Ian McDiarmid, 77, has distinguished himself arsenic a theatrical all-rounder. He made his sanction connected signifier arsenic an histrion of incisive authorization and is internationally known arsenic Emperor Palpatine successful the Star Wars films. Between 1990 and 2002, helium ran – with Jonathan Kent – the Almeida theatre successful London with tremendous flair. He is touring a one-man show, The Lemon Table – his adaptation of a brace of acerbically comic Julian Barnes stories: 1 astir Sibelius successful aged age, the different astir a sixtysomething concert-goer with zero tolerance for coughers, chatterers and mobile-phone users.
What archetypal drew you to Julian Barnes’s stories?
I recorded The Silence for Radio 3 for an interval successful the Proms successful 2004 and thought determination was melodramatic imaginable successful it. I had a bully missive from Julian Barnes encouraging maine to deliberation astir it more. But it wasn’t until 2 years ago, pre-pandemic, that I came crossed the publication again astatine location and deed upon a 2nd story, Vigilance. The attraction was not lone that some stories person first-person narratives but that I would not person to change the words due to the fact that they’re perfect. Julian has his ain music. His words are rhythmic, precise and rotation disconnected the tongue. And the stories are comic – I thought determination mightiness beryllium a mode of combining them connected stage. I talked to Michael [Grandage, the show’s co-director with Titas Halder] and helium said: let’s spot what we tin do.
What’s your ain worst acquisition of a mobile telephone disrupting a performance?
I’ve not suffered arsenic overmuch arsenic my precocious person Richard Griffiths who, successful The History Boys, utilized to halt the enactment whenever a telephone went off. If it went disconnected a 2nd time, he’d archer that subordinate of the assemblage to leave, saying that that until they did the show would not continue. I’ve ne'er been that extreme. I besides retrieve Kevin Spacey, erstwhile helium was successful an O’Neill play astatine the Almeida, saying: “Tell them we’re busy,” earlier carrying connected seamlessly.
The Barnes stories impact a testy absorption to age. What bash you spot arsenic the astir affirmative happening astir getting older?
In aged property you cognize a bit, don’t you? Although sometimes you cognize little than you deliberation you do… I’m fortunate to person a spot successful north-east Scotland – connected the North Sea. It’s precise peaceful… the lone sounds I perceive are birds and the sea. There’s nary interruption. It’s bliss. And, fortunately, it’s not wholly isolated; radical walk with their dogs truthful I don’t consciousness wholly chopped off.
What’s the astir troublesome happening astir getting older?
As an actor, it’s the dread of losing your memory. The portion of the encephalon that learns lines is, I’m blessed to say, antithetic from the portion that thinks: “God, wherever are my keys?” But for galore actors of my generation, that portion of their encephalon ceases to function. Michael Gambon has been frank astir this: helium is an unthinkable nonaccomplishment to British theatre.
Of each the aged men you’ve played who person you astir enjoyed?
I retrieve a casting manager saying: Ian volition travel into his ain erstwhile helium is older… Playing Einstein successful Terry Johnson’s Insignificance was peculiarly enjoyable – involving an imagined narration with Marilyn Monroe. More recently, I was successful Chris Hannan’s What Shadows arsenic Enoch Powell erstwhile helium had Parkinson’s. That was absorbing to do.
Is it important to deliberation astir decease arsenic 1 gets older?
We should deliberation astir it. Death has been with maine astir of my beingness due to the fact that my parent died erstwhile I was precise young truthful I encountered decease aboriginal – I was 10 and discovered her assemblage and didn’t realise she was dead. It has ever been successful my mind. In communal with everyone else, I’ve had different tragedies. But that was the starting constituent to my reasoning astir death.
What does Emperor Palpatine successful Star Wars lend to the taxable of ageing?
As helium gets older, helium gets much destructive. In the past movie helium defied death, which was large to play… What’s fascinating is that helium ne'er went distant from those movies; his ghastly beingness ran them. I get a unusual restitution from that.
What does it instrumentality to play a villain?
I’m not definite wherefore playing villains is truthful satisfying. As a kid, I ever wanted to beryllium the baddie. We played Robin Hood and my friends said: “You tin beryllium the sheriff,” and I said: “No, I privation to beryllium King John due to the fact that helium is worse.”
There is plentifulness of irascibility successful the Barnes stories. Are you irascible?
No, though we’re each aggravated astir definite things. I privation I were little aggravated astir immoderate things.
What riles you most?
The incompetence of modern politics.
How optimistic are you astir the post-pandemic aboriginal of theatre?
It’s pugnacious astatine the moment. Theatres are doing everything they tin to guarantee people’s comfortableness and information but it’s going to instrumentality time, they person mislaid a batch of revenue.
You indispensable beryllium relieved you are nary longer moving the Almeida.
Jonathan and I are relieved yet profoundly sympathise.
What bash you similar to bash to relax?
I similar to locomotion adjacent wherever I unrecorded – the scenery is due to Star Wars with achromatic rocks that look similar the Fifth Kingdom. When I yet got my lines, I sat connected a stone to larn them and it helped.
There’s overmuch astir euphony successful the Barnes stories – what euphony bash you bask most?
A wide mixture, including Sibelius – not conscionable to plug the show. Michael [Grandage] and I person a passionateness for Shostakovich.
You and Michael Grandage are semipermanent collaborators – is that a luxury successful the theatre nowadays?
It is simply a luxury – due to the fact that you make a shorthand implicit the years. We got to cognize each different erstwhile we were some actors. We person a shared aesthetic and consciousness of humour.
And could I ask, arsenic it is applicable to Barnes’s stories, astir the worth of silence?
I americium precise bully astatine silence. I agelong for it and present I person it.
The Lemon Table plays Yvonne Arnaud theatre, Guildford, 9-13 Nov; Home, Manchester, 16-20 Nov; Malvern theatres, 23-27 Nov