It’s been a full week since Chicago Comic-Con, but it’s taken me about that long to fully recover from all the wedding and convention festivities of the past weekend. Now that my brain is actually functioning again, I figured I’d put up a short series of posts relating some of my best stories from that manic five day funfest—and what better place to start than Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams!
Much like Wizard World Philly, my Chicago Comic-Con responsibilities included hosting a few panels. While hosting Philly’s “Battlestar Galactica” panel was a dream come true for my more recent nerd sensibilities, getting a chance to sit down with Lando effing Calrissian from “Star Wars” was like taking one of the most influential aspects of my entire childhood and seating it next to me at a table.
Yeah, it was kind of mind blowing. Scratch that “kind of,” it was just straight up mind blowing!
Before I get into some of the cooler anecdotes and stories from the panel, I just have to gush for a second about one extremely nerdy realization that came to me while hosting. Billy Dee was seated to my left, and when I asked him questions, he’d tilt his head in the suave Billy Dee fashion every Star Wars fan knows all too well—it’s a look I had only previously seen folks like Han Solo and Princess Leia receive and I was getting it. The craziness of that aside, when some of the more bizarre fan questions were asked, Billy Dee would look over at me with a similar head tilt but with a bemused and slightly exasperated look on his face. That’s when it hit me: I was Billy Dee’s copilot on this freakin’ panel! For an hour as I hosted his panel, I was Nien Nunb from “Return of the Jedi.”
I was the bizarre alien copilot to the suavest dude in the Rebel Alliance as he fielded questions at this convention panel. And while that thought is a really goofy and nerdy stretch, it did fill me with a crazy “Holy cow, I am sitting next to Lando!” sensation that was really, exceptionally fulfilling as a lifelong “Star Wars” fan.
On to a story or two…
Billy Dee waltzed into this panel with an air of confidence that you just don’t experience on a daily basis. I mean, he is Lando freakin’ Calrissian, so no big surprise. But man, this guy is so accomplished that he walks like he doesn’t need to impress a single person in the world with a smidge of “’cause I know I’m damn impressive.” And you know what? He is. I mean, the guy is very successful oil painter on top of his entire acting career, so don’t doubt he is absolutely the man.
That said, unlike many panelists at cons who are going at least twenty miles a minute hyping everything and anything they have ever done or want to do, Billy Dee just sat back, took every question in stride and took as long or short a time as he wanted to answer them, not to mention taking a few sidesteps to tell stories about his grandchildren when he felt so inclined. Did it make me slightly frantic at first as a panel host that my star wasn’t a bit more energetic? Yeah, it did. But after a few minutes, it just kind of hits you that this is Billy Dee and he’s going to set the tone and set the cool and collected tone he did.
Speaking of “set,” that one pesky word leads me to what might be the biggest and best miscommunication I have ever been involved in.
At one point in the panel, I followed up a fan question by asking, “So, I’m curious, do you have any good set stories from ‘Star Wars?’ I mean, with all those people dressed as aliens walking around…” A pretty standard question, I thought. Who wouldn’t like to hear a goofy backstage story from “Star Wars?” Billy Dee gave me a slightly puzzled look and launched into the most hilarious answer he’d given the entire panel.
First, he started talking about how the Sarlacc Pit from “Return of The Jedi” looked an awful lot like a vagina—without ever saying the word vagina, mind you, because there were “so many ladies in the room”—and between hearty chuckles from Billy Dee and the audience about this, he went on to talk about how there is a four breasted woman in Jabba’s palace and there was much more sexy dancing girl footage from Jabba’s that never made the flick, not to mention that Jabba—who Billy Dee could not remember the name of for the life of him—was a very phallic-looking character and always stroking things with his equally phallic tail. I was laughing so hard, along with the entire audience, that I completely missed that fact that this didn’t answer my question at all. All I thought was, “Hey, that was a hilarious and animated answer. And that is what my questions should hopefully deliver!” But it wasn’t till later that I realized the potentially embarrassing mix-up that led to that answer.
After the convention, I met up with some good buddies from college I hadn’t seen in ages (Head here to read one of their, mi amigo Frank Johnson’s, impressions of the con.) and we were talking about the convention and the panel—which they walked into and waved vigorously at me during from the back row. I was relaying how funny it was as the host to hear Lando talking about the weird sex imagery of “Star Wars” when someone said, “Hey, did you ask him ‘Do you have any good sex stories from ‘Star Wars?’ or what?” It was then relayed to me that even though I had asked, “Do you have any good set stories from ‘Star Wars?'” that other people in the audience heard “sex” instead of “set” and that Billy Dee, who’s a bit older, may have also heard “sex” and just run with it.
So, Mr. Williams, if you ever stumble across this blog, I definitely asked about “set stories” not “sex stories.”
Still, it led to the absolute funniest moments of the panel, so it wasn’t such a bad mix-up—considering Billy Dee didn’t backhand me for asking such an insolent question.
Other than that story, some other great bits from the panel were…
- When asked about keeping anything from the set of “Star Wars,” Billy Dee lamented not having kept his Lando cape, but admitted to taking an Ewok head from the set. After remembering this, he told the audience he’d need to go search for it as it was likely just in a box somewhere.
- Billy Dee talking about “Brian’s Song,” where he portrayed Chicago Bear Gale Sayers alongside James Caan’s Brian Piccolo, and referencing Caan offhand as “Jimmy Caan.”
- Someone asking Billy Dee if he was upset that he didn’t win the Emmy for his role in “Brian’s Song.” Billy Dee had previously explained that he thought the fact that he and “Jimmy” Caan both being nominated for the award for the same TV film killed both their chances, but this time Billy Dee got a little raucous with his answer. After remaining super cool and laid back all panel, he ambled into a “Well, you know, it made me…” before erupting, shouting and stomping his feet, scaring the shit out of me, “ANGRY!” This was quickly followed up with a “No, just kidding,” after Billy Dee had a good chuckle at the audience’s—and my—shock at this eruption.
- Also, I got to shake Lando’s hand. Rad!
It wasn’t exactly the experience I was expecting—as I said, most panels feature celebs furiously plugging and engaging the audience to win them over for their next project and Billy Dee was conversely just cool, confident and chill the whole time—but it was one helluva experience and an amazing memory for me as a huge “Star Wars” nerd. Sadly though, I couldn’t in any appropriate way work in doing my awesome Lando impression (Ackbar: “We won’t last long against those Star Destroyers.” Me as Lando: “Longer than we will against that Death Star. And we might just take a few of them with us!”), but I didn’t get to do my Jaime Escalante impression in front of Edward James Olmos either, so what can you do?