Ian McDiarmid’s double role in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace as Senator Palpatine— later revealed to be the titular phantom menace, the Sith Darth Sidious — was a surprise even to his co-stars, McDiarmid said at Star Wars Celebration Chicago during the 20th anniversary celebration of George Lucas’ first Star Wars prequel.
“[Qui-Gon Jinn actor] Liam [Neeson] didn’t know that I was playing both parts. A lot of people didn’t,” McDiarmid said.
“And then at the premiere, when we said hi again, he said ‘It was you, you bastard!’ … I didn’t know myself, I should say, until the first day. I thought they’d made a mistake, because I’m playing this senator. I don’t know who this Sidious person is at all. To this day, no one has told me that they’re the same person. I had to figure it out for myself.”
McDiarmid said in 2018 his favorite film appearance is 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, which unleashes Supreme Chancellor Palpatine as a true lightning-wielding Dark Side user, explaining “that was the big transformation movie for the character, and I had a lot to.”
The actor particularly enjoyed an ominous opera-set scene shared with the wayward Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), who is corrupted and later twisted into the tragic Darth Vader.
“I got to play that great scene — and one of the best scenes I think George has written. I know he’s often teased about his writing, but he surpassed himself in the scene at the opera,” McDiarmid said.
That scene — “When the old monster finally nails it with Anakin and gets him over to the Dark Side,” McDiarmid said — is his favorite of the saga thus far.
“The Dark Side, to him, is the essence of his being,” McDiarmid explained of the future Emperor, who somehow returns in the J.J. Abrams-directed Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
“I used to refer to it as just a solid block of evil, with nothing at all in his background except that. He came out of the womb — what a horrible thought, whose womb might that have been? — as a solid block of evil.”
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens December 20.