As the world prepares to briefly suspend reality and escape to a galaxy far, far away when “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is released nationwide on December 18, Clive Revill probably won’t be among the millions flocking to movie theaters.
But as any Star Wars fan worth his weight in action figures knows, Revill was cast as the original voice of the Emperor in “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.”
“I got a call from the director, Irvin Kershner, who I’d worked with on ‘A Fine Madness,’” recalled Revill from his home in Los Angeles. “He needed a voice for the Emperor who would be only appearing as a holographic image. So I tried it several times and found it worked best with no emotion whatsoever.”
Although his scene with Darth Vader spanned barely a minute in the original theatrical release, his voice was replaced in the 2004 DVD by Ian McDiarmid’s who went on the play the Emperor in Episode VI and the three prequels. Yet fans still line up to meet Revill at sci-fi conventions.
“They come up to me and I tell them to get close and shut their eyes. Then I say (in the Emperor’s haunting voice) ‘There is a great disturbance in the Force.’ People turn white and one nearly fainted!”
Revill remains indifferent about the voice replacement. “I was the original Emperor, but they wanted continuity with the later movies. They made a good choice with McDiarmid.”
Born in New Zealand, Revill moved to London in 1950 where he studied acting at the famed Old Vic Theatre. He traveled the U.K. working in traditional stage productions, eventually finding his way to Broadway and Hollywood.
“The first film I vividly remember working on is ‘Modesty Blaise,’” said Revill of the 1966 spy spoof in which he played a Scotsman, but convinced the director he could pull off a second role.
“I got the makeup man to transform me into an Arab, then marched over to (director) Joseph Losey who was drinking in his hotel room. The makeup and my accent were so good, he didn’t recognize me until I said ‘Joe, it’s Clive’ and he almost dropped his drink. So I ended up with the two roles.”
Revill’s talent for accents, dialects and even singing were showcased in the 1978 Columbo episode, “The Conspirators,” where Revill played a jovial but deadly Irishman.
“It was the last episode Peter Falk did in the original Columbo series,” he noted. “But there was no sense of regret on the set that the show was ending. Peter and I had a lot of creative fun interacting with each other’s characters.”
Now 85, Revill says he has retired from acting although he doesn’t rule out future voice work. And while he remains amazed that his one minute involvement in a Star Wars film still resonates with fans today, he says he’s never seen a Star Wars film. But he understands their appeal.
“People can detach from their reality and live in this other fantasy reality for a short while,” he says. “That’s the magic of film.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. Follow @TinseltownTalks