The three central villains of the Star Wars sequel trilogy are going to be uniting - no, not to tear down the New Republic - but instead to talk about their roles.
The actors behind Emperor Palpatine, Captain Phasma, and Supreme Leader Snoke (that's Ian McDiarmid, Gwendoline Christie, and Andy Serkis) will be coming together for an hour-long panel at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023 in London to talk about their villainous roles, the origins, the endings, and maybe the chances of a return.
Popverse will be liveblogging Star Wars Celebrations' Villains of the Sequel Trilogy panel when it starts Sunday, April 9 at 11: 00 AM GMT (that's 6:00 AM EST for those of you in the Americas). Follow along live, or come back later for the full play-by-play.
Our live coverage of this event has finished.
If anyone is wondering how the pre-show for this panel is going, there are two Germans demonstrating lightsaber technique for the crowd. (They're very, very good at it.) Good morning, everyone. It's Sunday at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023!
– Graeme McMillan
There is currently a maniacal laugh contest in which fans are demonstrating their best maniacal laugh. Simultaneously. Sometimes, I realize that I have a very strange job.
– Graeme McMillan
Amy Ratcliffe has come onstage to get the panel started. "I'm so impressed at this level of energy for day three!" she says about the cheers she's hearing.
– Graeme McMillan
Here's Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, and Ian McDiarmid!
– Graeme McMillan
"Can I just say, thank you all for coming? It is amazing!" Christie tells the crowd.
– Graeme McMillan
"I remmeber being absolutely terrified by Cruella De Vil," Christie says when talking about favorite villains from her childhood. "I think it was the woman who was the Anti-Mother!" She admits, "I also found it entirely captivating... It was a different kind of woman, a woman who was really complex." That kind of woman was, she says, "tantalizing and beguiling."
Christopher Lee's Dracula is the villain that sticks with Serkis. "I kind of wanted to be him in a particular way. When you want to be something very dark at such a young age, you have to start questioning yourself, in a kind of way." Lee's Dracula was "climbing inside myself, in my head and my heart."
"Greetings, this Easter Sunday. This day... of resurrection," jokes McDiarmid. He adds that Christopher Lee was his hero when he was younger. "I got to meet him, I got to work with him when he was Count Dooku!" Lee's Dracula "had something inside himself, it was rooted in some kind of pain," he explains. Boris Karloff's monster in Frankenstein was another favorite, again because his appeal was rooted in pain.
Ratcliffe asks if this is the first time all three onstage have been in the same room together; apparently so, somewhat surprisingly. "We dared," McDiarmid says.
Christie is talking about Captain Phasma. "I immediately loved the idea of Captain Phasma. I love the idea of a female Stormtrooper, and I also loved the opportunity to bring to life a woman who is ruthless, and hell bent on achieving her own goals at any cost." That's very different inside the Star Wars universe, she says. "The armor looked incredible. It is just a really cool look."
"Having the shape of the body taken away, it being about military, being about practicality... You have to have some idea of the ideas, the drive, to put the armor on," Christie says. "I found it very liberating, actually." She remembers when she was 14 and did mask work and felt freed by hiding her face. "Different parts of my body felt activated."
"It was a thrilling opportunity to me, because it felt like a liberating moment for a female character in Star Wars. It was so meaningful," says Christie.
"When I started to investigate Snoke, I realized, I'd always wanted to wear a gold lame dressing gown," Serkis jokes about his own villain. "I felt that Snoke, although he was the Supreme Leader of the First Order and had all this power, he was carrying all this pain."
"Being deformed in that way, with the caved-in face, it was all very interesting, vital information as to how to play that character," Serkis says. "I wanted to bring some kind of failure and humanity to him, that kept him wanting power at all costs."
"The desperation of hanging onto power, which we see all around the world all the time... What does that feel like? There were lots of interesting real world examples to hang it onto," Serkis says. He's also talking about the performance capture aspect of Snoke, describing it as being similar to mask work. "The process of finding a character is completely the same... it's not about how it's finally manifesting visually onscreen."
"I think I was 120 when I started," McDiarmid says about the ways in which he's changed his performance as Palpatine across the past four decades. "There was this mysterious character in the background called Darth Sidious, and George didn't tell me it was me," McDiarmid reveals about getting the screenplay for Episode I: The Phantom Menace. McDiarmid just suggested that Snoke was a failed clone of Palpatine all along, and said that he was surprised to realize that every bad thing in the series all along had been his fault.
McDiarmid said that the prosthetics for the Emperor in Return of the Jedi was what shaped his performance, likening it to the maskwork that Christie was talking about earlier in the panel.
"You guys sort of knew it was going to happen," McDiarmid says of his cameo in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series. As to any future appearances, "I think he might have gone this time, but who knows? Nothing to tease you with at this time." (Or is he just playing it coy?)
"When I was growing up, I was really captivated by the evil characters in Star Wars, because they seemed to open up a whole world of mystery," Christie says, describing it as a manifestation of pain. "It became very clear that her intentions, because of the costume, had to be completely resolved."
"Why does that character choose that? Why does she choose armor that is inflexible? Because she is inflexible," Christie says. She added that John Boyega himself asked why Phasma hated Finn so much, "and I said, because she fancies him." Not just ronantically, though; Christie suggests that Phasma is envious of Finn's freedom. "It was just very interesting."
Christie adds that she looked at politicians for inspiration for the character, although she doesn't name names. (She did say that she was particularly interested in politicians who were very brittle; make your guesses now.)
"Anyone that imposes that degree of physical constriction, the internal world has to be as big as that constriction," she says. Asked about the reflectiveness of the chrome armor, she says, "I did have to be regularly buffed."
"I've never been on the receiving end of so much praise," Serkis says about the response to his role of Andor, even though it's technically outside the scope of this panel. "Every single character is complex and has depth and their own internal journey inside the globally contextualized journey of what's happening."
Serkis almost didn't take the Andor gig because he was worried that people would think that Andor was in some way connected to Snoke. "There were so many Snoke theories!"
Serkis is joking that he was surprised by the character's death in The Last Jedi, and is actually here to pitch a Snoke/Phasma return series "because, quite frankly, Lucasfilm owes me, and quite frankly, Kathleen Kennedy listens to you!"
"I've played a number of very, very dark characters over the years," Serkis says, "and no matter, I just fundamentally don't believe in evil as a thing," instead suggesting that it's a societal construct. "I just don't buy it. I think there are always reasons, and I think you have to find the reasons" why characters act the way they do. "You look for where a character carries something that is relatable with them," he says about finding the way to portray a villain as an actor.
"We're all capable of dark thoughts," Serkis says. "We're fascinated by the darker parts of ourselves."
McDiarmid says that he had to play a very controversial politician in a play, British politician Enoch Powell. In researching the role, he found out that Powell wasn't merely the racist that many believed he was, but instead a complicated intellectual who wanted to stimulate public debate... but went about it in the worst way possible. "Everyone would say, 'you're not playing that racist are you?' but as an actor, you appreciate that challenge."
McDiarmid is suggesting that Palpatine's childhood was complicated, in his conception of the character. For him, there was no concept of losing that he could accept. "That may remind you of a certain contemporary politician," McDiarmid jokes.
"There's Richard E. Grant who was horrible for about ten minutes," McDiarmid says about First Order officers that influenced his return as Palpatine. Domhnall Gleeson's Hux did so, as well, which included a sense of humor that he always tried to bring to Palpatine, he says.
"It probably started when I was six year old, and I saw Star Wars for the first time, and it just possessed me," Christie says about her journey to playing Phasma. "It sort of felt like the kind of world that could embrace me. It was a real dream of mine to be part of Star Wars, but it would never happen, because those films had been made." She says that she was excited when the Sequel Trilogy was announced, especially because J.J. Abrams was attached; she's a big fan of Abrams' Super 8. (Which is a really fun film.) "I became a pain. I said to my agent, 'I want to be in Star Wars,' and she said, 'So does everyone.'"
"Star Wars is so magical to me, because it has something in it that is about spirituality. It's about hope, it's also about home. It's about things that can unite us as people in the world," Christie says about her love of the franchise.
When auditioning for Phasma, she saw the armor. "I just gasped," Christie says. "The idea of a woman being the epitomy of evil, but in that reflective armor, reflecting the world back to them, what the world thinks of women." She describes that as "truly one of the best moments of her life."
How much did Serkis know about Snoke when he was first getting involved with The Force Awakens? "It was a journey of discovery," he says with a laugh. "As you all know, the level of theorizing was on another level... It really was an organic process, and working back - well, working forward... I knew that he was in some way connected to Palpatine, but in a very tangental way."
Serkis says that the development of Snoke was "very organic," because it evolved even as he was playing the role. Did Ian McDiarmid's portrayal influence Serkis as Snoke? "Ian is just one of the most extraordinary actors. When I was a young actor, his theater work was extraordinary," he says. "Knowing that character was at the forefront, and very much a father figure in a sense. It was a really important element to work through."
"Fans have great ideas, often. I think, 'Oh, I think that's going to happen.' And then, there's the literature side, the books," McDiarmid notes. "That sort of illustrates the enormous richness of George's initial idea." He suggests that Star Wars is, at heart, a very simple story but he thinks that so much has been added to make it so much more influential and important to fans and creators.
There's "a kind of adrenalized excitement" to shooting a Star Wars movie, because the stories are always changing and evolving, McDiarmid says. "Something happens to you, and if that can be triggered, that's good."
"The scripts gradually came, and the character gradually evolved. The writers didn't always know where they were headed, so it felt like being part of a gradual experiment," McDiarmid says about returning to playing the character across so many years.
"John is a wonderful actor, and a wonderful person to just be around," Christie says about acting with John Boyega. "He also wore the importance of his character very lightly. He and Daisy were very warm and welcoming and kind." She's also just revealed that she developed an angle in which she can position herself to sleep inside the Phasma armor; is there nothing this woman can't do?
"To walk onto a Star Wars set, where every detail has been executed with such precision, such quality, and such love... I could not believe my luck!" Christie says. "Look at the people I am lucky enough to be on this stage with!"
Christie is enthusing about the technique and inner life on display in McDiarmid's work. "Just walking onto that set was such an exquisite honor."
"When we first got together for The Force Awakens, and sharing stories with other actors, we were invited to an inaugural dinner," Serkis says, going on to explain that he didn't recognize Mark Hamill until he shouted, "I'm Luke Skywalker!" "And that's why Snoke dies in the second movie," Christie jokes.
McDiarmid is talking about being smuggled onto the set of The Rise of Skywalker. "Usually, you're invited to wear a hood, and I had to point out, 'really, that's not going to work for me.'"
"The first thing that happened on that day, I had to be a voiceover for Adam as he walks through Exegol," McDiarmid says. So few people didn't know that he was on set that, after the first take, "there was a lot of mutterings saying, 'oh my God, it's him.' JJ had to say, 'Yeah, it's him. Can we go again, please?'"
Christie admits that she can't bring herself to take anything from the set. She wishes she'd been able to take Phasma's helmet, but "all I take with me are memories. So far." Serkis says that the joy and pain of performance capture is that you don't have a costume. "On Andor, we were all given our prison cell numbers off the doors of our cells, which was cool."
McDiarmid says, "I got nothing [from the set of Return of the Jedi], but there was nothing much to grab. There was a hood, a clasp, and a stick. I really would have loved the chair, but I couldn't get that under my coat."
Ratcliffe asks if there are other characters the actors would like to have played, based on their costumes? Serkis says, "Darth Vader, hands down." McDiarmid says, "I quite liked your costume," to Christie. "It was such a contrast to mine!" On Vader, he says, "that was the one time that Palpatine got it wrong. He didn't want this tall monster, he wanted Anakin."
And with that, we're done! Thanks for reading along, as always, and keep coming back to Popverse for more Star Wars Celebration - there's more to come across the next couple of days!