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Feature: Star Wars – WEB EXCLUSIVE!

Ian McDiarmid

Ian McDiarmid

Film Review talks to Star Wars actor Ian McDiarmid about his role as the Emperor, the path to the Dark Side and eating cameras…

Now that the Star Wars prequels are complete do you think that this is the last time that you will play Palpatine?
I am categorically assured by George Lucas, and he’s the one who knows, that he’s dead. I know what you’re implying, there’s a television series going to be made. But that’s going to follow some of the subsidiary characters and is very much in the development stage. And the notion is that they’ll be given all the screen time, but I dare say I’ll be referred to and so will the other guys. But now the big extraordinary six-part movie is finished and that’s that.

Have you had a chance to see the Revenge of the Sith DVD or any of the deleted scenes yet?
I haven’t. I’ve seen bits and pieces. The most exciting piece so far, and there’s lots more to look at, is the Within a Minute documentary. They take a minute from the film and they show how the final conclusion is arrived at. And you see so many brilliant artists and craftsmen working on that one minute, it’s extraordinary. I defy anyone not to be fascinated.

Was there anything cut out of the film that you were looking forward to seeing?
Yes, but, you know, you surrender your performance to the film and the director directs it and edits it and that’s what making movies is all about. So you have no regrets and anyway, all the moments that I hoped George would use, he certainly has. And courageously, I think for a movie of that nature, he’s allowed the big dialogue scene between Anakin and me to have its full weight and length. I hoped he might since he wrote it. But I hoped he might also because, although it’s just two people talking, it’s packed with incident and action. But there is one scene I miss because I got an opportunity, the only opportunity in Revenge of the Sith, to act with Natalie [Portman] and I’ve acted quite closely with her in the other movies. And that scene, which was a small scene with the Senate, disappeared. (The scene is available on the Revenge of the Sith DVD.)

What is your favourite scene from all the Star Wars films that you’ve acted in?
Oh, I just described it. Unquestionably, the one with Hayden [Christensen], at the opera. Originally it was going to be set in Palpatine’s office. We used to rehearse on Saturday morning and talk about the scene, see if anybody thought that changes should be made. And before we started that Saturday, George said, ‘It’s one more scene in the office, I’m sure there’s a better way of setting this. Maybe it should be in a theatre’. Hayden and I perked up immediately. Suddenly we had a scene in an opera, so it completely transformed the whole thing. Because it meant I could, as it were, watch the play and amuse myself and at the same time look out the corner of my eye and see if the poison was having the desired effect on Anakin. So it was a fantastic bonus. It was bold of him to hang on to it and let it happen, but wise as well because it’s a very good way to tell a story – to let two actors just get on with it.

When Senator Palpatine is finally revealed as the evil Darth Sidious, you attack the role with a great deal of theatrical zeal. What inspired this approach?
I said to George, ‘Do you want the works on this?’ and he said ‘Sure, sure.’ And I said, ‘Tell me because I’ll give you less than the works if you want.’ And he said, ‘No, give me the works.’ So, I gave him the works. I said, ‘Well, you’re the boss” and by the end I practically ate the camera.

Which is your favourite line of the Emperor’s and which do you get asked to repeat the most?‘I waited a long time for this moment,’ and then the key phrase, ‘My little green friend.’ And fans will know that the word ‘friend’ I used very particularly all those years ago in Return of the Jedi as being the most ridiculous thing anybody could ever have. So that’s the supreme insult as far as Palpatine is concerned.

Did you have any qualms at all about the darker elements of the script?
None whatsoever, because I knew they were in safe hands. George was absolutely determined that people should understand this guy Anakin Skywalker and that they should see two things – that he had an impossible upbringing, a loving one from his mother, but then there’s the awful business of her death and so on. Not having a father. Having not been able to declare his marriage publicly. Being in love with a woman who in a sense replaced his mother. All of that gave him severe personal difficulties.

Yes, I believe that that is the word currently used. That was all difficult, but allied to that he had in him a seed, something that we would now describe as a desire and a lust for power. It was that seed that Palpatine helped to grow and George was very keen that people should understand that. He seems to be the hero of the movie. That’s complicated. It’s great that it’s complicated because it’s a brilliant story and once you get to the end you get the point of it. But he was absolutely adamant that people shouldn’t be confused. That the reason this guy did what he did was because of the following reasons. But it’s sort of saying in a very unpreachy way that we’ve got to watch out because these traps are everywhere. And if you go down this particular path, this is what happens. And it sure as hell doesn’t make Anakin happy.

A cautionary tale then?
Not a bad description, yes. And people will see it if they want to look for it in all of the films now. They’ll see not just a great story but there are many layers – and some people laugh when I say this – I just say, “Go and look”. It’s a rather astute analysis of the politics of power. How one thing leads to another and before you know where you are you’ve lost your freedom. And that couldn’t be more relevant, could it?

by Chris Prince

Read other exciting interviews with the stars in
Film Review (Jan)

Star Wars © LucasFilm
Feature © Visual Imagination 2005. Not for reproduction

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Film Review (Jan), see below for ordering options
Film Review (Jan)
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