For those living under a rock in Dagobah, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters on December 20. Industry insiders already are predicting out-of-this-galaxy box-office numbers for the J.J. Abrams-directed film.
This likely means millions of new people will be introduced to Billy Dee Williams, the 82-year-old actor reprising his legendary role as smooth-talking interstellar gambler Lando Calrissian in the new movie.
Any newfound fame comes on top of the fact that Williams already owns one of the most familiar faces in Hollywood. Travel outside the Star Wars universe — Williams portrayed Calrissian in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s The Return of the Jedi — and you’ll see a man who’s wowed audiences in everything from biographical dramas (Lady Sings the Blues) to sports tearjerkers (Brian’s Song) to comic adaptations (the Michael Keaton-starred Batman) over the years.
“I’m recognized all the time,” says Williams, who probably can’t make a grocery store run in his home city of L.A. or have a quiet dinner in London without being bombarded by fans. “Lucky me.”
The Harlem native has always found solace from the attention with a brush and an easel. In fact, over the years, Williams has created hundreds of original pieces, he’s shown acrylics in exhibitions from New Orleans to Washington, D.C. and has sold works for more than $30,000.
Somehow, between his latest artistic pursuits and all the promotion for the new movie, Williams found a few minutes for Forbes Travel Guide. Read on for his take on Star Wars mania, his most treasured trip on this planet and his thoughts on possibly traveling into outer space with Jeff Bezos.
The world is eagerly anticipating this new Star Wars movie. How excited do you get these days when your movies come out?
This is a very special event. It’s major. It’s going to be pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to it.
How did Donald Glover do playing a young Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story?
To tell you the truth, I really don’t think about it.
Oh, okay. But let’s stick with young black males in the industry. Do you see a positive change in Hollywood with roles for them?
I see a lot of people working, so I guess everything is moving along accordingly.
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are coming up with ideas to get regular people into outer space. Is it something you’d ever consider?
No, I would not consider doing it.
Down here on Earth, are there any places you haven’t gone that are still high on your bucket list?
Many years ago, I went to Sun City, South Africa. I was there cohosting the Miss Universe contest. I [also] went to Botswana and visited a national animal reserve. That was quite an experience. [When I went to] South Africa, it was right after apartheid [ended]. It was a really interesting experience. That was the first time I had ever been to Africa.
Is there anywhere that you haven’t visited that you’d really like to get to?
Spain is a place that I’d like to go that I haven’t gone to yet. Brazil is another place that has been on my bucket list for quite some time.
Have you gone anywhere fun this year?
Well, I travel a lot. I’m in and out of London all the time. I do these conventions like Comic-Con and stuff like that.
Your face is one of the most recognizable ones in Hollywood. When you go to London or anywhere else, are you able to move about without being hounded by fans?
I don’t think of it as being hounded. I have people who recognize me for various movies I’ve done over the years, especially the Star Wars character. As far as people are concerned, I am Lando Calrissian.