Movies - TV
How 37-Year Old Ian McDiarmid Landed The Role Of Wrinkly, Old Emperor Palpatine
When Ian McDiarmid first played Emperor Palpatine in "Return of the Jedi," his face was concealed behind makeup. The reason for Palpatine's design was two-fold: his devious, wrinkled appearance made the Emperor look not quite human, and it concealed that this decrepit old man was actually being played by an actor who was 37 years old.
According to McDiarmid, he has casting director Mary Selway to thank for his most famous film role. McDiarmid explained: "[She] had seen me in a play, playing the aging, aged Howard Hughes [...] in the great Sam Shepard's play 'Seduced.' And so she said to George, 'This guy, he's relatively young, 37, who's probably going to be convincing as this old person, you know, 120.'"
Casting Palpatine so young worked out in the long run. When "The Phantom Menace" was shot in 1997, McDiarmid was now 53, the perfect age to play the middle-aged Palpatine sans makeup. McDiarmid further mentioned how Lucas pitched prequel-era Palpatine to him as two roles: the public face of a kindly politician, and Palpatine's true self, the Dark Lord of the Sith and future Emperor.