Known to millions of Star Wars fans as the scabby and nefarious Emperor Palpatine, Scottish actor Ian McDiarmid also happens to have built a career as one of the London theatre's most acclaimed and influential figures. The co-artistic director (along with Jonathan Kent) of Islington's Almeida Theatre since 1990, McDiarmid has been, in large part, responsible for the Almeida's transformation from obscure fringe theatre to one of London's most respected playhouses. Alongside Kent, he was named by one theatre critic as one of the "capital's prime impresarios."
Born in Carnoustie, Scotland, on April 17, 1947, McDiarmid grew up in Dundee, Tayside. Although he nurtured an interest in the theatre from a young age, he put aside his stage inclinations to study social sciences at St. Andrews University. Ultimately deciding that he was not suited for a career as a clinical psychologist, McDiarmid decided to take the plunge into acting, working for a year to support his training courses at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. After completing his study, he performed with various fringe theatres throughout Scotland and England, and eventually joined the vaunted Royal Shakespeare Company.