Why Billy Dee Williams Couldn't Say No to 'Dancing With the Stars'

Victoria Leigh Miller
Yahoo TVMarch 31, 2014

Billy Dee Williams seems to be surprising everyone — including himself — with his current gig on "Dancing With the Stars." The Emmy-nominated TV and film legend found himself signing on to the long-running ABC celebrity ballroom competition before he even had a chance to turn it down.

Yahoo TV caught up with Williams to ask him about his decision to compete on the TV dancing competition, the daunting upcoming partner switch, and what he really thinks of those low-scoring judges.

"Well, I certainly was a fan of 'Dancing With the Stars,'" Williams told us when he was asked about his reaction when he was approached to join the demanding competition. "I was approached by my management. Before I could say no, they were so excited about the whole prospect that they wouldn't even let me really respond. ... Instead of saying no, I found myself saying, 'Well, OK, let's see what I can do with this.'"

[Related: Amy Purdy Talks 'Dancing With the Stars,' Her Reality TV Past, and Why Derek Hough Is a Dream Partner]

The actor is best known for his smooth moves in movies like "Mahogany" and "Lady Sings the Blues," and for his role in the last two episodes of the "Stars Wars" trilogy as the gambler-general Lando Calrissian, but his new role on the TV dancing show has been a bit bumpy, thanks to two hip replacements, and he has seen a series of low judges' scores. Of his decision to join a show that boasts a teen pop star and a pair of Olympic ice dancers, Williams said, "It's a challenge, I have to say. A huge challenge."

Still, with fans like his (who else has cheering Ewoks in the "DWTS" audience?) and a couple of clever dance themes (he resurrected his blue Lando cape for a cha-cha and pulled off a "Peter Gunn" tango with three gorgeous female dancers), Williams survived the first week's double elimination despite judges' scores that put him and pro partner Emma Slater at the bottom of the leaderboard. And speaking of the judges, there are no hard feelings coming from this respectful actor.

Watch Williams's premiere performance:

"I think they have a standard, and I understand what that standard is," he said. "I don't know that any of us who are not professionals can meet that standard. But they are there for a reason. They have a job to do. So I'm not bothered by the fact we got low scores, particularly because I get the support of the fans."

After Carrie Ann Inaba advised Williams to step things up and Bruno Tonioli accused him of playing it "very dainty, very careful, very C-3PO," the actor said he is taking in their advice: "I'm listening to the judges, and I'm trying my best," he said. "My body … I'm going to be 77 years old in April, plus I've got a lot of aches and pains. So it's not very easy to meet the criteria; however, I'm working very hard."

As for this week's Most Memorable Year dance, Williams can't dish on the year he chose, but he did confirm that he and Slater are dancing a waltz. He's also having fun going down memory lane for his Most Memorable Year routine. Well, sort of. "It's a combination," he said. "It's fun for me, but it's also, you know, it's like, 'What the hell am I doing?'"

[Related: Catch Up on 'DWTS' With Our Weekly Recaps]

Coming next week: The show's partner "Switch-Up" twist. And like most of the other celebs, Williams isn't particularly looking forward to swapping his partner for a new one. "I don't really want to switch up," he revealed. "She and I have really established a wonderful relationship. I have a tremendous love and respect for her style."

"Dancing With the Stars" isn't the only thing that's been keeping the actor busy. In addition to shooting a pilot for Amazon's "The Rebels," he recently reprised his Lando voice for "The Lego Movie." On rumors that there will be a Lando return in J.J. Abrams's upcoming "Star Wars Episode VII" (slated for 2015), Williams says, "I have no idea." An accomplished artist, he also tells us: "I continue to paint. For me, that's ongoing."

As for his loyal "Dancing With the Stars" fan base, Williams had a message for the vote-happy viewers who've helped to keep him on the show: "I just want to thank them, and I really appreciate them," he said.

"Dancing With the Stars" airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.