SACRAMENTO – Legendary actor Billy Dee Williams admits that although he’s 76-years old and not quite as nimble as he used to be, he’s confident he’ll surprise a lot of people when he makes his debut on “Dancing with the Stars.” The reality dance show returns March 17 at 8 p.m. (EST) on ABC TV.
“I still have a little pep in my step,” said Williams relaxing at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and flashing that same dazzling smile that made him a cinematic sensation in the 1970s when he starred with Diana Ross in the movies “Mahogany” and the Oscar nominated, “Lady Sings the Blues.”
Williams was in town recently as a guest speaker/panelist for the Sacramento Comic Con 2014 Wizard World Convention which ran March 7-9.
Most attendees at the comic convention were eager to find out if Williams will be in the upcoming “Star Wars: Episode VII” movie and whether his dance partner Emma Slater (“Mama Mia”) will spice up their routine with some “Star Wars” music like the Cantina Song.
“We haven’t decided on all the music we will be dancing to for the show,” said Williams. “Plus, it’s always good to have an element of surprise. I can tell you that Emma (Slater) is sensational. She’ll make our routine sizzle. We’ve been practicing up a storm and she’s definitely bringing out the best in me.”
As of this writing, Williams remained pretty tight-lipped about the upcoming “Star Wars” movie. “Nothing has really been set yet,” said Williams who if chosen, would reprise his role of Lando Calrissian which he played in “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” and in “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” “I would love to be a part of it,” he added. “It would make a lot of sense for me to return, but we’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out. For now, I have to get in the zone and stay focused on my dancing.”
Among the new contestants on “Dancing With the Stars” that Williams will face off against are: “Real Housewives of Atlanta” reality star NeNe Leakes, Olympic ice dance duo Meryl Davis and Charlie White, “The Price is Right” host, Drew Carey, swimmer Diana Nyad, former “Full House” actress Candace Cameron Bure, pop singer Cody Simpson, “Big Time Rush” actor-singer James Maslow, double-amputee snowboarding champ Amy Purdy and former hockey player Sean Avery.
“People ask me if I’m in it to win it and I would love to and will try to,” said Williams. “But for me, it’s more about competing with myself. I’m curious to see how well I will do.”
For Williams, dancing has always been a big part of his life. “Growing up as a kid in New York I danced a lot,” he said. “I’ve even done some dancing on stage during my theatrical performing days and I’m pretty good at Latin dancing too.”
Williams said at this stage in his career, if something interests him, he just goes for it and does it. “I say no to a lot of things and I’ve earned the right to do that after all these years, but I didn’t want to say no to this opportunity and later regret that I didn’t jump at it.”
In case you’re wondering, Williams isn’t the oldest “DWTS” contestant the show has had. That honor goes to actress Cloris Leachman, who competed in Season 7 when she was 82.
Win, lose or draw, Williams said he’ll chalk up his “DWTS” experience as another “exciting chapter in his life.”
“I never thought I would be doing a reality dance show,” But here I am. The key for me has been to try different things. I never wanted to get locked in to a certain anything. You have to learn to adapt and adjust and use what works to your advantage.”
Williams’ first big break was in the 1971 biographical TV movie, “Brian’s Song” where he played Chicago Bears football player Gale Sayers. He went on to star with Diahann Carroll, on the highly rated, prime-time television show, “Dynasty.” Williams raised his profile even more with those Colt 45 malt liquor commercials and his catchphrase, “Don’t Let the Smooth Taste Fool You.” He even starred in “Batman” (1989) as district attorneyHarvey Dent and recently voiced the Lando character in the blockbuster hit, “The Lego Movie.” Williams has also made guest appearances on shows such as “Modern Family” and “NCIS.”
Not bad for a guy who kind of stumbled into acting.
Prior to his work on stage and in TV and film, Williams attended the National Academy of Fine Arts Design on a Hallgarten Award Scholarship. At 19, he was nominated for a Guggenheim. “I’ve always been passionate about art and love to paint,” said Williams. “I really got into acting just so I could make money for paints and canvases.” I ended up falling in love with both professions.” Williams’ art currently hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian Institution, and The Schomburg Museum.
Williams has nearly done it all. He’s come a long way since his first movie “The Last Angry Man” (1959) and starring in the Broadway productions, “The Firebrand of Florence” (1945), “The Cool World” (1960), “A Taste of Honey” (1961) and as Dr. Martin Luther King in “I Have a Dream” (1976). Williams also released a Jazz album titled “Let’s Misbehave” on Prestige Records.
“It’s been quite a journey,” said Williams, who in 2006 was awarded the NAACP’s, Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions to the arts. “It’s humbling and nice to know that people appreciate and have been touched and moved by my accomplishments over the past 50 plus years. That’s how I’d like to be remembered when it’s all said and done. That’s the ultimate compliment for me.”
By Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a Sacramento based entertainment writer. Her celebrity interviews appear regularly in the Sacramento Observer. She has her own Web site http://www.n2entertainment.net/ and is also the on air movie critic for KFBK 1530 AM and 931. FM. Tune in to Lana’s movie reviews every Friday at 6:40 p.m. on the Kitty O’Neal show.