Ian McDiarmid

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Ian McDiarmid
McDiarmid in July 2013
Born (1944-08-11) 11 August 1944 (age 74)
Carnoustie, Scotland, UK
Alma materUniversity of St. Andrews
OccupationActor, theatre director
Years active1968–present

Ian McDiarmid (/məkˈdɜːrmɪd/; born 11 August 1944) is a Scottish character actor and director. He has appeared in 47 films since 1976. He is most famous for his role as Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars film series.[1] He has received an Olivier Award for Best Actor and a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performances.

Early life[edit]

McDiarmid was born in Carnoustie, Scotland. 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.'"[2]

However, fearing his father's disapproval, McDiarmid attended Queens College, Dundee, (now the University of Dundee, but then a constituent part of the University of St Andrews), where he received a M.A. 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.

In 1968, McDiarmid received a gold medal for his work, the first of many recognitions given to him for his work in the theatre. 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."[3]



McDiarmid is renowned for his work in British theatre, having won plaudits as an actor and director from a wide variety of sources. He has starred in a variety of Shakespeare plays, including Hamlet (1972), The Tempest (1974, 2000), Much Ado About Nothing (1976), Ross and the Porter in Trevor Nunn's 1976 Macbeth (television 1978), The Merchant of Venice (1984) and King Lear (2005). From April to June 2012, he played the title role in Timon of Athens at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.[4] He played Ivanov in Tom Stoppard's play Every Good Boy Deserves Favour at the Mermaid Theatre in 1978.

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.[5] The two men resigned in 2001 with the venue in good shape.[6] In 1998, they shared the Special Evening Standard Award for Theatrical Achievement of the Year.[citation needed] Their tenure was marked by a string of highly successful performances involving actors such as Kevin Spacey and Ralph Fiennes.[7] 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.[8] 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.[citation needed]

One theatrical performance of note is his portrayal of Harry Hackamore in Sam Shepard's play Seduced. By McDiarmid's own description, Hackamore was 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.[9]

Star Wars[edit]

After a minor part in the film Dragonslayer,[10] McDiarmid was cast by George Lucas in Return of the Jedi as Emperor Palpatine, the main villain.[11] Sixteen years after appearing in Return of the Jedi, he reprised the role as the character's younger incarnation of Senator Palpatine and Sith Lord Darth Sidious in the prequel films: The Phantom Menace,[12] Attack of the Clones,[13] and Revenge of the Sith. The prequels had him play two faces to his character; he re-created his diabolical interpretation of Palpatine from Return of the Jedi when playing Darth Sidious, the Chancellor's Sith alter ego, but created a pleasant, charming character in Palpatine's public persona.

In the 2004 re-release of The Empire Strikes Back, a brief scene between Darth Vader and a hologram of Emperor Palpatine was updated to include McDiarmid. The Emperor was originally voiced by Clive Revill for that scene, and visually portrayed by Marjorie Eaton.[14][15][16] With this addition to The Empire Strikes Back, McDiarmid has now appeared in every live-action film version in which Palpatine appears.

He has also worked with the Star Wars expanded universe as the voice of Palpatine 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. On 23–26 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 Palpatine. Ian McDiarmid also voiced a pig version of Palpatine for a promo video on Angry Birds Star Wars II, entitled "Join the Pork Side".[17]

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 for London Weekend Television. In 1990, he starred in the Inspector Morse 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.

In 2005, he portrayed Satan in the 41-part BBC Four radio drama based on John Milton's Paradise Lost, which was subsequently re-broadcast on BBC7.[18] 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.

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.

Work in theatre[edit]

Stage appearances[edit]

Stage director[edit]


Theatrical film[edit]

Year Film Role Other notes
1976 The Likely Lads Vicar
1980 Sir Henry at Rawlinson End Reg Smeeton
Richard's Things Burglar
The Awakening Dr. Richter
The Empire Strikes Back The Emperor 2004 DVD and subsequent re-releases
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 Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious
2005 Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith Supreme Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Teen Choice Awards for Choice Movie Villain
2009 The Odds Unknown Short
2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens Darth Sidious Archive audio
2016 The Lost City of Z Sir George Goldie


Year TV Series Role Number of episodes Other notes
1976 Red Letter Day Blade 1 episode
1978 Crown Court Greg Gorgon 1 episode
1979 Macbeth Ross & the Porter TV movie
The Professionals Mickey Hamilton 1 episode "The Madness of Mickey Hamilton"
1981 ITV Playhouse Fedka 1 episode
1983 The Nation's Health Doctor Vernon Davis 4 episodes
1985 Pity in History Murgatroyd
1988 The Modern World: Ten Great Writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky 1 episode
1990 Inspector Morse Hugo De Vries 1 episode "Masonic Mysteries"
1991 Chernobyl: The Final Warning Dr. Vatisenko
1993 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Professor Levi 1 episode "Paris, October 1916" (later edited into "Chapter 9: Demons of Deception")
Heart of Darkness Doctor
Selected Exits Unknown
1995 Annie: A Royal Adventure! Dr. Eli Eon
1996 Karaoke Oliver Morse 4 episodes
Cold Lazarus Oliver Morse 1 episode
Hillsborough Dr. Popper
1997 An Unsuitable Job for a Woman Ronald Callender 1 episode
Rebecca Coroner
Touching Evil Ronald Hinks 2 episodes
1999 Great Expectations Jaggers
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 TV movie
The Making of 'Charles II' Himself / Sir Edward Hyde TV documentary
2004 Spooks Prof. Fred Roberts 1 episode
2005 Our Hidden Lives B. Charles
Elizabeth I Lord Burghley 2 episodes Alongside Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons
2008 City of Vice Henry Fielding 5 episodes
2009 Margaret Denis Thatcher
2013 Words with Warwick Himself / Palpatine 1 episode "Ian McDiarmid"
2014 37 Days Sir Edward Grey
Utopia Anton/Phillip Carvel 5 episodes #2.2-#2.6
2017 Britannia King Pellenor
2018 Star Wars Rebels Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (voice) 3 episodes

Awards and nominations[edit]

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


  1. ^ Irvine, Lindesay. "In the Shadow of Evil". The Guardian.
  2. ^ Simon Hattenstone (17 December 2001). "Force for change". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 August 2006.
  3. ^ Star Wars Actors Database at Nerf-Herders-Anonymous.net; retrieved 23 August 2006.
  4. ^ "Timon of Athens", Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Retrieved 2013-06-12.
  5. ^ Matt Wolf "Theater; A New London Theater Team Is Attracting Stars", New York Times, 11 March 1990
  6. ^ Michael Billington "'Our time had come'", The Guardian, 5 September 2001
  7. ^ Fiachra Gibbons (5 September 2001). "Celebrated double act quits Almeida theatre". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2006.
  8. ^ Simi Horwitz (5 September 2001). "The Emperor's New Role". BackStage. Archived from the original on 2008-12-01. Retrieved 24 October 2006.
  9. ^ Ian McDiarmid at the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 26 August 2006.
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ Truitt, Brian (1 May 2013). "'Star Wars' Emperor recalls his first day on the job". USA Today. Gannett. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  12. ^ "Ian McDiarmid: 'I don't want anyone else to play Emperor Palpatine'". BBC News. BBC. 22 September 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Rinzler, J.W. (22 Oct 2013). The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Enhanced ed.). Ballantine Group. ISBN 9780345543363.
  15. ^ Courley, Matt. "I Was There Too". earwolf.com. Earwolf. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  16. ^ "Yoda was originally played by a monkey in a mask, and other secrets of The Empire Strikes Back". io9. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  17. ^ Join the Pork Side Facebook
  18. ^ Ed Pettit (23 November 2006). "Of Man's first disobedience". Archived from the original on 15 October 2007. Retrieved 10 February 2007.
  19. ^ "Round House and Open Space, theatre companies: Catalogue of records in the Victoria and Albert Museum: Theatre Collections", Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2013-06-12.

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