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Working Out With Billy Dee Williams

How a screen icon rebuilt his 'Star Wars' body

Star Wars actor Billy Dee Williams performing a ropes exercise with a trainer

Ramona Rosales

When he was younger, Billy Dee Williams worked out on his own. But when he heard he'd been cast in the new Star Wars movie, the 82-year-old performer decided to hire a pro to help him get back into fighting-the-Galactic-Empire shape. Williams started seeing the L.A. trainer Gunnar Peterson three times a week, and the actor says the sessions have taught him a lot about exercising with an older body.

"Working out is so much different now than it was when I first played Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, in 1980,” he notes. “It's more difficult to move in an efficient way.” His present workouts “keep things streamlined” by combining weights, cardio and stretching in each session, he says. That mix has had results: Since 2018, Williams has lost 25 pounds and increased his range of motion.

One motivation booster is exercising around people who inspire him. “I see guys like Jimmy Caan [the actor, now 79] working out at the gym, and that keeps me going,” he adds. Williams has also taken steps to make it easier to stay active at home, such as putting a stationary bicycle in his bedroom. “I ride it every day for 30 to 60 minutes. I can't avoid it.”

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Of course, he has the same aches and pains many of us do, including arthritis and a disc problem in his lower back. He consulted a doctor to make sure his workouts wouldn't exacerbate his joint issues. With that assurance, he's been able to exercise despite the aches. “I just had to convince myself that exercise isn't a choice, that it's as routine as eating breakfast,” he explains. “I don't even think of it as pain. I call it discomfort. Eventually, I found that staying active alleviates the issue."

A diet rich in fish, chicken and vegetables helped him lose weight, he says, but “you also need a reward to stay on track. Mine's a little fruit sorbet with some vodka in it, after dinner."

Finding a routine he can stick to has been “a kind of spiritual awakening,” he continues. “Burning off energy can be very centering. It helps me keep on the positive path.”

Actor, artist and singer Billy Dee Williams, 82, appears in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, out Dec. 20.

Williams’ Get-Fit Exercises

His coach suggests these starter moves

An illustration of actor Billy Dee Williams performing squats with the help of a countertop for balance

Patrick Welsh

Body-weight squats

Use a banister or countertop for balance. Push your hips back as if to sit; keep torso upright. Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, stand up again.

An illustration showing Billy Dee Williams doing bicep curls with dumbbells

Patrick Welsh

Dumbbell biceps curls

With feet shoulder-width apart and arms down, hold a weight in each hand, palms facing forward. Bend elbows slowly, bringing weights up, then down.

An illustration showing actor Billy Dee Williams performing a table push-up exercise

Patrick Welsh

Table push-ups

Grab a counter or secure table with both hands. Keeping knees, back and chest straight, bend elbows to lower your chest to your hands, then push back up.