Clive Reville — the Real Emperor Palpatine

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What more can be said about THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK that has not already been said? Well, if you can forgive a misquote, “I can imagine quite a bit.” One such “bit” is that in the STAR WARS Trilogy there were actually two different emperors. We are all familiar with the sinister antagonist portrayed by Ian McDermott in THE RETURN OF THE JEDI, but who was that pesky Emperor we first met? The answer lies in not one but with two men. The on-screen Emperor and the menacing “voice” portrayed by non-other than that well-respected actor, Clive Reville.

Reville has guest-starred in many television productions, from REMINGTON STEEL to MURDER SHE WROTE. He has been in many, many feature films and even sang in RUMPELSILTSKIN where he co-starred with Amy Irving and Billy Barty. How he got the “role” of the Emperor is a short and sweet story.

“Irving Kirsner is an old friend of mine,” says Reville. “We go back to the sixties when I did a picture over at Warner Brothers called A FINE MADDNESS. He asked me to come down to a recording studio. He said, ‘I’ve got a couple of things that I’d like you have a look at.’ (the one that I was rather interested in was this marvelous character called Jabba the Hut.) Then he said, ‘look, there’s a Voice of the Emperor…. It doesn’t have a lot in it…. {I said,} well, let me have a think about it. {Reville is referring to how he should approach the character.} ‘I don’t want you to THINK about it. Just DO it. We’ll do the rest. What I need is a ‘cultured’ voice…. I thought of you. When we’ve finished, we’ll muck around with it and what will come out will be what we want.’”

“So in fact, that was how I went in and read the stuff. ‘I don’t want you to do anything, just read it,’” relates Reville. He continues, sharing his admiration for Kirsner, “he’s a man who has a very bright mind. He’s great fun to work with, unfortunately the only thing I’ve done with him as I say was A FINE MADDNESS.”

The movie was filmed at Warner Brothers Studios at a time when few movies were being filmed. One of those few, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF, was in the next soundstage to A FINE MADNESS.

“It had to do with a man, played by Sean Connery, who was a rogue poet in society,” says Reville describing the plot. “He was a man who was in love with words and ideas. He also had a magnetic fascination with women — which got him in an enormous amount of trouble. It had a marvelous cast of people — Joan Woodward, Colleen Dewhurst, Vernon Peters….”

Reville portrayed a neurosurgeon who was going to perform a lobotomy on Sean Connery’s character. “The man was totally encased in his own mission in life,” says Reville about his character. To demonstrate the effects of a lobotomy, Reville’s character used a chimpanzee which in retrospect, may not have been a good idea.

“One day the script lady came up to me and said (she rather quickly made a movement towards my jacket) are you going to wear your cuffs up or down? The animal grabbed her! He preceded to try and take large chunks out of her front!! I was in-between!!!” This was definitely unexpected behavior from Charlie the chimpanzee because Reville had made friends with Charlie. Reville’s reaction was, “You don’t expect me to work with that! The whole picture was held up for a day. They got a stuffed one from Columbia that looked like a stuffed one from Columbia.” Apparently, the producers decided to go with the real thing and brought Charlie back. Reville says that, “I’ve never seen a set in my entire life — between us we must have had five hundred years of experience — rigid with terror.”

Reville has been acting most of his life but still has not the faintest idea how that happened. Reville, born in New Zealand, says, “I was going to be an account. I had already made up my mind. A few years after the WAR, the Old Vic Company — headed by dear Lawrence Olivia and Vivian Leigh — was touring around the world and performing. During the period when they were in New Zealand, they were auditioning for the Old Vic Theater School. The fellow who was in charge of the drama club at the school where I was said why don’t you go down and give it a go? The gentleman auditioning asked, if you were chosen, could you make the trip? And, I said, good heavens, no! I just came down to give it a go. The bug probably started then. It wasn’t until a couple of years later when I was trying to be an accountant, I auditioned again and was accepted. By that time, I had found out I could gain a scholarship.”

Being accepted to The Old Vic Theatre meant a trip literally around the world. “I knew absolutely no one except a dear, dear friend of my mother’s,” recounts Reville. “This woman was a penpal of my mother and they met me. They were very sweet to me. London was still on a WAR footing in 1950. Digging up bombs, rationing, but, I adored it. I saw snow for the first time! But, how I {became an actor}, I haven’t the faintest idea. I took a right turn in life. I often wonder if I should have stayed an accountant.”

Reville stayed in England refining his craft but, “I was always fascinated with America because during the Second World War, a lot of Americans who started the Pacific campaign staged and did their training in New Zealand. I was sort of brought up with them. I do believe a lot of them — poor souls — actually went to Guadalcanal. As kids, we would be given chewing gum and magazines. One was always fascinated by the sort of things that were very much American and taken for granted over here {in America}.”

In the mid-seventies, Reville made the move from England to Southern California. “Where I am is sort of in the country even though I’m in Sherman Oaks,” says Reville. “John Dykstra lives near me, one of the kings of Special Effects. Kevin McCarthy lives down the road. I always check if his car’s in the garage. If it’s not, I worry because Kevin’s working and I’m not! I’m like all actors, I’d much rather be off doing something.

“I am a character actor and everything I try to do — some people might say it’s broad because I have a very expressive face and I love doing silly, funny things — must come out of the character, otherwise, it doesn’t have any truth.”

Reville has a unique way to gauge one of his new portrayals. He says that, “two questions I always ask when I get to know people…. Would you buy a used car from this person and could you be wrecked on a desert island with this person?”

A desert island with Clive Reville, yes. But, a used car…?