence Stamp in the last movie -- so that was new.

We had a whole 12-hour day of filming, two scenes, on me, with a lot of speeches to do. So I had a bit of an opportunity to re-familiarize myself with [the character], in a highly pressured context because it was the first day, with a completely new crew. It was scary, but it was also exciting. Quite often, when the atmosphere is like that, when a lot is demanded of you, you sometimes find you have a little more in yourself than you thought you had. I hope that was true of me on the first day.

You had to rise to that occasion.
Yes -- quite literally, because I was so many feet up in the air!

What was the mood like on that first day of shooting Episode II?
Well, it was very good, but I had the supreme advantage of being familiar with the set and knowing George and Rick and most of the team. But like everyone else, I didn't know the Australian crew, and they of course didn't know George because he had not long arrived. So they didn't really know what to expect, and they were, as usual, thinking, "Oh my God, it's Star Wars," as everybody does.

But it was a great, practical day, and we got everything done that we needed to do. They work very hard -- that's the way Rick runs it and the way George likes to work, and I don't think it's a bad thing. You really do pump it out over a short period. The pressure is there all the time. But I like that -- I always work better under that kind of pressure.

It seemed like, despite the pressure, everybody on the set was very friendly.
Oh, yes. The atmosphere was great, and it was terrific being in Australia. I'd never been to Australia before. It was a big difference from being down the road in London, but Star Wars and Australia go together very well. There's something about the whole atmosphere there. The people are terrific -- they're so full of life, and they have a highly developed sense of the absurd, which always helps.

How long were you in Sydney?
I was out for a period of just under a month initially, and then I went back to do another scene a few weeks later. So I was there for about five weeks in all.

You mentioned the script coming in at the last minute for Episode II. How much time did you have with it before you started shooting?
Well, the script was very late indeed. I arrived in Sydney on a Wednesday, and I was given the script when I got off the plane. There wasn't one available before that. And then we were shooting on Monday. I thought, inevitably, it will be in the Senate, and I'll have some long speeches, and that was indeed the case.

Does it affect your acting when you don't have much time to refine your performance?
Everybody likes to get it as soon as possible so they can immerse themselves in it, but I knew the situation. I was staying in a friend's apartment who wasn't there, so I had the peace and quiet to work on it over those few days, which is what I did.



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