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Billy Dee Williams says he sees himself as ‘feminine as well as masculine’

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Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in a screenshot from the trailer for ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ (Image via screenshot on Twitter, courtesy Disney/Lucasfilm)

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.

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Photos

PHOTOS: GMCW Holiday Show

Chorus performs at Lincoln Theatre

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed its “Holiday Show” at Lincoln Theatre on Saturday. The Chorus has performances on Dec. 11 and 12. For tickets and showtimes, visit gmcw.org.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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PHOTOS: International LGBTQ Leaders Conference opening reception

Politicians and activists from around the world met and mingled at the JW Marriott

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Politicians and activists from around the world met and mingled at the JW Marriott. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The LGBTQ Victory Institute held an opening reception for the 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference at the JW Marriott on Thursday.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Theater

Meet the husbands and creative partners behind ‘Christmas Angel’

A funny, redemptive world premiere with a diverse cast

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Stephen Gregory Smith and Matt Conner with pugs Edgar Allan Pug and Lord Byron.

The Christmas Angel
Dec. 9-19
Creative Cauldron
410 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA 22046
Tickets:  $35. Students $20.
Masks and proof of vaccination are required
creativecauldron.org

“Ours is like a lava lamp,” says composer Matt Conner describing the collaborative creative process he shares with musical writing partner and husband Stephen Gregory Smith. “We move together in motion in a continual ebb and flow.” 

A couple for 23 years, married for eight, and making musicals together for 11, the talented pair’s current offering is “The Christmas Angel,” opening on Dec. 9 at Creative Cauldron in Fairfax. 

A musical adaptation of the same-named 1910 novel by Abbie Farwell Brown, it’s the story of Angelina Terry (Kanysha Williams), a wealthy embittered recluse who learns the lessons of Christmas from a box of old toys that she casts into the street. Also featured in the hour-long one-act are Ryan Sellers as Horton, Angelina’s butler, and Carl Williams who plays her brother. The angel and toys are brought to life by an ensemble of a dozen teens plucked from the company’s musical theater training program. 

Via phone from their home in Arlington, Smith and Conner shared thoughts on their new show and working style. In attendance are pug dogs Edgar Allan Pug and Lord Byron, whom they call Eddie and Byron in public – otherwise “it’s just too much,” says Conner whose ultimate fantasy involves living on a pug farm where he’d write music and present the occasional show.

Rather than finish each other’s sentences, the duo (both Helen Hayes Award winners – Smith for acting and Conner for directing) expound on one another’s thoughts.

While Conner composes the music, Smith writes the book and lyrics, and together they co-direct. “But there’s no end and beginning where my job ends and his begins,” says Smith. “What we do complements each other’s work.”

Still, there are differences. Smith’s approach is focused. He writes pages at night and edits in the morning. Conner’s method is more relaxed, preferring to sit at the keyboard and talk rather than writing things down. But throughout the creative process, there’s never a moment when the project isn’t on their mind. They can be watching TV or buying milk when an exciting idea pops up, says Conner. 

A clever nod to Dickens, the novel is more than just a female “Christmas Carol,” says Smith. And in some spots, he’s beefed up the 55-page book, fleshing out both storyline and characters including the toys whose shabby appearance belies a youthful confidence. 

He adds, “Every holiday season you go to the attic and pull down the box, or boxes in my case, of holiday decorations and it’s all old but it’s new. That’s the nostalgic feeling of toys from the attic that we’re trying to find through the show.”

The music is a combination of traditional carols performed by a hand bell chorus, and original Christmas songs that intentionally sound very familiar. The score includes songs “Don’t Hide Your Light,” “The Sweetest Gift,” and “Yestermore” – the moment when the past, present, and future come together. 

Also, there’s Angelina’s Bah! Humbug! number “Fiddlesticks,” her great renunciation of the holidays. She believes the world a disappointing place to be, and the sooner realized the better. 

Conner and Smith aren’t new to Creative Cauldron. Through the company’s Bold New Works project, the team was commissioned to write five world premiere musicals in just five years. The result was “The Turn of the Screw,” “Monsters of the Villa Diodati,” “Kaleidoscope,” “Witch” and “On Air.”

Judging from some of the titles and their slightly macabre content, it seems the duo was better poised to write for Halloween than Christmas, but nonetheless, they were commissioned. Creative Cauldron’s producing director Laura Connors Hull brought them the obscure yet charming book that surprisingly had never before been reworked for stage or celluloid, and the pair got to work last spring. 

Conner and Smith agree, “The show is a lot of things rolled up into one.”

Not only is it a funny, redemptive world premiere with a diverse cast, but it’s also a story largely unknown to today’s audiences. Additionally, the show boasts intergenerational appeal while holding messages about Christmas, family, and finding light when you’re in a darker place. 

More information about Conner and Smith, including links to their music and popular podcast “The Conner & Smith Show,” can be found on their terrific website at connersmithmusicals.com.   

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