Some of pop culture’s biggest stars will be in town this month when Salt Lake Comic Con kicks off its FanXperience convention. Over 100 celebrity guests will be at FanX, which will take at the Salt Palace Convention Center on April 17–19. The guests include action heroes and science fiction icons, along with well-known musicians and best-selling authors.
In separate interviews, FanX guests Kelly Hu, Cassandra Peterson and Billy Dee Williams told the Deseret News they are anxious to meet their fans in Salt Lake City.
Hu, known for her role as Lady Deathstrike in “X-Men 2” and for her work as China White on the CW’s “Arrow,” didn’t always plan on being an actress. In fact, as a 16-year-old, she had dreams of becoming a model. After being crowned Miss Teen USA in 1985, the Hawaii native said she was given an opportunity to head down a different career path.
“It opened a lot of doors for me,” Hu said. In 1987, she got her first acting job in a two-part episode of “Growing Pains” and purchsed a full-page ad in Variety magazine, announcing that she was available for West Coast representation. She would later go on to become a regular on TV shows, including “Sunset Beach” (1997), “Nash Bridges” (1997-98) and “Martial Law” (1998-2000).
Hu recalled resenting having to attend ballet classes as a young girl while her brother took up kung fu. She described her childhood as being “very traditional,” but added, “I always wanted to do all the things that my brother did.”
Years later, after moving in with a like-minded roommate, Hu was presented with an opportunity to fulfill that dream by enrolling in karate classes.
“I didn’t take up martial arts to become, you know, an ‘action girl,’” the actress said. “It just so happened that I got a black belt because my roommate was getting her black belt and it got me interested.”
Hu’s résumé also includes work with martial artists such as Scott Adkins and Jet Li. She has also had fight scenes with Hugh Jackman in "X-Men 2," as well as a role alongside former professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who she worked with in “The Scorpion King.”
“I love days when I don’t have to learn dialogue and all I have to do is beat up on guys,” Hu said. “It’s a fun day. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to do a lot of that.”
FanX guest Cassandra Peterson burst onto the pop culture scene in 1981 with her role as Elvira, the comedic host of the campy “Movie Macabre” TV show. Nearly three decades later, her iconic character has to some people become practically synonymous with Halloween.
“Up until that time, horror hosts were generally a local phenomenon. Everybody in their own little town had their own horror host,” said Peterson, who became the first nationally syndicated horror host on television. “For the first time, I was able to syndicate my show all over the country, so the awareness grew much bigger than if I would have been local.”
Peterson described landing the role as Elvira as “very much an accident,” saying that, as a comedienne trying to break into acting, she had been interviewing for “everything.” When she applied for an opening as a horror host, she got the big break she had been hoping for.
“They liked the fact that I was kind of the goofy, valley-girl type of a character,” Peterson said. “They wanted me to keep that character and then dress spooky. I was really very skeptical about how that would work out, but apparently it worked out OK because, 35 years later, I’m still doing it.”
Peterson, who is known as the Queen of Halloween, said the longevity of her character’s success comes from its yearly attachment to the October holiday. “During Halloween, I’m on television, on the radio and I can’t get away from Elvira,” she said. “Then I go underground a little bit. But then Halloween happens and (I’m) back again!”
Billy Dee Williams etched himself a permanent place in Hollywood fame with his role as Lando Calrissian in the original Star Wars trilogy, but he actually got his start as a 6-year-old singing on Broadway, which the actor jokingly referred to as being “100 years ago.”
Williams’ IMDb page lists 130 credits — including three projects filmed in Utah. But he said that working with George Lucas for the Star Wars films was easily a highlight for him.
“It was a lot of fun for me, and it was, obviously, a monumental step in my life and my career,” Williams said. “To be able to work with people of that caliber was a good career.”
By working with recent projects, including “Robot Chicken,” “The Cleveland Show” and most recently “The Lego Movie,” Williams has been able to revisit his Star Wars role in a humorous light that allows him to expand his character’s legacy.
“When I parody myself or my character, Lando Calrissian, it’s always a lot of fun for me. I enjoy it,” Williams said. “There was never an opportunity to really explore Lando and his life, separate from all the other situations going on.”
Williams also recently performed a Star Wars-themed cha cha as a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.” He described his experience on the show as “rough,” adding, “It’s a challenge, especially at this juncture of my life with all my ailments. I’ve got no business getting out there and trying to dance with all those young folks.” He and his partner, professional dancer Emma Slater, withdrew from the competition during an episode on March 31 due to an injury to Williams’ back.
According to Salt Lake Comic Con’s master guest schedule, Hu, Peterson and Williams are scheduled to appear during all three days of FanX. The three guests explained their takes on the draw conventions have on fans.
“There’s a deep attachment to those characters and those things we loved as a kid,” said Peterson, who co-owns a convention called Comikaze with comic book legend Stan Lee. “So I think it’s a chance for kids, adults and everyone to kind of come and see their heroes from when they were young and meet them. It seems to be a really big deal for people. They love it.”
“It’s an experience,” Hu said. “It’s one of those that you really should go to and experience at least once in your life.
“It’s an opportunity for me to meet these people who have followed my career, and I love when people get into it,” she said. “I love when people get all dressed up and cosplay and stuff like that. It’s such a great way for people to be able to show their creativity. It’s a creative outlet for a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily have a stage.”
Williams also said he enjoys spending time with his fans at conventions. “It gives me a chance to meet all of the people who have given me so much support throughout the years,” he said. “I just enjoy it. It’s fun — all the creativity, all the people in their costumes. I love to see all that stuff.”
“It’s kind of like Halloween in the middle of the year,” Peterson said. “It’s fun for kids; it’s fun for adults — every age. It’s fairly inexpensive for a whole day’s entertainment and, I mean, I’ve never seen a person yet who hasn’t gone to one of these and just had a blast.”
Single-day and multi-day passes for Salt Lake Comic Con FanXperience are available online at SaltLakeComicCon.com.
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