American Record Guide
|Chernoff, Scott. "Clive Revill: Voice of the
Emperor." Star Wars Insider May/June 2000: 60.
Clive Revill: Voice of the Emperor
by Scott Chernoff
The Force works in mysterious ways. One day, you're a working actor, and the next, you're the evil ruler of the entire galaxy -- and nothing's ever the same again. At least, that's kind of the way it worked with Clive Revill, who performed the voice of the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back.
"I'd done a film for Irvin Kershner called A Fine Madness," Revill told the Insider. "Then I got a call from Kershner, and he said, ‘Listen, I want you to come down and read something.' I didn't have anything planned that day, so I went down to the recording studio. He showed me some clips, and he said, 'Read it and get some oomph in it.' So I read the stuff through, and gave it the oomph, and they tinkered around with it -- and the result is that I get a lot of mail."
The mail comes because, while Ian McDiarmid played Emperor Palpatine in Return of The Jedi and his younger self in The Phantom Menace, Clive Revill was the first actor to portray the dark overlord -- and he oozed with oomph.
"With Kershner," Revill said, "you had to keep the reins tight -- you couldn't go overboard. It was the perfect example of the old adage 'less is more' -- the Emperor doesn't say very much. But when he finally appears, it's at a point in the saga when everyone's waiting to see him. It's the Emperor, the arch villain of all time, and when he says there's a great disturbance in the Force, I mean, that's enough oomph!"
Still, Revill is reluctant to take too much credit for the character, which in Empire is seen only as a holographic image and was portrayed on screen by an old woman wearing pale green makeup, with the eyes of a chimpanzee matted in to chilling effect.
"One's got to realize that I was barely involved," he said. "I was batting in the dark, because I hadn't read a script -- it wasn't even available. There were just these lines. I don't wish to demean it, but I did it and left, and that's it." In fact, Revill, who worked about 90 minutes, didn't even bother to see Empire when it was playing in theatres the first time. "It was just a day in the life of," he recalled.
At the time, Revill was a busy actor appearing in episodes of television shows like Columbo, Magnum P.I., Hart To Hart, Dynasty and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, as well as the movies The Little Prince and Zorro, The Gay Blade. Before that, he worked extensively on the London stage (including a stint in the Royal Shakespeare Company and as Fagan in Oliver). But the roles came fast and furious after Revill, a New Zealand native, moved from London to Los Angeles in 1977. More recent appearances include Star Trek: The Next Generation (the 1991 episode "Qpid"), Babylon 5, the 1989 sequel C.H.U.D. II -- Bud The Chud, and two of Mel Brooks' latest, Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It.
In addition to the Emperor, Revill, 71, has lent his rich voice to everything from Transformers (he was Kickback in the TV show and feature film) to Freakazoid!. He played Alfred in the pilot of Batman: The Animated Series, moving on to another part before more episodes were ordered, and even took over the voice of A New Hope's General Dodonna (originally played by the late Alex McCrindle) in the 1995 LucasArts game Star Wars: TIE Fighter Collector's CD-ROM.
But is the actor disappointed that his resumé doesn't include continuing the role of the Emperor in subsequent Star Wars films?
"No," he said, "because casting is an arcane business to say the least, and in all probability, they thought, ' Well, I suppose we could use him for Jedi, but Ian McDiarmid looks more like what we want.' So I'm left doodling around in outer space as a disembodied voice! But I've been in the business for 50 years, and I tend to take it all with a grain of salt -- otherwise you go mad."
Still, Clive Revill -- whose name contains the word evil twice -- was clearly the right choice to give voice to the first incarnation of Emperor Palpatine, and his fans won't let him forget. "I was just down at the dentist this morning," he said, "and a very nice dental assistant started talking to me about voice work. I made sure she wasn't holding anything sharp, and I asked if she remembered a picture called The Empire Strikes Back. She said, ' Of course,' and I said, ' Well, I was the voice of the Emperor.' I thought she was going to faint. She couldn't have been much more than 19 or 20. She started to palpitate."
Who wouldn't start to palpitate upon meeting the original Palpatine? Forget the Force -- this guy's got oomph.
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