The voice is familiar: “The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.” Those menacing tones belong to the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). But who spoke them? In the original version of the film, the voice belonged to Clive Revill, and even though Ian McDiarmid’s voice, in 2004, was dubbed in for the sake of continuity for a DVD release of the series, Revill was inundated with fan mail for his brief contribution to the Star Wars saga and is still widely associated with that role.
But his career on the stage, on the big screen, and on television was long and varied. Born in New Zealand in 1930, Revill fell in love with the stage after performing in Twelfth Night in 1950 and left for London to study at the Old Vic Theatre School. By 1952 he was on Broadway in a revival of Mr. Pickwick, based on Dickens’s novel The Pickwick Papers; he played Sam Weller, one of Dickens’s great comic creations. He also appeared, unlisted, in a number of roles in British movies before his first credited role in The Headless Ghost (1959), and he was in a number of British television productions in the years 1955–60.
As part of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he performed in several of the Bard’s great works during the mid-1950s. In the French musical Irma La Douce – first presented in Paris (1956) and then brought over to London in English translation (1958) – Revill played the Proprietor of the Bar-des-Inquiets. He reprised the role in his second appearance on Broadway, as part of the 1960 Broadway cast of Irma La Douce. Revill, featured on the Broadway cast album, made an impression, earning a Tony® nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
Back in London he played Ko-Ko in The Mikado at Sadler’s Wells (1962), then returned to Broadway in 1963, now in a starring role: that of the child-corrupting Fagin in Oliver, the musical based on Dickens’s Oliver Twist. Revill continued to impress, and he got a Tony® nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. Returning to England, he starred as Jean-Paul Marat in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Marat/Sade (1964), playing opposite Patrick Magee as the Marquis de Sade.
On Broadway again in 1967, Revill assumed the central role in the musical Sherry!, playing Sheridan Whiteside, an overbearing, egocentric radio personality recuperating from an accident. In the same year, he played the title role in Volpone, Ben Jonson’s famous Jacobean comedy of greed and lust, for BBC television.
Revill later appeared on Broadway in three plays: The Incomparable Max (1971), in which he starred as Max Beerbohm, Sherlock Holmes, taking over (in 1975) the part of the arch-villain Dr. Moriarty, and Edward Albee’s adaptation of Nabokov’s Lolita (1981), in which Revill played Humbert Humbert’s twisted antagonist Clare Quilty.
Revill’s film credits include Modesty Blaise, A Fine Madness (with Sean Connery), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and Avanti! (Golden Globe® nomination). His extensive television credits include The Avengers; Arthur of the Britons; Columbo; Hart to Hart; Dynasty; Magnum, P.I.; Remington Steele; Murder, She Wrote; Babylon 5; and Star Trek: The Next Generation.