Klaatu, Stand-in for Billy Dee Williams (Return of the Jedi)
Interview: September 2013
In Return of the Jedi you originally were the stand-in of your father: Billy Dee Williams. How did you become his stand-in, and what did you have to do on the set?
Well I was playing Bass in a band, and working on one of our first demos at the time. My father approached me and asked me if I wanted the job as his stand-in. I wasn’t quite sure what that would entail, so I was a bit reluctant at first. I had been on location with him before, and based on knowing how tedious it can be, coupled with the fact that it would be approximately two weeks in the Yuma desert, I wasn’t sure. When my father told me I could bring the guitar player in the band, a close friend of mine (Stephen Costantino) with me, and that we could bring our instruments and continue working on our songs, I said great!! As a stand-in my job was to watch the actors’ rehearsals of the scenes very closely, and assist in setting up the camera angles and lighting by standing in for the actor, in this case for Lando Calrissian. They generally prefer someone who is the same relative complexion and height. The more you resemble the person, the better, so having me do it was a pretty good fit. Sometimes they actually use you in the scene as a photo double, and that’s basically how I wound up taking part in one of the stunts for him.
During filming you got to play Klaatu, a skiff guard. Were there other characters you could choose? And if so: what was the reason you chose Klaatu?
I didn’t actually choose to do Klaatu, you could say I was given the opportunity. There was so much action going on in that particular scene that stunt men were being injured pretty regularly. Some of them weren’t able to continue working, so they could always use a couple of extra guys. They asked me to put the costume on and I did it. It was a little bit scary, but pretty exciting! I had no idea what the creatures name was, or that it even had a name until almost 30 years later!
In which scenes can we see you as Klaatu and Lando?
I worked throughout the shoot in Yuma, so I’m in and out of various parts of “The Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon”, also known as the Sarlacc Pit. I was hanging over the side of the skiff as Lando Calrissian, and also fought Luke Skywalker as Klaatu on top of Jabba’s Sail Barge.
Did you get to meet the big names like Lucas, Ford, Fisher and Hamill? Do you have any good stories regarding working with them?
Yes, the first person I met was Carrie Fisher, at the airport before we got on the plane to Arizona. I remember being struck by how genuine she seemed, and not at all like I imagined. Then I met Mark Hamill when we got there, just a great guy. Later met Harrison and Lucas on the set when we started working. There are so many stories to tell… I remember Stephen and I grabbing a Polaroid camera, knocking on Mark’s trailer door, and getting someone to snap a photo of us while he was wearing his robe and shorts! He was such a good sport!
Did any weird, funny or remarkable things happen on the set?
Yes, there are so many stories to tell, that many people have suggested I write a book about my experience! When we arrived in Yuma we were given t-shirts and hats that said Blue Harvest on them, and I remember thinking… what in the world is Blue Harvest? I thought we came here to shoot, what was then called Revenge Of The Jedi. I found out Blue Harvest was the name they called the production, to try and cover up the fact that we were shooting a Star Wars movie. Well after a few sightings of the main Star Wars characters word began to get around pretty quickly.
If I’m correct you were 22 when Return of the Jedi was filmed. Were you a fan of Star Wars and when did you see the first movie?
Yes I was about 22 at the time. I saw the first Star Wars movie so many times, I just about knew the dialog. So when my father got the role as Lando Calrissian, and told me he was going to be in The Empire Strikes Back, we were pretty excited! Before that point we use to laugh and joke that the only ethnic characters in Star Wars were the aliens! Here he was getting ready to be the first!
We have the same taste in music: funk. You were in a band in the 80’s called Atmosphere. Can you tell something about this band, and who were your musical influences?
Well the short story is… Atmosphere was born out of jam sessions with various musicians in my father’s garage. Right around the time we did Jedi, we began to assemble a core group of members, and started working on a demo tape we intended to use to shop for a recording contract. It was very eclectic music with funk at the core. It was probably a bit ahead of its time, mainly because we didn’t fit neatly into a particular category. I grew up listening to everything from James Brown to the Beatles! At one point Jimi Hendrix was my idol, so much that I wanted to BE him! My grandmother gave me an inexpensive electric guitar for a birthday gift when I was about 11 years old, and I quickly began to realize that I wasn’t going to play like Jimi overnight! Another one of my favorites was Sly and The Family Stone, I loved their positive message on songs like “You Can Make It If You Try”, and the music was FUNKY! Later I started really getting into Parliament/Funkadelic and Bootsy Collins. When I started playing bass I listened to a lot of Larry Graham, and Graham Central Station, and my playing style sort of developed in that direction. I like the sound of “slapping” the bass!
If I’m correct it was the late 80’s/early 90’s when you started to work as a fitness coach. What was the reason you got into fitness?
My father got me into working out when I was about 12. I can remember going to the Hollywood YMCA with him, and being really intimidated by all of the big dudes in the weight room! When I turned 13 he introduced me to a great Martial Arts instructor (Hugh VanPutten) that he met when we were on the set of a movie he was shooting in Albaquque, and I studied Hapkido for several years. Then I got my first job working at a very prestigious gym in Century City when I was about 18 tears old. I did laundry and folded towels, but I learned so much from the people that worked there. Years later I started training with a close friend of mine Randy Lomba, and he encouraged me, and helped me start my first Personal Training Studio, in Studio City in 91’. I began to study basic Kinesiology, and nutrition on my own, and the rest is history.
You told me you’re currently working on a book. Can you tell something more about this?
Yes I started signing at cons, and some of the Q&A’s I did led to suggestions that I should do a book. I’m currently working on a book about my experiences working on Jedi, many of the events leading up to working on the film, and experiences afterward.
Besides writing a book, what are you currently doing?
I have a fitness project called Key2bFit, which began with the idea of creating personalized exercise programs on DVDs and custom made fitness packages. I spent years compiling research on what works or people, based on over 22 years of helping all types of people get healthy and fit. I broke it all down into a very simple program, that has since evolved into a comprehensive 30 day online plan for creating a healthy lifestyle. It’s based on the principle of taking small steps toward creating permanent good habits. You can visit coreydeewilliams.com for more details.
Final question: What is the best memory you have regarding your time working on Return of the Jedi?
Well the whole trip was a very unforgettable experience, and it would be difficult for me to single out just one event. If I had to name one thing, it would probably be the jam sessions that Stephen and I would have in or hotel room in the evenings. We would sit and work on ideas at the end of the day, and cast and crew members would sometimes stop by to hear what we were working on next…