×

Billy Dee Williams on Getting Back Into Lando’s Cape for ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

A long time ago (1980) in a galaxy far, far away (where a movie ticket cost about $5), Billy Dee Williams first played Lando Calrissian, the smooth-talking smuggler-turned-administrator of Cloud City in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Despite having about 15 minutes of total screen time in “Empire” and “Return of the Jedi,” the character stole “Star Wars” fans’ hearts. It made sense, considering Williams did the same thing alongside Diana Ross in the films “Lady Sings the Blues” (1972) and “Mahogany” (1975). Now, 36 years after “Empire,” he’ll don Lando’s cape for “The Rise of Skywalker,” which bows Dec. 20. The actor cites “Empire Strikes Back” as one of his favorite films and says the final movie of the Skywalker saga will be a high point for the franchise.

How did it feel to put Lando’s costume back on?
It was fun. I really enjoyed it. I’m older now, so for me, it’s more a source of amusement than anything else. I never expected to really be back in that costume or in the movie, so I still kind of chuckle about the whole thing. I knew people were clamoring for Lando to come back, but I didn’t feel like that would happen. It’s a nice feeling to be welcomed back.

What did you think of Lando when you read the “Empire Strikes Back” script?
There are two things that drew me to the character. The cape and the name “Calrissian,” which is Armenian. I thought those were two interesting things to build a character around. It really suits my approach to expressing myself as a creative entity. It took me in a direction that said to me, “This is going to be a bigger-than-life character.”

Popular on Variety

How much of his personality comes from your own?
I always looked at Lando as a charming, roguish kind of character. There’s certainly a lot of me in that character. I think I’m a pretty cool guy. The whole idea is to build yourself into a franchise, at least for me. I’ve built my whole career around branding myself.

What is your brand?
I was the first brown-skinned boy to be a real magic figure on the screen, what they used to call a matinee idol. That pretty much describes a lot of who I am as far as my brand is concerned. I’m a romantic person with a heroic presentation.

What did it mean to play the first black character in “Star Wars”?
I never looked at myself as a black character in “Star Wars.” I looked at myself as Billy Dee Williams in “Star Wars.” It’s beyond a question of race and color. I’m an actor and performer who has his own original point of view about how one should present oneself.

How do fans react when they meet you?
I’ve had people thank me when they see me, and I’ve had people bring babies for me to touch. I think people admire me. I’m not trying to pat myself on the head like most actors love to be patted on the head and told how wonderful they are, but I’ve had some really interesting experiences as far as my career is concerned. I’ve had a tremendous amount of admiration from a lot of people throughout the years because of these movies I’ve done. I think people enjoy my individuality.

How do you like the new trilogy compared with the original?
“Empire Strikes Back” will probably go down as really one of my favorites, but I think this experience will go down as one of the greatest moments in the whole “Star Wars” saga.

Things You Didn’t Know About Billy Dee Williams
Age: 82
Birthplace: New York City
First role: “The Last Angry Man” in 1959
Hobby: Painting
Color lightsaber he’d have: “Blue. No, red.”
Strangest place he was recognized by a fan: “I don’t go to many strange places.”

More Film

  • Miss Juneteenth review

    'Miss Juneteenth': Film Review

    “Miss Juneteenth” richly captures the slow pace of ebbing small-town Texas life, even if you might wish there were a bit more narrative momentum to pick up the slack in writer-director Channing Godfrey People’s first feature. She’s got a very relatable heroine in Nicole Beharie’s Turquoise, an erstwhile local beauty queen whose crown proved the [...]

  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always

    'Never Rarely Sometimes Always': Film Review

    The basic plot of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is easy enough to describe. A 17-year-old girl named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) winds up pregnant in a small Pennsylvania town. Prevented from seeking an abortion by the state’s parental consent laws, she takes off for New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), where what they’d [...]

  • Kathy Valentine, Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin,

    The Go-Go's on Sundance Doc: Neither 'America's Sweethearts' Nor 'Drug-Crazed Demons'

    Some people might come to a Go-Go’s documentary wanting a purely fun, bubbly experience, based on the effervescence the group projected at its breakthrough peak in the early ’80s. Others might want a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll tell-all, if they’re aware of the tensions and bad habits that led the all-female band to [...]

  • 'The Dissident' Review: Powerful Look at

    'The Dissident': Film Review

    It’s become common, if not cliché, for a critic reviewing a documentary about a turbulent real-world event to write something like, “It exerts the power of a true-life thriller!” Well, make no mistake: “The Dissident” does. Directed by Bryan Fogel, who in 2017 made the Oscar-winning “Icarus” (about the Russian doping of Olympic athletes), the [...]

  • Cathy Yan, Chris Messina, Mary Elizabeth

    Margot Robbie, 'Birds of Prey' Co-Stars Justify the Movie’s R-Rating, Violence and Cussing

    Following the success of “Joker” last year, DC Films is continuing its gritty streak with “Birds of Prey,” a slam-bang adventure about Harley Quinn. Though DC Film’s 2016 tentpole “Suicide Squad” took a critical bashing at the time, filmgoers quickly took a liking to Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn. “Birds of Prey” gives the [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) has

    Film News Roundup: 'The Irishman,' 'Marriage Story' Added to Criterion Collection

    In today’s film news roundup, four Netflix titles have been added to the Criterion Collection, Slamdance and ArcLight are partnering, Steven Grayhm is starring in and directing a paranormal drama, and The Mammoth Film Festival sets its lineup. CRITERION COLLECTION Four Netflix titles will be released on Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection — Martin Scorsese’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content