I was too young to remember many details about seeing Return of the Jedi for the first time, but I distinctly remember being mentally terrified of the Emperor. Not the full-fledged physical fear I had for Freddy Kreuger or Norman Bates, because sci-fi wasn’t at all real to me. But it was in thinking that the biggest, baddest, heaviest-breathing motherfucker in the universe, Darth Vader, actually had someone above him calling the shots. Add to that a face whose wrinkles added up like jelly beans in a jar, and the character was forever memorable to me. Twenty-seven years later, Lucas doesn’t even have to do anything to sort of ruin it for me.
Ian McDiarmid appeared at the New York Comic Con this year and gave fans their nerdbucks’ worth in a panel full of whimsical tales. The one in particular that floated to the top of the pile was his story about how he actually got the job playing the Emperor. It’s all in the nose, see.
The whole story, found here, tells the tale of how Lucas & Co., interested in McDiarmid for his stage performance of Howard Hughes, only saw him because the original, much older actor couldn’t wear the yellow contact lenses we’ve become so familiar with. After being called down to meet Lucas and director Richard Marquand, McDiarmid says they spoke about a few things and the conversation ended without instilling much hope in him. As he got to the door, George called out to him, “Hey! Great nose!” He gets back home later to answer a phone call that says he got the job.
Now, I know George Lucas didn’t really hire the man based solely on his nasal proportions, but it seems like just the kind of short-sighted decision that could have ruined an iconic character. (cough) Hayden Christensen. (cough)