Billy Dee Williams Is Only Lando Because Another Actor Said No

By Zack Zagranis | Published

lando calrissian

Billy Dee Williams recently made the claim that despite Donald Glover’s talent, there was “Only one Lando Calrissian,” and it was him. What Williams failed to mention, however, was that he wasn’t even the first choice to play the iconic Star Wars charmer. Irvin Kershner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back, originally approached Alien actor Yaphet Kotto for the role of Lando, but Kotto turned him down.

Alien Actor Yaphet Kotto Was The First Choice

The story goes that Kotto was having lunch with co-star Veronica Cartright during the production of Alien when Kershner approached him. According to Kotto, the Empire Strikes Back director beckoned for him to leave Cartright and join him in discussing some business. Kershner had recently directed the actor in a made-for-TV movie Raid on Entebbe so Kotto was inclined to hear what he had to say.

 “I’m doing Empire Strikes Back and you’re going to be in it,” Kershner allegedly told Kotto.

“No, I’m not.” Kotto responded.

Why He Turned Down Star Wars

yaphet kotto

Yaphet Kotto gave a few reasons for his rejection of the Lando Calrissian role. His most prominent excuse has been a fear of typecasting. Yaphet was afraid that if he jumped from one sci-fi movie straight into another one, he would be known as a sci-fi actor and nothing more. Though never explicitly stated in any interview there’s also the unspoken subtext that Kotto also didn’t want to do another movie where he would be the one token minority in an otherwise white cast.

Kotto Thought Lando Was Going To Die

Kotto has also been quoted as saying that he turned down ESB because “They’ll kill me off,” and he would have trouble “finding work after that.” It’s unknown whether that part was speculation from Kotto or if an early draft of The Empire Strikes Back had Lando dying at the end. Given that no early version of Empire with Lando dying has ever been discussed by anyone responsible for making the film, we can assume it was simply an assumption on Kotto’s part.

Billy Dee Williams Was The Right Choice

It’s important to note that in several interviews over the years, Kotto stated that he already had a role lined up after Alien, a film called Brubaker. Already being attached to a film that would have conflicted with the Star Wars sequel may have been the real reason Yaphet Kotto turned down playing Lando. Whatever the real reason is that the actor rejected the part fans lucked out.

There’s no doubt that Kotto would have been excellent in the role of Cloud City’s Baron Administrator, but Billy Dee Williams is iconic. Williams’ Lando can’t possibly be improved upon, although Donald Glover did a more than admirable job as a much younger Calrissian in Solo.

Yaphet Kotto Also Said No To Star Trek

Oddly enough, Yaphet Kotto might be the first actor to turn down both the Star Wars franchise and its biggest rival, Star Trek. When Star Trek: The Next Generation was still in the casting stage, Kotto was on the shortlist to play Captain Jean-Luc Picard. At one point, the producers actually offered the role to Kotto, but much like with Lando a decade before, the actor said no.

Yaphet Kotto Had Good Reason To Hate Sci-Fi


It almost seems like the late actor hated space, which would make sense considering he was allegedly visited by UFOs for 50 years of his life. Yaphet Kotto confessed in a 2017 interview that from the age of ten on, he was routinely confronted by aliens in locales from the Bronx to the Philippines. Considering that, we suppose it makes sense that he wouldn’t exactly be stoked to make a bunch of spacefaring content.

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