Lando has landed. Actor Billy Dee Williams, cooler than you, will sign autographs (for $50) at this weekend's Fan Expo. And if you're willing to spend more, you can own one of his paintings, on display at Liss Gallery. We spoke to him from California.
You're appearing at Fan Expo because of your role as Lando Calrissian in a pair of Star Wars films. Were you disappointed you weren't cast in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
Not really. They're planning to do more movies. I may well show up in one of those, but I'm not really thinking much about it.
This isn't the first time you've missed out on appearing in a franchise sequel.
Right. When I did the first Batman movie, playing Harvey Dent, I wanted to play Two-Face [in the third Batman movie, Batman Forever]. It would have been interesting, but that didn't work out. In this life, you win some and you lose some. That's how it goes.
Your visit here coincides with an exhibition of your art, which often focuses on jazz players. Where did that come from?
I'm 78 years old, so I grew up during the whole bebop era. I had a real fascination with that world and those people. And the music is still in my system. It's in my memory. Even when I'm not listening to it, it's very much a part of me.
And what about the paintings? Can you talk about expressing sound, on canvas?
You try to bring it alive, by expressing a 3-D experience, as if you were really sitting in a venue where the musicians are expressing themselves. It's similar to being an actor, where you're trying to bring a lot of theatre and drama into the moment.
One of your paintings is a dreamy, Zen-inspired baseball scene. And of course we remember the 1976 film about barnstorming Negro League ballplayers, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, in which you played the charismatic pitcher Bingo Long. How fun was that?
I really enjoyed that period, the Negro Leagues of the 1930s and '40s. I remember as a kid seeing them out in Central Park, the Cuban ball players and the like. So, it was interesting for me to bring something to the flamboyance of that particular character.
What quality, do you think, ties your acting together? What do you bring to the table?
I think of my characters in a bigger than life way, and I've succeeded in making my characters interesting and a lot of fun. I think people recognize that. In other words, I think I've done my job.
I would say that your characters have a sly vibrancy to them.
Well, there you go. Thank you very much. That's a great compliment.
Fan Expo Canada, to Sept. 6. $40 to $60. Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 222 Bremner Blvd., fanexpocanada.com.
Billy Dee Williams art exhibit, Sept. 6 to 24. Liss Gallery, 140 Yorkville Ave., 416-787-9872 or liss-gallery.squarespace.com
This interview has been edited and condensed.