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Ian McDiarmid

McDiarmid at 2007 Celebration Europe.
Born 11 August 1944 (1944-08-11) (age 65)
CarnoustieAngus, Scotland
Occupation theatre actor, director
Years active 1973-present

Ian McDiarmid (pronounced /ˌmək.ˈdɜrˌmɨd/; born 11 August 1944) is a Scottish-born Tony Award-winning theatre actor and director, who has also made sporadic appearances on film and television. He has had a successful career in theatre; he has been cast in many plays, while occasionally directing others.

Although McDiarmid has appeared mostly in theatrical productions, he has also accepted roles in theatrical films and TV movies. Worldwide, he is most famous for his role as Palpatine in both the original and prequel Star Wars trilogies.


Early life

McDiarmid was born in Carnoustie. He became a theatre aficionado when he was five years old, when his father took him to see an act by the name of Tommy Morgan in a theatre located in Dundee. In 2001 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.'"[1] However, fearing his father's disapproval, McDiarmid attended the University of St Andrews, where he received an 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. This would later prove to be 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."[2]


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 Shakespearean plays, including Hamlet (1972), The Tempest (1974, 2000), Much Ado About Nothing (1976), The Merchant of Venice (1984), and King Lear (2005). While at the Almeida, he directed plays such as Venice Preserv'd (1986) and Hippolytus (1991).[3]

He also played the part of Ivanov in Tom Stoppard's play Every Good Boy Deserves Favour at the Mermaid Theatre in 1978.

In 2001, McDiarmid won Almeida Theatre's Critics 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.[4] 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.[5] He has appeared most recently in the title role of John Gabriel Borkman, running at the Donmar Theatre in London.

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.[6]

From 1990 until 2001, McDiarmid and Jonathan Kent served as the artistic directors of the Almeida Theatre, located in Islington, London. In 1998 they shared the Special Evening Standard Award for Theatrical Achievement of the Year.[5] Their tenure was marked by a string of highly successful performances involving actors such as Kevin Spacey and Ralph Fiennes.[7]

Star Wars

Though McDiarmid believes himself to be first and foremost a stage actor, he is happy to work in a film for the right part.[6] After a minor part in the film Dragonslayer, McDiarmid was cast by George Lucas in Return of the Jedi as Emperor Palpatine, the principal villain. Sixteen years after appearing in Return of the Jedi, he reprised the role as a younger Senator and Chancellor in the Star Wars prequel films. He attributes the opportunity to reprise his role to having been much younger than his character the first time he played the part.

Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine in The Phantom Menace

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 an attractive, pleasant, and seductive character in Palpatine's public persona. While he had previously achieved little recognition for this role, due to the extensive prosthetics used for the character which made him unrecognizable, he received widespread attention and critical acclaim for his expanded role in the prequels.[5]

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 have him depicted by McDiarmid (the Emperor was originally voiced by Clive Revill for that scene, and visually depicted by superimposing the eyes of a chimpanzee on the face of an old woman).[8] With this addition to The Empire Strikes Back, McDiarmid has now appeared in every film version in which Palpatine appears.

TV and radio

McDiarmid took an early role as Mickey Hamilton, a killer intent on avenging the death of his wife and child in The Professionals for Granada. He played the role of police detective Porfiry Petrovich in the BBC's 2002 TV adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, also starring in an episode of Inspector Morse several years earlier, as psychopathic conman Hugo DeVries. 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 the part of Satan in the 41 part BBC Four radio drama based on John Milton's Paradise Lost, which was subsequently re-broadcast on BBC7.[9] 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 dramatisation of John LeCarre's The Looking Glass War‎.

Work in Theatre


Stage Appearances

Stage Director


Theatrical film

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
1981 Dragonslayer Brother Jacobus
1983 Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious
Gorky Park Prof. Andreev
1988 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Arthur
1995 Restoration Ambrose
1999 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Senator/Supreme Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious
Sleepy Hollow Dr. Thomas Lancaster
2002 Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones Supreme Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious
2004/1980 Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious DVD
2005 Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Supreme Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious Nominated - Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Teen Choice Awards for Choice Movie Bad Guy
2009 The Odds unknown (Short)


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
The Professionals Mickey Hamilton 1 episode
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
1991 Chernobyl: The Final Warning Dr. Vatisenko
1993 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Prof. Levi 1 episode
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
1999 Great Expectations Jaggers
All the King's Men Rev. Pierrepoint Edwards
2002 Crime & Punishment Porfiry Petrovich
2003 Charles II: The Power and The Passion Sir Edward Hyde
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 Dennis Thatcher

Video games

Year Video Game Role Other notes
1993 Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (voice)
1994 Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (voice)

Awards and nominations

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 Awards 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. ^ Simon Hattenstone (2001-12-17). "Force for change". The Guardian. Retrieved 2006-08-27.  
  2. ^ Star Wars Actors Database at; last accessed 23 August 2006.
  3. ^ Ian McDiarmid's stage credits at; last accessed 27 November 2006.
  4. ^ Simi Horwitz (2001-09-05). "The Emperor's New Role". BackStage. Retrieved 2006-10-24.  
  5. ^ a b c Ian McDiarmid at; last accessed 23 October 2006.
  6. ^ a b Ian McDiarmid at the Internet Movie Database; last accessed 26 August 2006.
  7. ^ Fiachra Gibbons (2001-09-05). "Celebrated double act quits Almeida theatre". The Guardian. Retrieved 2006-10-23.  
  8. ^ Palpatine, at the Star Wars Databank; last accessed 22 October 2006.
  9. ^ Ed Pettit (2006-11-23). "Of Man's first disobedience". Retrieved 2007-02-10.  

External links


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