On September 23, 2005, I had an interview with Billy Dee Williams in the Netherlands.
Since I am a Star Wars fan since 1983, it was a great honor to interview the actor that played 'Lando Calrissian' in the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Besides Star Wars, Mr.Williams has done loads of other things as you will find out when you read the interview...
Mr. Williams, in the first two Batman movies directed by Tim Burton you played the role of Harvey Dent, mayor of Gotham, who in the third movie, directed by Joel Schumacher, becomes 'Two-Face'; a bad guy.
When they made the third movie, they suddenly got Tommy Lee Jones to play this role. How did you feel about this?
It was OK. Tommy Lee Jones is a great actor, and it was a different regime then. When I took on the role I was looking forward to play Two-Face, but it didn't work out.
Did they ever tell you that you were going to play Two-Face in a sequel when you signed the contract?
The contract I signed was to play Harvey Dent, it wasn't a two or three picture situation. With Star Wars, I signed for two pictures. I think that at that stage, after the first Batman, some Japanese, Sony or something like that bought out the contract. I can't really recall it.
In comparison to the recent Batman (Batman Begins), the one I was in was better than all the others. However, I still have to see Batman Begins. The others got too much involved with technology and special effects.
The first two were directed by Tim Burton, how was it to work with such a visionary?
He really captured the darkness of the Batman saga. He's very good at that, creating darkness in his movies.
In 1972 you played in Lady Sings the Blues, alongside Diana Ross, a movie about the life of Billie Holiday. Your character, Louis McKay is very similar to your Star Wars character Lando Calrissian. Do you think George Lucas offered you the role of Lando because of this movie?
Before Star Wars I did a whole bunch of movies, I gained the reputation of being a charming, roguish individual. So, I can imagine he took that into consideration. I was pretty popular back then. Nobody had ever seen someone like me before. (grins)
Besides acting you also paint. What would describe you the best: An actor that paints, or a painter that acts?
Have you got a favorite painter?
I've had a pretty extensive education on the history of art. I have some periods that I really like. I love the Mexican murals, Diego Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros. Some American painters...and some Europeans. Some of them from your country; the Netherlands, like Vermeer.
You probably know that there are plans for a Star Wars TV-series. Any possibility you will have a part?
I don't think so. When you have established a character like Lando Calrissian... If George (Lucas) would contact me I wouldn't say no, but it seems to me that Lando has become such an icon that it wouldn't be good to do it. He established himself in such a powerful way. I don't know, Lando is an old man now. (laughs)
Maybe a role as Lando's uncle?
(Laughs) No, just Lando!
In 2002, Sidney Poitier, who was your teacher, got an honorary Oscar. This stirred a lot of emotion, since it was seen as recognition for his work as an afro-American actor, and maybe all afro-American actors. How did you feel about this?
I don't want to think in terms of black actors. I don't look at myself as a white, black or green actor. I see myself as a full spectrum of colors. Sidney just really deserved it for all his work.
But the recognition took so long.
Yeah, but he did get an Oscar in the 60's when he did Lilies of the Field. Black actors are getting recognition now.
And Oscars. Denzel Washington and Halle Berry got one. And Sam Jackson is also great.
Staying with the Poitier family; you have a role in the upcoming movie Hood of Horror in which you play alongside Snoop Dogg and Sidney's daughter.
Can you tell something about this project?
A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to participate and I said “sure!” I did my scenes in one day but I didn't work with Snoop Dogg. The part is just a cameo.
Any other projects?
I did a movie called Constellation which is doing festivals. I worked with a young filmmaker with whom I also did the movie the Visit. For the rest, I'm busy with my paintings. I just showed some in South Carolina in a gallery. If I find things that really interest me I do them.
In Return of the Jedi, you promised Harrison Ford's character Han Solo to return the spaceship the Millennium Falcon 'without a scratch'. However, you damaged the Falcon during the Death Star attack.....
Did I say this to him? I always said that it was my ship!
Well, you did.
You know more about this than I do. (laughs)
I don't remember that.
So, I guess you haven't seen the movie that many times then?
I've seen it a couple of times. But not in the last couple of years...I saw the last one (editors note: Revenge of the Sith), which I enjoyed, I always look forward to see what he (George Lucas) has been doing.
Of course you like the old trilogy the most.
(Laughs) I think the general consensus is that the first three were the best. With the prequels he was gearing more towards a younger audience, a new generation of people. People of your age.
Well, I'm from the first generation; actually saw Return of the Jedi at the cinema back in 1983.
Ok, good, so you also liked the old ones the best.
I think most people like the first ones the best. I think there was a lot more humanity, more human elements, more character. The new ones are more about technology.
Human elements don't seem to be important nowadays.