82-year-old actor Billy Dee Williams, known to millions of “Star Wars” fans for playing Lando Calrissian in “The Empire Strikes Back,” has said that he sees himself as gender fluid – or at least that he sees himself as both masculine and feminine.
Williams, known for his charismatic good looks and suave demeanor, said in a lengthy interview with Esquire that the secret of being “cool” is simply to “be yourself.”
“I never tried to be anything except myself,” he explained. “I think of myself as a relatively colorful character who doesn’t take himself or herself too seriously.”
The actor said he learned about being cool growing up on the edge of Harlem, from the guys in the streets “who had a little more smoothness about them. He then went on to elaborate, “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.”
Williams’ 1980 addition to the “Star Wars” franchise was a groundbreaking moment in pop culture, the first time a man of color was presented as a romantic, complex, heroic character in the overwhelmingly white context of a mainstream fantasy/sci-fi film. His iconic character again pushed cultural boundaries in the stand-alone prequel film, “Solo,” in which a younger Lando, played by Donald Glover, was implied to be pansexual – something which was subsequently confirmed by the film’s story writer, Jonathan Kasdan, in an interview with Huffington Post.
Glover, speaking about the character’s sexuality to Sirius XM, commented, “How can you not be pansexual in space?”
When Esquire interviewer Matt Miller mentioned to Williams that the younger actor had explored Lando’s “gender fluidity,” Williams said, “Really? That kid is brilliant—just look at those videos,” in reference to the video for the song “This is America,” by Glover’s musical alter ego Childish Gambino.
Williams went on to say that the role of which he is “proudest” is that of football player and author Gale Sayers in the acclaimed 1971 TV movie “Brian’s Song.”
“It was a love story, really. Between two guys. Without sex. It ended up being a kind of breakthrough in terms of racial division,” the actor said.
Williams returns as Lando Calrissian when “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the final installment of the franchise’s original story, hits movie theaters next month.