Billy Dee Williams: Going Strong

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I think it’s a good idea, a good trade, but it takes a lot of work, a lot of perseverance, and a belief in your capabilities. If you don’t have that belief in yourself, it’s not something that will work for you.

 

[Actor Interview]

William December Williams, Jr. was born on April 6, 1937 in Harlem where he was raised by his parents, William, Sr., a janitor, and Loretta, an elevator operator. Billy Dee, who exhibited considerable promise both as an artist and as an actor early in life, attended Manhattan’s prestigious Music and Art High School.
The strikingly-handsome thespian’s big break came in 1971 in the acclaimed television movie “Brian’s Song” where he played Gayle Sayers opposite James Caan. He immediately followed up that impressive performance with another as
Billie Holiday’s husband in “Lady Sings the Blues” which co-starred Diana Ross. The two would appear together again years later in “Mahogany.”
Arguably, Billy Dee’s most memorable role has been as Lando Calrissian in George Lucas’ epic movies “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” His other feature film credits include “Batman,” “Undercover Brother,” “The Ladies Man,” “Moving Target,” as well as the upcoming “Fanboys.” Plus, he’s already attached to “Barry Munday” starring Luke Wilson.
The Emmy-nominated legend’s extensive television work includes guest appearances on “Lost,” “Scrubs,” “Clubhouse,” “Half & Half,” “That ‘70s Show,” “The Hughleys,” “A Different World,” “227,” “Mission Impossible” as well as daytime series “Another World” and “The Guiding Light.” Plus, he’s enjoyed recurring roles on “Dynasty” and “Gideon’s Crossing.”
Currently, he’s returned to TV as Toussaint Dubois, a hospital worker with a haunted past, on SOAPnet’s first serialized drama for primetime “General Hospital: Night Shift” which airs Thursdays at 11PM (ET/PT). The steamy
series ventures beyond what you see on the daytime program to explore the lives and loves of “General Hospital’s” favorite characters during the hospital’s night shift.
On the show, his character shares sage insights with various members of the hospital staff as they encounter assorted pitfalls and problems, essentially suggesting that they dream big dreams, even if life has passed him by.

BSN: Hey, Billy, finally we get together after just missing each other a couple of times. We were first scheduled to talk the same day you were on The View with Barabra Walters and company. How’d you like doing that show?
BDW: That wasn’t my first time on it, but I always enjoy it with those crazy
ladies.

BSN: And how are you enjoying General Hospital: Night Shift?
BDW: Oh, I’m having a good time with that. It’s a whole different experience and format. It’s a lot faster than anything I’ve ever done, but it’s great practice. And the characters are involved in some very interesting situations.

BSN: Do you get fewer takes on a soap opera, fewer opportunities to re-do a
scene?
BDW: Yeah, whenever I’m ready to do another take, they’re already off to the next set which always amuses me. That’s why I say, it’s great practice. After you’ve done a soap opera, you can do anything. You’ve got to get all this dialogue down, and then you have to give life to the dialogue. Plus, you get to practice your improvisational skills. I love it, and I love the people I’m working with. So, I’m having a good time.

BSN: What was it like to suddenly be a heartthrob when your career took off in the Seventies?
BDW: I think being a celebrity is at the essence of that, because I’d been doing romantic stuff even on stage in New York City in the 1960s.

BSN: Wasn’t your mom originally from the Caribbean?
BDW: Yes, my mother’s side of the family, they’re from Montserrat in the Leeward Islands.

BSN: I know you went to Music and Art High School. What did you do after you graduated?
BDW: Next, I went to the National Academy of Design for the Fine Arts where I spent two years painting on a scholarship

BSN: So, when did you develop your passion for acting?
BDW: Acting, I started when I was six and a half years-old, on Broadway with Kurt Weill.

BSN: Wow, the composer of The Threepenny Opera including the classic tune Mack the Knife.
BDW: Yeah, I was on stage with his wife, Lotte Lenya.

BSN: And although she won a Tony for The Threepenny Opera, was nominated for an Oscar, and left behind an impressive body of work, she is probably fated to best remembered as the villainess in From Russia with Love who tried to
kick James Bond in the crotch with a poisoned tip knife protruding from her shoe. I see that besides General Hospital, you’re very busy making movies, including Fanboys, a comedy about some Star Wars fanatics.
BDW: Oh, yeah, yeah. I haven’t seen that. Is that already out?

BSN: No, but it’s in post-production.
BDW: I’m only doing a cameo in that. The only reason I’m in that movie is
because of my association with Star Wars.

BSN: And then you have This Bitter Earth, which you’re shooting with Nichelle
Nichols?
BDW: I was just in Arizona working on that yesterday. I did a cameo in that, too.

BSN: How about Barry Munday? That has an intriguing premise. It’s about a guy
who wakes up missing a certain part of his anatomy…
BDW: His testicles.

BSN: Yeah, and suddenly he’s facing a paternity suit. Which of your movies are your favorites? Brian’s Song? Lady Sings the Blues? The Empire Strikes Back?
BDW: You just named three. Also, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings was one of my favorites. That was a classic, actually.

BSN: Yeah, I remember that one with Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones. I
loved it.
BDW: And I did a movie in Canada which I loved called Giant Steps.

BSN: Aren’t you a jazz fan? I know you’ve served as chairman of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition?
BDW: Yeah, jazz is very much a part of my life. I work with the Thelonious Monk Institute and do the artwork for their program every year.

BSN: How much time do you find to paint?
BDW: Oh, I paint all the time.

BSN: Working with oils or acrylics?
BDW: Mostly acrylic, sometimes oil.

BSN: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps? [Acting]
BDW: I think it’s a good idea, a good trade, but it takes a lot of work, a lot of perseverance, and a belief in your capabilities. If you don’t have that belief in yourself, it’s not something that will work for you.


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