Friday , April 12 2024
Ian McDiarmid at GalaxyCon Richmond (Credit: Pat Cuadros)

GalaxyCon Richmond: Ian McDiarmid on ‘Star Wars’

When Ian McDiarmid was cast in The Empire Strikes Back, he didn’t know how popular Emperor Palpatine would become in the Star Wars franchise. “It’s been a very important part of my life, but I always thought it’d be a character people would hate,” he said at GalaxyCon Richmond.

McDiarmid also portrayed Senator Palpatine and Darth Sidious in the prequels. He’s recognized by fans when he’s out and about. “Every now and again, especially in America, people would stop me in the street and say, ‘We love you.’ So I would say, ‘Well, I’ve totally failed but thank you.'”

From what he’s seen online so far, he finds the memes amusing and creative. “I like something, something dark side. I think that’s quite witty. Of course, I have to discount the rumor entirely that if you come to the dark side, you get cookies. You get sweat, blood and a lot of hard work!”

On Making the ‘Star Wars’ Films and TV Shows

While making the prequels, director George Lucas didn’t tell McDiarmid right away that Palpatine would turn out to be Darth Sidious. “[George] said there was this other character lurking in the background, who worked his evil ways and you’ll come into the movie every now and again. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s the part I’d like to play.'”

McDiarmid enjoyed filming the prequels and working with Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson and the late Christopher Lee. He did the closeups for fight scenes, while a stuntman handled most of the fight choreography. McDiarmid confessed that he “wasn’t quite as good as Sam. I was terrible. I hit him, accidentally of course.”

He also returned in the newer Star Wars installments, including The Rise of Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. For the latter, he recalled filming during COVID across time zones. “The director had to get up at 6am to talk to me on a big screen in London and take me through [it]. But it was an interesting scene and it was nice to be in touch with Anakin once again, if only by hologram.”

Photo of Ian McDiarmid speaking onstage
Ian McDiarmid at GalaxyCon Richmond (Credit: Pat Cuadros)

Coming back for multiple Star Wars projects allowed McDiarmid to fully explore his character. He considered it a bonus in The Rise of Skywalker to “find out that all of the evil acts created throughout the Star Wars saga were either directly or indirectly brought about by my character. I thought that’s great. I am the most evil thing that’s ever stalked the Earth in a movie!”

On Theater

Outside of film and television, McDiarmid loves performing in front of live audiences. He fondly looks back at working with Ralph Fiennes and Ingrid Craigie in a Broadway production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer. The play offered an interesting look at a relationship told from different perspectives. “They believe what they’re saying, but when you recall the past, often you elaborate on it. You remember the good times and dismiss the bad times, or remember the bad times and forget the good times.”

He’s looking forward to his next role, as Davies in a revival of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, at the Chichester Festival Theatre in July. “He’s an old tramp character I play. He’s got a few laughs in it, too, and he’s wily and sort of understandable in a way.” 

McDiarmid, who garnered early praise for his Shakespearean roles, is eying one of the Bard’s most famous plays. “The one I hope I can get to after [The Caretaker] is King Lear, because I’m the right age.”

Visit the GalaxyCon Richmond website for more information.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

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