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Ian McDiarmid
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Biography for
Ian McDiarmid

Date of Birth
11 August 1944, Carnoustie, Tayside, Scotland, UK

5' 10" (1.78 m)

Mini Biography

Ian McDiarmid was born in Tayside, Scotland, in 1944. He studied for an M.A. in Clinical Psychology at The University of St Andrews, but eventually found that his calling was in theatre. He went to the Royal Academy in Glasgow, where he received the prestigious gold medal for his work. 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. McDiarmid is also well known for his film and television appearances, and is perhaps most famous for his chilling performance as The Emperor in George Lucas's Star Wars films.

IMDb Mini Biography By: Mark McKeown

Trade Mark

Often uses a soft-spoken, accented voice.


Serves as Artistic Director of London's Almedia Theatre.

He was awarded the 2001 London Critics Circle Theatre Award (Drama) for Best Actor for his performance in Faith Healer at the Almeida at King's Cross.

In an odd twist of fate, he played an elderly, disfigured Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983), and then went on to play a younger version of that character, some 20 years later, in the Star Wars prequels.

Appeared with his drama school classmate Denis Lawson in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) and with Lawson's nephew, Ewan McGregor in "Karaoke" (1996) (mini), Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005).

Attended the University of St. Andrews where he pursued an M.A. in clinical psychology & the Royal Academy in Glasgow

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.

The makeup he had to wear in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) took about two hours to apply and two to take off. By the end of principal photography, the makeup artists had been able to get it on in an hour and a half.

His Star Wars character, "Senator Palpatine," is believed to have been named after the character "Senator Palantine," who appears in the film Taxi Driver (1976). In Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005), Palpatine conceals a lightsaber in his sleeve and brings the hilt into his hand when he is about to engage in a fight. As "Travis Bickle," 'Robert DeNiro' conceals his handgun likewise in Taxi Driver (1976).

Appears in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), which is a remake of Bedtime Story, which starred Marlon Brando. He also appears in Heart of Darkness (1994) (TV), which is based on the Joseph Conrad story of the same name, which was previously filmed as Apocalypse Now (1979), also with Brando.

Is the first actor in the Star Wars films to both physically play a Sith Lord, and provide the voice.

Appears in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) with Frank Oz, and then in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), which Oz directed. These films were later turned into an NPR radio broadcast and a Broadway musical, respectively. John Lithgow appeared in both.

Based his Emperor Palpatine character's unusual voice on the Japanese method of using your stomach to project yourself. The result was a strange, guttural croak that Lucas decided was perfect for the character of Palpatine. In an earlier draft of The Empire Strikes Back, the Emperor was described as having a voice that was even deeper and more terrifying than Darth Vader's.

Personal Quotes

"As an actor, you find yourself in many unusual places."

"He's terrible. Never turns up. Sends his funny little dummy that gets moved around...most unprofessional." On his co-star "Yoda" in the "Star Wars" films

"George felt that it was just and proper. When he made Empire, we hadn't met, and he didn't have a particular idea of who would play the Emperor or how the character would develop. And he had no notion that he would do the back-story - Episodes I, II, and III. So whoever played the Emperor in a mask and added to Revill's voice wouldn't seem authentic to the people who are going to watch the entire saga in the right order. It wouldn't make any sense. Since I was the Emperor [in the other Star Wars films], it felt appropriate that I should be inserted into Empire, and that's what George did." (on digitally replacing Clive Revill in the DVD release of The Empire Strikes Back)

"And then of course I thought Palpatine was a pretty good character. I like the notion that he didn't have any psychological subtlety or depth, that he was just solidly evil and the dirtiest word in his vocabulary was 'friend'. I thought that was terrific."

"That's a pattern I'm very happy with. I mean I take theater seriously and I am primarily a stage actor and every now and again a movie comes along and I'm happy to do it if the part's good."

[on his role as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine in "Star Wars"] To wear the costume to play the character I'm playing is wonderfully empowering. The colors, the textures...people keep coming up to me and saying, 'Is it rubber? Is it leather?' I don't quite know what it is. It feels reptilian, which is exactly right.

Where Are They Now

(August 2003) Appearing, as Stevens, in the BBC Radio 4's adaptation of The Remains of the Day, starring with Julia Ford, Oliver Ford Davies, Peter Sallis, Anton Lesser, Adrian Scarborough, Garrick Hagon, 'Ed Bishop', 'Tom George', 'Maggie McCarthy', 'Ben Crowe', Deborah Findlay, 'David Shaw-Parker', Becky Hindley and Tracy Wiles.

(July 2004) Currently starring in the Donmar Warehouse production, 'Henry IV', now showing at The Bristol Old Vic in Bristol, England.

(June 2006) Won a Tony for his performance as "Teddy" in the revival of Brian Friel's Faith Healer, co-starring Ralph Fiennes & 'Cherry Jones'.

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