[Header image taken by Teresa Wickersham]
Billy Dee Williams graced Kansas City Comic Con with his presence this past weekend. He may be an iconic figure from television and the movies, but he’s also a really nice guy who loves talking with the audience. He doesn’t mind crying babies and he takes young fans very seriously.
We had to wait a bit for the panel to start. They showed us many clips of his from television and the movies, including clips in which he had a walk-on cameo playing himself. They ended with Star Wars, of course, and the crowd went wild.
He mentioned a Kansas City connection right away. He has a painting in the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City at 18th and Vine. He mentioned that he would like to see it there and everyone got out their cell phones to find out the days and times that the Jazz Museum is open. I hope he got to it during his visit here. He then went on to explain that he had gone to a Music and Art High School, had attended the National Academy School of Fine Arts where he studied painting, and that he had won a Hobart Award. He also has a painting in the Schomberg Museum. He said he had a painting in a play, but couldn’t remember the name and joked that he would have to get his phone. We never did get the name of the play.
The audience began asking questions. First up was a kid in a black cape who wanted to know if Lando Calrissian had really made a deal with Darth Vader. Sorta, was the answer. He was forced into it. Someone asked if Williams would have liked to have played Scott Joplin, explaining that Scott Joplin was a big deal in Missouri. Williams is a fan of Scott Joplin, explaining that many composers of that era did not write their music down, but Joplin wanted to be like the classic composers and wrote his down. That’s why his music survived.
He was asked if he had turned down stereotypical or demeaning African American roles. He didn’t remember any specifically, but replied that if you gain recognition, you have to be careful what you choose. Unless, of course, they pay a lot. When asked if he would like to play Lando again, he said that he couldn’t be in the upcoming “episode eight”, as they had finished filming, but he would like to be in nine. He reminded us that he had reprised his Lando Calrissian role in the animated Star Wars Rebels and in The LEGO Movie. A kid asked who he played in The LEGO Movie, Williams replied Lando, and the kid got really confused. He had seen the movie, too. He then was asked about what the character would be doing now, and he said that he saw him as a gambler. Not out for trouble, just an adventurer.
His favorite color is all of them, which is a typical artist response. It’s like picking your favorite kid. When pressed, he guessed maybe blue. He likes working in oils and he likes acrylic because it’s fast and that suits his personality. His favorite artists were Diego Rivera, Frieda Kahlo, and Tamara Juhl, among others.
Paul Muni is his favorite actor, the first person he worked with and someone he thought was a great actor. He also favored Olivier, who he had studied under. He admired Brando, who was very political and you could spend an hour just talking to. They were both Aries, so had a lot in common.
When asked what his favorite role was, he said that he enjoyed playing Martin Luther King on stage. He thought the character in Mahogany was very rewarding. He liked McKay in Lady Sings the Blues. His favorite scene in Star Wars was when he stood up to Vader — for thirty seconds, and when he greeted Princess Leia. The roles he would most like to have played but did not get a chance to were Duke Ellington and Alexander Dumas. Most people don’t realize that Alexander Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, was what used to be referred to as mulatto. There was a production underway in which he would have played Dumas, but it never come to fruition.
The TV show he would most like to guest star on was the Big Bang Theory. He thinks the dialogue is incredible. He also likes Two Broke Girls. Being on Dancing with the Stars was a lot of fun but a lot of work. Emma Slater was tough.
Who would win in an arm wrestling contest between him and Han Solo? “Han would beat me.” Okay, I have to say I agree with that assessment, but I’m a little surprised that he would admit it!
Williams was then asked if he posed for his action figure, which the fan thought was a good likeness because of the slight smile and raised eyebrow. “I always had a pretty good smile,” Williams said. No, he didn’t pose for it but thought it was true to the character and “swashbuckling”.
He was asked who he thought would be able to play a young Lando. “I don’t think anyone else could play Lando Calrissian.” We don’t think so either, Billy Dee!
However, they are casting for a young Lando Calrissian for the young Han Solo spinoff films. Reportedly, Donald Glover is at the top of that list.
Many thanks to Billy Dee Williams for letting us get to know him better. If you would like to see Lando Calrissian in Star Wars again, there is a movement on Twitter #BringBackLando.