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McDiarmid, Ian Biography




biography of McDiarmid, Ian

11 August 1944, Carnoustie, Tayside, Scotland, UK
5' 10"
Ian McDiarmid was born on August 11, 1944 in Carnoustie, Tayside, Scotland. 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 (I)' (qv) revived the Almeida and persuaded many Hollywood stars including 'Kevin Spacey' (qv), 'Ralph Fiennes' (qv) and 'Anna Friel' (qv) 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 Emperor Palpatine in 'George Lucas (I)' (qv)'s Star Wars films.
Mark McKeown



-   Often uses a soft-spoken, accented voice

-   Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars films


-   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)_ (qv), 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' (qv) in _Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)_ (qv) and with Lawson's nephew, 'Ewan McGregor' (qv) in _"Karaoke" (1996)_ (qv), _Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)_ (qv), _Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002)_ (qv) and _Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)_ (qv).

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

-   In 1982, he played Harry Hackamore, a 'Howard Hughes (I)' (qv)-type character, in the play, "Seduced", by 'Sam Shepard' (qv). 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 (I)' (qv) and 'Richard Marquand' (qv), who decided that he could play the Emperor in _Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)_ (qv), which was already in production at the time.

-   The make-up he had to wear in _Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)_ (qv) took about two hours to apply and two to take off. By the end of principal photography, the make-up 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)_ (qv). In _Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)_ (qv), 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 De Niro' (qv) conceals his handgun likewise in _Taxi Driver (1976)_ (qv).

-   Appeared in _Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)_ (qv), which is a remake of _Bedtime Story (1964)_ (qv), which starred 'Marlon Brando' (qv). He also appeared in _Heart of Darkness (1993) (TV)_ (qv), which is based on the 'Joseph Conrad (I)' (qv) story of the same name, which was previously filmed as _Apocalypse Now (1979)_ (qv), 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)_ (qv) with 'Frank Oz' (qv), and then in _Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)_ (qv), which Oz directed. These films were later turned into an NPR radio broadcast and a Broadway musical, respectively. 'John Lithgow (I)' (qv) appeared in both.

-   Based his character Emperor Palpatine'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 _Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)_ (qv), the Emperor was described as having a voice that was even deeper and more terrifying than Darth Vader's.

-   Was a very good friend of 'Sebastian Shaw (I)' (qv).


-   Replaced 'Clive Revill' (qv)'s original performance as the Emperor with a recently made digital appearance in the _Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)_ (qv) DVD.

-   Read Paradise Lost by 'John Milton (II)' (qv) on BBC Radio 4, 26-30 September 2005.

-   Featured in an episode of the interview series "Hollywood Stars" about the movie _Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)_ (qv). Other actors also interviewed include: 'Natalie Portman' (qv); 'Samuel L. Jackson' (qv); 'Ewan McGregor' (qv); 'Hayden Christensen' (qv); 'George Lucas (I)' (qv); 'Rick McCallum (I)' (qv); 'Trisha Biggar' (qv); 'Bruce Spence (I)' (qv) and 'Jimmy Smits' (qv).

-   (May 2006): Played Teddy in "Faith Healer" play by Brian Friel (Booth Theatre, New York City, New York, USA).

-   (1978) He acted in Sir Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn's play, "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour," at the Mermaid Theatre in London, England with John Woodvine, John Carlisle, directed by Sir Trevor Nunn.

-   (1989) He acted in Dame Irish Murdoch's stage adaptation of her novel, "The Black Prince," at the Aldwych Theatre in London, England with Simon Williams and Sarah Badel.

-   (1990) He directed Jean Anouilh's play, "The Rehearsal," at the Garrick Theatre in London, England with Nicola Pagett, Jonathan Hyde and Jonathan Kent.

-   (1987) He acted in Frederich Schiller's play, "Don Carlos," at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England with Michael Grandage, Reece Dinsdale, Virginia Freig, Melinda McGraw, Adrian Ross-Magenty, and James Maxwell in the cast. Nicholas Hytner was director.

-   (1990) He acted in Ben Jonson's play, "Volpone," at the Almeida Theatre in London, England with Denis Lawson, Philip Locke, Cyril Shaps, Darlene Johnson, and Marc Warren in the cast. Nicholas Hytner was director.

-   (1993) He acted in Moliere's play, "The School for Wives," at the Almeida Theatre in London, England with Emma Fielding, Bernard Gallagher, Linal Haft, Carol Macredy, Damian Lewis, and Richard Addison in the cast. Jonathan Kent was director.

-   (October 1995) He directed Thomas Otway's play, "Venice Preserved," at the Almeida Theatre in London, England with John Woodvine, David Bark-Jones, Ray Fearon, Alice Krige, Alphonsia Emmanuel, Richard Mayes, Frank Moorey, and John Quayle in the cast.

-   (1997) He acted in Nikolai Gogol's play, "The Government Inspector," at the Almeida Theatre in London, England with Tom Hollander, Brian Murphy, Peter Kelly, Moray Hunter, Tom Watson, and Britan Pettifer in the cast. Jonathan Kent was director.

-   (1999) He acted in Christopher Marlowe's play, "The Jew of Malta," at the Almeida Theatre in London, England with Polly Hemingway, Poppy Miller, Robert Demeger, Rob Swinton, David Yelland, William Ryecroft, Nitzan Sharron, Angela Morant, Sidney Livingstone, and Adam Levy in the cast. Michael Grandage was director.

-   (2000 He acted in William Shakespeare's play, "The Tempest," at the Almeida Theatre in London, England with Ian McDiarmid, Ifan Meredith, Malcolm Storry, Adrian Scarborough, Roger Swaine, Anna Livia Ryan, and Aidan Gillen in the cast. Jonathan Kent was director.

-   (1975) He acted in William Shakespeare's play, "Macbeth," at the Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Aldwych Theatre in London, England with Nicol Williamson, Helen Mirren, Patricia Hayes, Frank Thornton, Gordon Jackson, Benedict Taylor, Malcolm Tierney, Matthew Guinness, Angela Phillips, Richard Griffiths, and Ron Pember in the cast. Trevor Nunn was director.

-   (1977) He acted in William Shakespeare's play, "Macbeth," in the Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England with Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, and Roger Rees in the cast. Trevor Nunn was director.

-   (1977) He acted in David Edgar's play, "Destiny," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Aldwych Theatre in London, England with Michael Pennington, Greg Hicks, John Nettles, Bob Peck, and Cherie Lunghi in the cast. Ron Daniels was director.

-   (1977) He acted in William Shakespeare's play, "Macbeth," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Royal Shakespeare Company Warehouse Theatre in London, England with Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Roger Rees, Greg Hicks, John Woodvine, Bob Peck, and Ian McDiarmid in the cast. Trevor Nunn was director.

-   (1977) He acted in Bertolt Brecht's play, "Schweyk in the Second World War," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Royal Shakespeare Company Warehouse Theatre in London, England with Nickolas Grace, Ian McDiarmid, and Michael Williams in the cast. Howard Davies was director.

-   (1977) He acted in William Shakespeare's play, "Much Ado About Nothing," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Aldwych Theatre in London, England with Donald Sinden, Judi Dench, Bob Peck, and John Woodvine in the cast. John Barton was director.

-   (1977) He acted in Bertolt Brecht's play, "The Days of the Commune," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Aldwych Theatre in London, England with Ian McKellen, Greg Hicks, Alfred Molina, Bob Peck, Nickolas Grace, Mike Gwilym, Cherie Lunghi, Paola Dionisotti, and Ruby Wax in the cast. Howard Davies was director.

-   (1977) He acted in Howard Barker's play, "That Good Between Us," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Royal Shakespeare Company Warehouse Theatre in London, England with Patrick Stewart, Alfred Molina, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Cherie Lunghi, and John Nettles in the cast. Barry Kyle was director.

-   (1978) He acted in Charles Wood's play, "Dingo," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Royal Shakespeare Company Warehouse Theatre in London, England with Greg Hicks, Richard Griffiths, and Alfred Molina in the cast. Barry Kyle was director.

-   (1984) He acted in William Shakespeare's play, "Henry V," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England with Kenneth Branagh and Patricia Routledge in the cast. Adrian Noble was director.

-   (1984) He acted in William Shakespeare's play, "The Merchant of Venice," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England with Frances Tomelty, Christopher Ravenscroft, Adam Bareham, Amanda Root, Sebastian Shaw, and Josette Simon in the cast. John Caird was director.

-   (1985) He acted in Trevor Griffiths' play, "The Party," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at The Pit Theatre in London, England with Roger Allam in the cast. Howard Davies was director.

-   (1986) He acted in Pam Gems' play, "The Danton Affair," in a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Barbican Theatre in London, England with Hilton McRae, Brian Cox, Tom Mannion, Oliver Ford Davies, Julian Curry, and Russell Boulter in the cast. Ron Daniels was director.

-   (1990) He directed Howard Barker's play, "Scenes from an Execution," at the Almeida Theatre in London, England with Glenda Jackson, Kevin McNally, Jonathan Hyde, and Jeremy Child in the cast.

-   (1972) Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, and his musical, "The ThreePenny Opera," was performed at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London, England with Vanessa Redgrave, Joe Melia, Ronald Radd, Annie Ross, Barbara Windsor, Diana Quick, Miriam Margolyes, Hermione Baddeley, Lon Satton, Arthur Mullard, and Henry Woolf in the cast. Tony Richardson was director.

-   (1983) He acted in Christopher Hampton's play, "Tales from Hollywood," in a British National Theatre production at the Olivier Theatre in London, England with Michael Gambon in the cast. Peter Gill was director.

-   (1981) He acted in Ariane Mnouchkine's play, "Mephisto," in an Oxford Playhouse Company production at the Round House Theatre in London, England with Clive Wood, Godfrey Jackman, Cleo Sylvestre, Alison Spiro, and Martyn Stanbridge in the cast. Gordon McDougall was director.

-   (1989) He acted in Iris Murdoch's play, "The Black Prince," at the Aldwych Theatre in London, England with Simon Williams, Sarah Badel, and John Fortune in the cast.


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

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

-   [on digitally replacing 'Clive Revill' (qv) in the DVD release of _Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)_ (qv)] 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 backstory - 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.

-   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.

-   I don't do the signings and public appearances. A lot of people do and make a lot of money out of them - and good luck to them. I'm not ruling it out forever, though. One day I may be really poor.


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

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


-   "Empire" (UK), June 2005, pg. 94-97, by: Ian Nathan, "The Sith - Ian McDiarmid"

-   "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" (USA), 13 May 2005, Vol. 57, Iss. 133, pg. E1+E9, by: Bob Longino, "The Emperor strikes back: Scottish actor revels in being the force behind 'darkest of the dark' character in 'Star Wars'"

-   "Starlog" (USA), May 1984, Vol. 7, Iss. 82, pg. 26-29,+67, by: Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier, "Ian McDiarmid: The Nastiest Guy in the Universe"

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Acting in movies

  1. Margaret (2009) (TV)
  2. The Odds (2009)
  3. "5 Second Movies" (2007) {Star Wars: Episode III (#1.25)}
  4. "5 Second Movies" (2007) {Star Wars: Episode VI (#1.40)}
  5. "City of Vice" (2008) {(#1.1)}
  6. "City of Vice" (2008) {(#1.2)}
  7. "City of Vice" (2008) {(#1.3)}
  8. "City of Vice" (2008) {(#1.4)}
  9. "City of Vice" (2008) {(#1.5)}
  10. The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Demons of Deception (2007) (V)
  11. Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) (VG)
  12. The 60th Annual Tony Awards (2006) (TV)
  13. "GMTV" (1993) {(2006-05-20)}
  14. 'Star Wars': Feel the Force (2005) (TV)
  15. It's All for Real: The Stunts of Episode III (2005) (V)
  16. Our Hidden Lives (2005) (TV)
  17. Star Wars: A Musical Journey (2005) (V)
  18. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
  19. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) (VG)
  20. "Elizabeth I" (2005) {(#1.1)}
  21. "Elizabeth I" (2005) {(#1.2)}
  22. "Spooks" (2002) {(#3.2)}
  23. The Making of 'Charles II' (2003) (TV)
  24. "Charles II: The Power & the Passion" (2003) {(#1.1)}
  25. "Charles II: The Power & the Passion" (2003) {(#1.2)}
  26. Crime and Punishment (2002) (TV)
  27. Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002)
  28. Sleepy Hollow: Behind the Legend (2000) (V)
  29. All the King's Men (1999) (TV)
  30. Great Expectations (1999) (TV)
  31. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
  32. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
  33. Rebecca (1997) (TV)
  34. "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman" (1997) {Sacrifice (#1.1)}
  35. "Touching Evil" (1997) {Through the Clouds: Part 1 (#1.1)}
  36. "Touching Evil" (1997) {Through the Clouds: Part 2 (#1.2)}
  37. Hillsborough (1996) (TV)
  38. "Cold Lazarus" (1996) {(#1.3)}
  39. "Karaoke" (1996) {Thursday (#1.3)}
  40. "Karaoke" (1996) {Tuesday (#1.1)}
  41. "Karaoke" (1996) {Wednesday (#1.2)}
  42. Annie: A Royal Adventure! (1995) (TV)
  43. Restoration (1995)
  44. Heart of Darkness (1993) (TV)
  45. Selected Exits (1993) (TV)
  46. "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" (1992) {Paris, October 1916 (#2.16)}
  47. Chernobyl: The Final Warning (1991) (TV)
  48. "Inspector Morse" (1987) {Masonic Mysteries (#4.4)}
  49. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
  50. "The Modern World: Ten Great Writers" (1988) {Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' (#1.3)}
  51. Refuse to Dance: The Theatre of Howard Barker (1986) (TV)
  52. "Summer Season" (1985) {Pity in History (#1.8)}
  53. Gorky Park (1983)
  54. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)
  55. "The Nation's Health" (1983) {Acute (#1.1)}
  56. "The Nation's Health" (1983) {Chronic (#1.3)}
  57. "The Nation's Health" (1983) {Collapse (#1.4)}
  58. "The Nation's Health" (1983) {Decline (#1.2)}
  59. Dragonslayer (1981)
  60. "ITV Playhouse" (1967) {Last Night Another Dissident... (#13.6)}
  61. Richard's Things (1980)
  62. Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (1980)
  63. The Awakening (1980)
  64. A Performance of Macbeth (1979) (TV)
  65. "The Professionals" (1977) {The Madness of Mickey Hamilton (#3.5)}
  66. The Likely Lads (1976)
  67. "Red Letter Day" (1976) {Amazing Stories (#1.4)}

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