Billy Dee Williams on Lando Calrissian, Colt 45, Robot Chicken, Painting, and More

More than 30 years have passed since Billy Dee Williams first played the role of gambler and scoundrel Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, and the actor is still just as charming and charismatic as he was back then.

"Please, call me Billy Dee," he says when we reached him by phone for a recent interview, oozing just as much charm as when he hung out with Han Solo and Princess Leia in Cloud City.

While he's still playing loveable rogues these days, including his most recent guest role on USA's White Collar as the duplicitous Bradford Toman, Williams also spends plenty of time in his studio creating abstract paintings. He's also game for making fun of himself and his most famous role, as evidenced by his partitipation with Robot Chicken's Star Wars parodies a few years ago and his upcoming appearance as Lando on FOX's The Cleveland Show

Williams will be appearing at Phoenix Comicon on Saturday and Sunday for an autograph session and Q&A discussion, and will likely answer the same sort of fan boy questions we asked him during our recent interview, including queries about his career, The Empire Stikes Back, and whether or not he still drinks Colt 45.

You've become an accomplished painter over the past couple decades, correct?
Yeah, I've been painting for awhile.

What sort of style are your paintings?
I mostly create abstract paintings. I paint what's obvious to the eye and then incorporate an abstract point of view, which allows me a lot of space to play in. I work a lot with acrylic and oils, mostly acrylic right now and do a lot of line drawings. I've got an upcoming show at the Liss Gallery in Toronto.

Do you see parallels between creating a painting or creating a role?
I'm always trying to broaden people's vision of what we have made into stereotypes. I'm always trying to present a different point of view or aspect. Almost everything I've ever done, I've tried to make everything a little larger than life. As far as my painting is concerned, I don't do anything that's limited to the black experience or the white experience. I'm thinking more in terms of presenting a point of view based on my own unique, individual experience that's devoid of all discussion of race.

So was Lando Calrissian very much larger than life?
Yes, absolutely.

Do a lot of Star Wars fans purchase your work?
Whenever I go out and do these conventions I carry these limited edition lithographs that I did that were based on The Empire Strikes Back.

What will you have planned for your Phoenix Comicon appearance this weekend?
I'm going to be a signing and also a Q&A session.

What's the craziest thing that Star Wars fans have asked you to autograph?
A lot of them bring in the Colt 45 bottles. I'm always surprised that young people do that, I guess it's become a cult kinda thing.

Do you still drink Colt 45?
Uh, not really (laughs). I'm not really a beer drinker.

So despite saying in that one commercial that you should always "keep plenty of Colt 45 on hand," you don't have any in your fridge right now?
No one's going find any Colt 45 in my fridge, no.

You've played many rogue characters in your career. What fascinates you about that sort of role?
Rogue characters are charming and kind of elusive. They're always fun and likeable in a sense. I guess that's pretty much what it is.

Do you think they're fascinating because they're often complex and multi-faceted?
Yeah, that's a good way to put it.

Do you enjoy lampooning your most famous role on shows like Robot Chicken?
Oh yeah, it's always have a lot of fun with it. It gives me an opportunity to play around with humor.

Family Guy pointed out that Lando was wearing Han Solo's clothes at the end of Empire Strikes Back. Why did that happen in your opinion.

Well, because George Lucas probably wanted it that way.

I've heard rumors that there was a lot of partying happening while Empire was shooting in London, including stories of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher hanging out with the Rolling Stones. Any truth to that?
I have no idea, that's the first time I've ever heard that, but I'm sure it's true.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.