Star Wars’ Ian McDiarmid on taking Palpatine to Celebration

Star Wars’ Ian McDiarmid on Celebration Europe and the appeal of the evil Emperor

4,452 views comments
Ian McDiarmid played Palpatine and Darth Sidious in Episodes I-III and V
Ian McDiarmid played Palpatine and Darth Sidious in Episodes I-III and V

Ian McDiarmid, the sinister and seductive tones behind Emperor Palpatine, Senator Palpatine and Darth Sidious across Star Wars: Episode V – Return Of The Jedi and the prequel trilogy, has been added to the line-up of this year’s Star Wars Celebration Europe!

McDiarmid joins fan-favourite ewok Warwick Davis and Clone Wars supervising director Dave FIloni as the first clutch of guests at the epic, fan-favourite celebration held 26-28 July at Messe Essen in Germany.

Speaking exclusively to SciFiNow, McDiarmid talks about incredible event, swashbuckling with Samuel L Jackson, and the enduring legacy of the Star Wars saga…

Are you looking forward to Celebration?

Yes I certainly am, great event. I’ve been to a couple before, the London one I was there to introduce the showing of the film outside to help raise money for this cinema that went round hospitals, and then last year I was in Florida for the really big one. Which was great, the fans love it, everybody loves it. It’s a great big family celebration.

Does it still take you by surprise how invested the fans are in your character?

Yeah, I’m always surprised by that but, you know, on the other hand, you know, it’s the greatest franchise of all time and will continue to be so. So I suppose that element is not a surprise but, yes, I’m always fascinated by how much they’re fascinated by the Dark Side of the movie, not just Vader, but the impossible evil Emperor.

The Force of fans. Costumed Star Wars fans gather under the Celebration Death Star.
The Force of fans. Costumed Star Wars fans gather under the Celebration Death Star.

Your relationship to the character, it can’t really compare to anything else in terms of being in Return Of The Jedi and coming back and getting to be more physical and have a wider variety of scenes. Was it a huge gift to be able to come back for Episode 1?

Yes. Well, it was a series of gifts really; a series of presents right from the word go. Because I had no idea that something like this would happen to me and also having been a relatively young person in his 30s playing a very old person, I don’t know how old he is in Jedi, probably about 120 or something like that, and then when George decided to go back in time and tell Vader’s story, I, as an actor, was the appropriate age when he resumed to play the ‘friendly’ face of the character, Senator Palpatine.

So that was just luck. Likely George could have done all sorts of things, changed people and all sorts of people could have been cast, but because I’d put my mark on it early on and because I was physically right for Senator Palpatine, the journey contiuned. But it was fascinating because I knew none of that at the time and he didn’t know much about it either so it was like discovering a character but backwards rather than forwards. And that made it unique.

What was it like filming the action scenes?

Well, I didn’t have a great deal of physical action to do, of course in the movie. It looks like I’m an expert swordsman, which I assure you I’m not, but I was surrounded by them, particularly Hayden [Christensen, Anakin Skywalker] and Ewan [McGregor, Obi-Wan Kenobi], who really, really worked hard and I don’t know whether they keep it up, but they are as good as it gets in terms of sabre fighting. I joked to them that they should go on the road when we were selling the movie and so and do a few demonstrations, just to show how skillful they were, because what happens in digital movies and the way things are cut up and edited, you never really see how brilliant they are, and also you can think “Oh well (as they did in my case), they can always fake it.”

Because I had the great good fortune to have a brilliant stunt double, he was called Michael Byrne, who did all the really serious work. I had to learn the moves, so that they could cut away and the close-ups looked convincing and so on, but all the skill really was Michael’s and not mine. And indeed in that fight Sam Jackson, who was also very good and worked very hard, and was very, very patient with me. The day we did that fight I also had to do the scene at the opera so it was a very, very busy day.

And it’s all extraordinary when you’re doing these movies, you think “My god, this doesn’t come out for two years! Maybe we can do it tomorrow!” But no, the pressure is always to get as much done as you can, for financial reasons, in the course of the period that you’re there. But that also made it kind of exciting, really, because you don’t have too much time to stop, to think and work out the detail. And so you’re pushed back on your instincts and as an actor I always really like that because I think, with any luck, that’s where the best acting can come from.

Artoo Palooza. Star Wars magic at Celebrations often comes created by the fans. Pictured are just a few of the home-built droids made by the R2-D2 Builders group.
Artoo Palooza. Star Wars magic at Celebrations often comes created by the fans. Pictured are just a few of the home-built droids made by the R2-D2 Builders group.

Is it fascinating for you that Star Wars feels like it’s a constant living thing in that people are constantly rediscovering and discovering it?

Yes, well events like Celebration sort of keep it alive but the thing is that it’s completely alive anyway. They just enable people to come together and to celebrate what they all like about it. But it is interesting the way it has continued to be popular with really young kids.

I mean George always said when we were doing the prequels, he said “Well, as with the previous films, the target audience…” that’s probably not an expression that he would use, but that’s what he meant, “…is 8-year olds. In other words, “These are the people that I’m aiming this film at. Anybody else, I hope will have a good time, but these are the people.” So I thought that then, the sophisticated 8-year-olds who are around today, would then think that Star Wars is a little old fashioned, because it’s been going for a while, even though it’s always been re-inventing itself. Not a bit of it.

And I’m usually approached by mums and dads of 4-year olds now who’ve been watching the movies, who are completely fascinated by them. And they won’t leave their television screens until they’ve seen the whole lot. So it continues to grip, and it continues to grip kids. And even though, we all know with the prequels some of the adults who’d seen the early films were a bit disappointed, that’s not true of succeeding generations, which sort of means that these films are really going to go on forever, and that’s extraordinary, I think, and great.

Find out more about Star Wars Celebration Europe at StarWarsCelebration.eu. All Celebration pics © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Jenny Elwick. 

Tags: