Star Wars' Billy Dee Williams Opens Up About Being Gender-Fluid And Lando's 'Feminine Side'

Photo: Instagram
Who Is Billy Dee Williams? New Details On Legendary 'Star Wars' Actor Who Came Out As Gender-Fluid

Lando Calrissian is the epitome of space suave. When Billy Dee Williams first brought the cape-wearing character to the screen in The Empire Strikes Back, he launched a million crushes, as well as solidified his own role in Hollywood royalty. 

RELATED: How Many Genders Are There — And Why Does Talking About The Spectrum Of Identity Matter So Much?

Now, the 82-year-old Williams is bringing Lando back to the screen for the final installment of the saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. He's had had years to ruminate on Lando and life and he's opening about some very personal things.  In a wide-ranging interview with Esquire, he shared his thoughts on his career, on coming back to the Star Wars franchise and on coming out as gender-fluid.

Who is Billy Dee Wiliams? Keep reading for new details about the legendary actor. 

1. A Hollywood icon

Billy Dee Williams is from New York City, where he went to the New York City High School of the Performing Arts, a.k.a. the Fame school, where he studied both acting and painting. He has continued to do both throughout his life, though he is far more famous for his acting career. He started as a Broadway performer before moving to L.A. in the 1970s to try his hand in Hollywood. In 1971, he starred in the TV movie Brian's Song, which he still regards as one of his best roles. In that film, he played beloved Chicago Bears football player Gayle Sayers and depicted his friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo up through Piccolo's death to cancer. It's a movie pretty much guaranteed to make audiences cry, and both Williams and James Caan, who played Piccolo, were nominated for Emmys for their performances.  

He told Esquire that he's proudest of that movie and the themes of male friendship it addressed. "It was a love story, really. Between two guys. Without sex. It ended up being a kind of breakthrough in terms of racial division,” he said.

2. Playing Lando Calrissian

Star Wars was already a phenomenon when Williams was approached about a role in The Empire Strikes Back and he didn't hesitate to join the production. He liked the character of Lando, despite all his flaws. "The most interesting characters are those who are dubious...but you want the audience to really fall in love with them,” he told Esquire. He also says he always understood why Lando had to double-cross Han Solo. “He was up against Darth Vader. I don’t blame him for what he did,” he explains. 

Lando and Chewie.

RELATED: How Did Peter Mayhew Die? New Details On The Death Of The Actor Who Played Chewbacca In 'Star Wars'

3. A kind of fluidity

Now, with a lifetime of work between his first and latest portrayals of Lando, Williams has had years to reflect on who he is as an artist and a human being. In his Esquire profile, he talks about seeing himself as having a fluid concept of gender. "And you see I say ‘himself’ and ‘herself,’ because I also see myself as feminine as well as masculine. I’m a very soft person. I’m not afraid to show that side of myself,” he says. He talks about bringing that softness and fluid sensibility to the role of Lando as well, "I deliberately presented something that nobody had experienced before: a romantic brown-skinned boy,” he recalls.

4. Not the only fluid Lando

In the movie Solo, Donald Glover took on the role of young Lando Calrissian and he too approached the role with the same idea of romance and fluidity. In the film, it's clear that Lando is romantically interested in any number of types of beings and Glover took that idea and ran with it. "There’s so many things to have sex with. I mean, serious. I didn’t think that was that weird. Yeah, he’s coming on to everybody. I mean, yeah, whatever," Glover told Entertainment Weekly's Sirius channel.  "He’s like having like a ’70s swing — yeah. It just didn’t seem that weird to me ’cause I feel like if you’re in space it’s kind of like, the door is open! It’s like, no only guys or girls. No, it’s anything. This thing is literally a blob. Are you a man or a woman? Like, who cares? Have a good time out here."

Jonathan Kasdan, the co-writer of the Solo script agreed with that take on Lando's sexuality, telling HuffPo that he would consider the character pan-sexual. "There’s a fluidity to Donald and Billy Dee’s [portrayal of Lando’s] sexuality,” Kasdan remarked. “I mean, I would have loved to have gotten a more explicitly LGBT character into this movie. I think it’s time, certainly, for that, and I love the fluidity ― sort of the spectrum of sexuality that Donald appeals to and that droids are a part of. He doesn’t make any hard and fast rules. I think it’s fun.”

RELATED: The Best Memes & Twitter Reactions To The Newly Released 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'

5. Lando on Lando

Williams approves of Glover and Kasdan's take on the notion of Lando and how he treats dating in space. He is also an unapologetic fan of Glover's work as himself and as his alter-ego Childish Gambino. "That kid is brilliant — just look at those videos,” he mused to Esquire

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

As for coming back to the screen as Lando all these years later, he was excited but worried that he wouldn't have the same energy for the role that he did when he was younger. "Do I have that same hunger, excitement, that I had years earlier," Williams pondered to Esquire. "This is a very difficult time for me, as far as age is concerned. When you get to be a certain age, whether you want to think about mortality or not, you think about it."

Lando Calrissian then and now. 

6. What's next for Billy Dee Williams?

Williams's next project will be more Star Wars. He's the voice of Lando for the animated Star Wars: Detours. The project has been on hold since 2013 but fans are hopeful for a release date soon.

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.