As the old adage
in Hollywood goes, “You’re only as good as your last movie.”  It’s a sad, harsh reality that plenty of
actors are forced to contend with.  Some
are deserving of what comes their way, others not so much.  Because of this, I frequently catch myself
thinking about films that helped shape who I am- my film likes and
dislikes, if you will.  What quickly follows is that
feeling of nostalgia, of seeing a favorite actor or actress do what they do
best: impress the hell out of you.

“What ever
happened to…” is a weekly column that focuses on an actor or actress who has
(or had) the talent to succeed in the industry, and by all accounts should, but
for one reason or another, simply disappeared from the public and cinematic

This week, I am
wondering: what ever happened to… Billy Zane?

Here is an
example of an actor who can play both sides of the coin; good and evil.  Although, looking at his filmography, it’s
clear that he relishes in playing the bad guy. 
The character that he is arguably most known for is that of debonair
upper class prick Caledon Hockley in “Titanic”.  Even his hair pissed me off, for crying out loud.  He walked with a swagger not one man, woman
or child could match on that boat.  And
that moment when he slapped Kate Winslet while having tea… well, let’s just say
that I knew he meant business.

though, Zane was having so much fun with that role, it’s a mystery as to why he
didn’t shoot straight into the stratosphere after it.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the reason why “Titanic” became
the highest grossing picture of all time. 
It’s hard to imagine that this was the guy who played Kit Walker/the
Phantom in “The Phantom” just one year prior. 
Granted, that film was a dud; but if it’s ever on television, I will
watch it because, again, Zane is having so much fun that it’s almost
criminal.  Plus, Treat Williams, for
some reason, makes for an interesting villain; not very threatening, but people
were afraid of the guy.

By all accounts
and purposes, “The Phantom” was to be Zane’s breakthrough role.  I’m sure he expected that as well.  I still remember the onslaught of
advertising Universal did back in ’96 for the movie, what was to be one of
their big summer blockbusters before it failed to make any noise at the box
office.  If anything, Zane was the one
and only high point in that movie.  But
his charisma couldn’t save the lackluster story.

But let’s be
honest here, Zane will always be remembered for playing a suave villain in a
monster movie.  “Tales from the Crypt
presents: Demon Knight”, a film that blew my mind when I was in grade school,
proved to me that beyond a shadow of a doubt, Zane is the personification of
pure evil… and it was damn cool.  As the
Collector, he was everything a villain should be.  That shaved noggin and devilish grin.  That laid back, mellow “I’ll take my time because I know I’m
going to kill you eventually” attitude. 
To achieve 100% concentrated evil, it’s not so much what he did, but
rather how he did it.  And Zane did it well.  At the drop of a hat, he could exude anger,
fear, anxiety, excitement and amusement- sometimes all at once.  Again, I look back at his performance and I
wonder why he hadn’t achieved the stardom that he deserved.

For some reason,
“Tales from the Crypt” proved to be Zane’s lucky rabbit’s foot.  In the episode “Well Cooked Hams”, Zane
played a vengeful magician who kills a rival magician in order to steal “the
world’s greatest magic trick”.  To put
it bluntly, his performance is scenery chewing at its best.  Plus, the teleplay was written by Andrew
Kevin Walker!

What I’m trying
to get at is, Zane deserves to be in the spotlight.  Here is an actor who has fun with what he’s doing and he does it
incredibly well; better than most, in fact. 
If anything, he should be considered one of cinema’s greats just because
he played Match, one of Biff’s lackeys in the “Back to the Future”
trilogy.  Nowadays, his talents are relegated to a long line of forgettable b-level films.  I know he had a part in “Bloodrayne”, but
I’m proud of the fact that I have yet to see that film.  On one end of his career there is “Dead
Calm” and on the other “Bloodrayne”?  It
boggles the mind, really it does.

Back in 2001,
there was a glimmer of hope.  Zane had a
supporting role in “The Believer”, a film about a young Jewish skinhead.  It was an incredible film, one that made me
think Zane had a shot at thriving in the world of quality independent film.  But then the b-films began to roll out and
it seems as if he hasn’t looked back since.

I hope I’m
wrong, I really do.  I hope that Zane is
on the path to career rejuvenation. 
He’s the real deal when it comes to acting and yet, he makes it seem so
easy and effortless.  But I’m worried
that since he’s made so many horrible decisions at this point in his career, it may be too
difficult for him to turn the odds in his favor. 
He seems to be a smart guy, so I find it hard to believe that he’s
making these decisions without seeing how it will play into his career in the long
run.  Let’s hope that rumor about him
playing a young Brando in the Marlon Brando biopic proves to be true.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he would
absolutely nail that role.  Then again,
even if he is offered the role, it’s up to him to decide if he wants it.  Perhaps he doesn’t want to be in the
Hollywood spotlight and if that’s the case, that’s fine, it’s his choice.  But if Zane wants to re-enter the public eye
and show us why we took notice of him in the first place, I say take the role
and run with it.  If his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it,
albeit memorable, cameo in “Zoolander” is any indication, the world would be a
better place with more Zane.