Billy Zane as Caledon “Cal” Hockley in James Cameron’s “Titanic” (1997)
What do you do if you’ve been in the most successful film of all time? If you’re Kate Winslet, you go on to win both the supporting and the lead Golden Globes for two different performances in the same year, AND the Oscar for Best Actress. If you’re Leonardo DiCaprio, you go onto to produce, act and be a global activist, all while maintaining superstar status and talent for the craft. If you’re Victor Garber, you’ve been in countless hit movies, television shows and stage productions, most recently appearing in this year’s Best Picture winner, Argo. If you’re Billy Zane…you…wait, whatever happened to Billy Zane??
He was in the most successful movie…EVER. So, what happened? Maybe it’s because he played an asshole. Whenever you play a douchebag character as an actor, beware. You might slip under the radar because people might actually believe you’re the character. Either that, or you’re just an asshole. Anyways, Billy Zane appeared in Back to the Future, and spent most of Dead Calm (also on a boat) with his shirt off. Women swooned. Men were envious. Apparently, he was cast in Titanic after James Cameron saw him in the Phantom (Yeah. Really…) But, where the heck is he? Isn’t it sort of a given that if you’re in the highest grossing movie of all-time that you have a successful career? I mean, that’s how it works.
Oh, no no no my friends. As actors, oftentimes, we have to start all over—go back to the start of the game, and rebuild things. An actor’s biggest fear, ask anyone from an Oscar winner to someone like me who is slowly building a career, is that we’ll never work again. Believe me, I’ve talked about this with Piper Laurie, Patricia Clarkson, and Jessica Chastain when I met them at various events. We all fear the same thing: Obscurity. We, as actors, want to always keep going. We always need to keep working to keep our senses sharp, our instruments up to date and our names relevant. It’s a constant struggle. If it’s hard for people who are established (i.e., have agents, managers and recognizable credits,) it’s about a million times harder for those of us trying to build a network of people (i.e. get an agent, manager, and recognizable credit.) Everyone starts somewhere. But we might just end up back where we started.
The case with Billy Zane is not that he’s out of work. Far from it. He’s working. It’s just that very few people are taking notice anymore. Most recently, he appeared in the Single White Female rip-off, The Roommate, playing a professor. He’s also done minor projects, guest spots, and even owns a production company. It might not be of the same status as DiCaprio or Winslet, but guess what? That means he’s your everyday working actor. And that’s not a bad thing. Oh yeah, there’s also “Zoolander” so…there’s that.
And, here’s Billy Zane in 2013.