Ian McDiarmid

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Ian McDiarmid
McDiarmid at the 2020 Brussels Comic Con
Born (1944-08-11) 11 August 1944 (age 79)
Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland
Alma mater
  • Actor
  • director
Years active1972–present
Known forPalpatine in Star Wars

Ian McDiarmid (/məkˈdɜːrmɪd/; born 11 August 1944) is a Scottish actor and director of stage and screen. Making his stage debut in Hamlet in 1972, McDiarmid joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1974, and has since starred in a number of Shakespeare's plays. He has received an Olivier Award for Best Actor for Insignificance (1982) and a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Faith Healer (2006).

He gained prominence for portraying Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious in the Star Wars franchise starting from Return of the Jedi (1983).[1] He also acted in Gorky Park (1983), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), Restoration (1995), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and The Lost City of Z (2016).

Early life[edit]

McDiarmid was born in Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland, on 11 August 1944.[2] He became a theatre aficionado when he was five years old, when his father took him to see an act named Tommy Morgan at a theatre in Dundee. In 2004, he stated, "It sort of fascinated me, and it also scared me. All those lights, all that make-up. I said to myself, 'I don't know what this is, but I want it.'"[3]

However, fearing his father's disapproval, McDiarmid attended Queen's College, Dundee (now the University of Dundee, but then a constituent part of the University of St Andrews), where he received a Master of Arts in psychology. Soon after, he decided to pursue a career in the theatre instead, and took acting training courses at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.[4]

In 1968, McDiarmid received a gold medal for his work from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, the first of many recognitions given to him for his work in the theatre.[5] McDiarmid claimed he became its recipient "by doing all the boring jobs you have to do when you are young, to eke out an existence."[6]



McDiarmid has worked as an actor and director in British theatre. He has starred in several Shakespeare plays, including Hamlet (1972), The Tempest (1974, 2000), Much Ado About Nothing (1976), Trevor Nunn's 1976 Macbeth (television 1978), The Merchant of Venice (1984), and King Lear (2005). He played Ivanov in Tom Stoppard's play Every Good Boy Deserves Favour at the Mermaid Theatre in 1978.[7]

From 1990, McDiarmid and Jonathan Kent served as the artistic directors of the Almeida Theatre in Islington, London, gaining the commitment of prominent actresses such as Glenda Jackson and Claire Bloom for their productions.[8] The two men resigned in 2001 with the venue in good shape.[9] Their tenure was marked by a string of highly successful performances involving actors such as Kevin Spacey and Ralph Fiennes.[10] While connected with the Almeida, McDiarmid directed plays such as Venice Preserv'd (1986) and Hippolytus (1991). In 2002, McDiarmid won Almeida Theatre's Critic's Circle Award for Best Actor for his role as Teddy in a revival of Brian Friel's Faith Healer. Five years later in 2006, he reprised this role in his debut on Broadway.[11] Directed by Kent, he performed alongside Ralph Fiennes and Cherry Jones, and won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play.[12] From April to June 2012, he played the title role in Timon of Athens at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.[13]

He portrayed Harry Hackamore in Sam Shepard's play Seduced. McDiarmid described Hackamore as a Howard Hughes-type character. To play the part, he was made up in prosthetics, including a false beard and long fingernails. McDiarmid was only 37 at the time, and this convinced George Lucas and Richard Marquand that he could convincingly play a much older character in extreme cinematic close-up, which helped him land the role of Palpatine.[14]

Star Wars[edit]

McDiarmid's robes from Return of the Jedi (1983) on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts

After a minor part in the film Dragonslayer (1981),[15] McDiarmid was cast by George Lucas in Return of the Jedi (1983) as the Emperor, the film's villain.[16] CNN named McDiarmid fourth in their top 10 British villains, stating it was his "darkly seductive voice" that "stole the show", and it was a "masterclass in ruling through fear and manipulation."[17] Sixteen years after Return of the Jedi, he reprised the role as the character's younger incarnation of Senator (and later Chancellor) Palpatine and Sith Lord Darth Sidious in the prequel films: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.[18][19] The prequels had him play two faces to his character; he re-created his diabolical interpretation of the Emperor from Return of the Jedi when playing Darth Sidious, the Chancellor's Sith alter ego, but created a pleasant, charming character in Sidious's public persona. McDiarmid returned to the role of Palpatine on screen for the first time since Revenge of the Sith in the 2019 film The Rise of Skywalker, the third film in the sequel trilogy, and the ninth and final episode in the Skywalker saga.[20]

In the 2004 re-release of The Empire Strikes Back, a brief scene between Darth Vader and a hologram of Darth Sidious was updated to include McDiarmid. The Emperor was originally voiced by Clive Revill for that scene, and visually portrayed by Marjorie Eaton.[21][22][23] With this addition to The Empire Strikes Back, McDiarmid has now appeared in every live-action film version in which Sidious appears.

He has also worked with the Star Wars expanded universe as the voice of Darth Sidious in the video game adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi: Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. McDiarmid made a small appearance during Celebration Europe. From 23 to 26 August 2012, he attended Celebration VI in Orlando, Florida, and had his own show titled The Phantom Menace: Ian McDiarmid, hosted by James Arnold Taylor, in which he talked about his experience working on Star Wars and how he landed the role of Sidious. McDiarmid also voiced a pig version of Sidious for a promo video on Angry Birds Star Wars II, entitled "Join the Pork Side".[24] McDiarmid appeared as Darth Sidious in the 2022 TV series Obi-Wan Kenobi, using new scenes and archive material from the prequel trilogy. He also voiced Palpatine/Darth Sidious in Star Wars: The Bad Batch.[25]

Television and radio[edit]

McDiarmid took an early role as Mickey Hamilton, a killer intent on avenging the death of his wife and child in The Professionals (Season 2, Episode 13) for London Weekend Television. In 1990, he starred in the Central Independent Television series Inspector Morse's episode "Masonic Mysteries" as the psychopathic con man Hugo DeVries. In 1997, McDiarmid played the villain, Ronald Hinks, in the Touching Evil two-part episode "Through the Clouds/The Lost Boys". He played the role of police detective Porfiry Petrovich in the BBC's 2002 adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. In 2003, McDiarmid took the role of the Stuart statesman Edward Hyde, in the BBC series Charles II: The Power and The Passion.[26]

In 2005, he portrayed Satan in the 41-part BBC Radio 4 drama based on John Milton's Paradise Lost, which was subsequently re-broadcast on BBC 7.[27] Recently, he played the writer and pioneer of policing, Henry Fielding, in the Channel 4 historical drama series City of Vice and Denis Thatcher in 2009's Margaret.[28]

McDiarmid played intelligence chief LeClerc in a 2009 BBC Radio dramatization of John le Carré's The Looking Glass War. In 2014, he played a leading role as British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey in the BBC television drama 37 Days, which is about the diplomatic crisis preceding the First World War. He also had a recurring role on series 2 of Utopia, playing the role of Anton. In September 2016, McDiarmid starred in the audio podcast drama series Akiha Den Den. He played Cuttings, a ham radio buff who picks up a mysterious voice (Joy McAvoy) coming from an abandoned amusement park[29] and Prospero in a BBC Radio 3 "new, environmentally-inflected production of The Tempest to coincide with COP26 in Glasgow", 7 Nov. 2021.[30]

Work in theatre[edit]

Stage appearances[edit]

Stage director[edit]



Year Title Role Notes
1976 The Likely Lads Vicar
1980 Sir Henry at Rawlinson End Reg Smeeton
Richard's Things Burglar
The Awakening Dr. Richter
1981 Dragonslayer Brother Jacobus
1983 Return of the Jedi The Emperor
Gorky Park Professor Andreev
1988 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Arthur
1995 Restoration Ambrose
1999 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Senator Palpatine / Darth Sidious
Sleepy Hollow Dr. Thomas Lancaster
2002 Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones Supreme Chancellor Palpatine / Darth Sidious
2004 Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back DVD Special Edition The Emperor DVD re-release; replacing portrayal by Marjorie Eaton (visual) Clive Revill (voice) in original 1980 film.
2005 Star Wars: A Musical Journey Host Musical anthology for DVD
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith Supreme Chancellor Palpatine / Darth Sidious Nominated — Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated — Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Villain
2009 The Odds Gambler Short film
2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious (voice) Archive recording
2016 The Lost City of Z Sir George Goldie
2019 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious Nominated — Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor


Year Title Role Notes
1976 Red Letter Day Blade Episode: "Amazing Stories"
1979 Macbeth Ross / The Porter Television film
The Professionals Mickey Hamilton Episode: "The Madness of Mickey Hamilton"
1981 ITV Playhouse Fedka Episode: "Last Night Another Dissident..."
1983 The Nation's Health Doctor Vernon Davis 4 episodes
1985 Pity in History Murgatroyd Television film
1988 The Modern World: Ten Great Writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky Episode: "Crime and Punishment"
1990 Inspector Morse Hugo De Vries Episode: "Masonic Mysteries"
1991 Chernobyl: The Final Warning Dr. Vatisenko Television film
1993 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Professor Levi Episode: "Paris, October 1916"
Heart of Darkness Doctor Television film
Selected Exits George Devine
1995 Annie: A Royal Adventure! Dr. Eli Eon
1996 Karaoke Oliver Morse 4 episodes
Cold Lazarus Oliver Morse Episode #1.3
Hillsborough Dr. Popper Television film
1997 An Unsuitable Job for a Woman Ronald Callender Episode: "Sacrifice"
Rebecca Coroner Episode #1.2
Touching Evil Ronald Hinks 2 episodes
1999 Great Expectations Jaggers Television film
All the King's Men Rev. Pierrepoint Edwards
2002 Crime and Punishment Porfiry Petrovich
2003 Charles II: The Power and The Passion Sir Edward Hyde
2004 Spooks Prof. Fred Roberts Episode #3.2
2005 Our Hidden Lives B. Charles Television film
Elizabeth I Lord Burghley 2 episodes
2008 City of Vice Henry Fielding 5 episodes
2009 Margaret Denis Thatcher Television film
2014 37 Days Sir Edward Grey 3 episodes
Utopia Anton / Phillip Carvel 5 episodes
2018 Britannia King Pellenor 9 episodes
Star Wars Rebels Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious (voice) 3 episodes; earlier (2015) in episode "The Siege of Lothal" voiced by Sam Witwer
Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious (voice) Episode: "Luke vs. Emperor Palpatine - Rise to Evil" (archive recording only)
2020 Star Wars: The Clone Wars Darth Sidious (voice) Episode: "Shattered" (archive recording only)
2021—2024 Star Wars: The Bad Batch Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious (voice) 2 episodes
(Also archive recording only in episode: "Aftermath")
2022 Obi-Wan Kenobi Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious Episode: "Part VI"
Episode: "Рart I" (archive material only)
2022 Tales of the Jedi Darth Sidious (voice) Episode: "The Sith Lord"

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Work Result
1968 Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama Gold Medal Won
1982 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a New Play Insignificance Won
1985 Time Out Comedy Awards for Directing Scenes from an Execution Won
1990 Time Out Comedy Awards for Directing Volpone Won
1991 Observer Awards for Outstanding Achievement for Ten Years of Presenting Irish Drama (nominated) Volpone, The Rehearsal, and Betrayal Field Won
1995 Manchester Evening News Award for Best Actor Hated Nightfall Won
1998 Special Evening Standard Award for Theatrical Achievement of the Year (shared with Jonathan Kent) Won
2001 Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Theatre Actor Faith Healer Won
2002 Clarence Derwent Award for Best Supporting Actor Faith Healer Won
2004 Manchester Evening News Award for Best Actor Henry IV Won
2004 Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best Actor Henry IV Won
2005 Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best Actor King Lear Won
2005 Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith Nominated
2005 Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Villain Nominated
2006 Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance Faith Healer Nominated
2006 Outer Critics' Circle Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play Nominated
2006 Theatre World Award for Outstanding Debut Performance Won
2006 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play Won
2021 Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Nominated


  1. ^ Irvine, Lindesay (7 November 2005). "In the Shadow of Evil". The Guardian.
  2. ^ "Ian McDiarmid – Oxford Reference". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 28 April 2022.
  3. ^ Simon Hattenstone (17 December 2001). "Force for change". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 August 2006.
  4. ^ Hickling, Alfred (11 March 2008). "The comfort of strangeness". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Ian McDiarmid, 1947 –". Scottish Places.info. The Gazetteer for Scotland. 2021. Retrieved 28 January 2022.
  6. ^ Star Wars Actors Database at Nerf-Herders-Anonymous.net; retrieved 23 August 2006.
  7. ^ Gussow, Mel (6 August 1978). "Uncommon New Plays By Tom Stoppard And David Rudkin". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  8. ^ Matt Wolf "Theater; A New London Theater Team Is Attracting Stars", The New York Times, 11 March 1990
  9. ^ Michael Billington "'Our time had come'", The Guardian, 5 September 2001
  10. ^ Fiachra Gibbons (5 September 2001). "Celebrated double act quits Almeida theatre". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2006.
  11. ^ Simi Horwitz (5 September 2001). "The Emperor's New Role". BackStage. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008. Retrieved 24 October 2006.
  12. ^ Horwitz, Simi (29 May 2006). "The Emperor's New Role". Backstage.
  13. ^ "Timon of Athens". Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
  14. ^ "Ian McDiarmid". IMDb.
  15. ^ "INTERVIEW: Star Wars Emperor Ian McDiarmid trades his lightsaber in and treads the boards in Chichester". Chichester Observer. Johnston Publishing. 21 August 2008. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  16. ^ Truitt, Brian (1 May 2013). "'Star Wars' Emperor recalls his first day on the job". USA Today. Gannett. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  17. ^ "The Screening Room's Top 10 British Villains" Archived 24 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine, CNN. Retrieved 7 October 2020.
  18. ^ "Ian McDiarmid: 'I don't want anyone else to play Emperor Palpatine'". BBC News. BBC. 22 September 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  19. ^ Harrop, Joanne Klimovich (23 January 2018). "Star Wars' evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) to reign over Steel City Comic Con in April". TribLive. Trib Total Media, LLC. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  20. ^ Schoellkopf, Christina (17 December 2019). "Emperor Palpatine actor was done with Star Wars. Then J.J. Abrams called". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  21. ^ Rinzler, J.W. (22 October 2013). The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Enhanced ed.). Ballantine Group. ISBN 9780345543363.
  22. ^ Courley, Matt. "I Was There Too". earwolf.com. Earwolf. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  23. ^ "Yoda was originally played by a monkey in a mask, and other secrets of The Empire Strikes Back". io9. 10 October 2010. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  24. ^ "Join the Pork Side". Facebook.
  25. ^ Freitag, Lee (4 January 2023). "The Bad Batch: What Critics Are Saying About Season 2". CBR. Archived from the original on 17 January 2023. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
  26. ^ "Charles II – The Pride and the Passion". BBC. 8 January 2004. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  27. ^ Ed Pettit (23 November 2006). "Of Man's first disobedience". Archived from the original on 15 October 2007. Retrieved 10 February 2007.
  28. ^ "Margaret – Ian McDiarmid plays Denis Thatcher". BBC. 29 January 2009. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  29. ^ Drysdale, Neil (13 September 2016). "Star Wars actor returns to his north-east roots to take on local drama". The Press and Journal. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  30. ^ "Drama on 3 – the Tempest – BBC Sounds".
  31. ^ "Round House and Open Space, theatre companies: Catalogue of records in the Victoria and Albert Museum: Theatre Collections", Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  32. ^ Milnes, Rodney. The King Goes Forth to France (Royal Opera at Covent Garden, 1 April). Opera, May 1987, Vol.38 No.5 p. 575-580.

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