Childhood & Early Life
Born on February 24, 1966, in Chicago, Illinois, Billy Zane is the youngest son of amateur actors Thalia and William George Zane, Sr, who established a school for medical technicians together.
His father could track back his ancestry to the Greek region of Mani while his mother to the island of Chios. They anglicised the family’s original surname Zanikopoulos to Zane. His older sister, Lisa Zane, is an actress and singer-songwriter,
He grew up in relative affluence. The pursuit of art was encouraged in the Zane household, expected even. Still a teenager, he enrolled at the Harand Camp of the Theater Arts in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
In 1982, he went abroad to Switzerland to study at The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) and later received his graduation degree from Francis W. Parker School in Chicago.
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Billy Zane’s acting career began on stage. After graduating high school, he came to California in search of work and was cast as Match in the first ‘Back to the Future’ film within three weeks of his arrival. He would reprise the role in the first sequel of the film, ‘Back to the Future II’ (1989).
His next film was another 1980s classic, ‘Critters’ (1986). He made his first television appearance in ‘Brotherhood of Justice’ in 1987, portraying the character Les. He also worked in the music video for Sheena Easton's song "Do It For Love".
He guest-starred in ABC’s crime-drama ‘Heart of the City’ (1986), NBC’s legal drama ‘Matlock’ (1987), NBC’s mystery drama ‘Crime Story’ (1988), and CBS’s detective fiction ‘Murder, She Wrote’.
Zane received his first Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Actor nomination for playing the antagonist in the Australian psychological thriller ‘Dead Calm’ (1989). In the television film ‘The Case of the Hillside Strangler’, he portrayed the American serial killer Kenneth Bianchi.
In 1990, he starred in two films: the indie gem ‘Megaville’ and ‘Memphis Blue’, a war drama based on the 1943 documentary Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress by director William Wyler.
Zane played John Justice Wheeler in the season two of David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ (1991). In ‘Orlando’ (1992), the film adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel ‘Orlando: A Biography’, he was cast as Shelmerdine and in American Western film ‘Tombstone’ as the Shakespearean actor "Mr. Fabian".
He co-starred with Tom Berenger in the 1993 action thriller ‘Sniper’. Cast as Richard Miller, the inexperienced civilian who later becomes a sniper himself, Zane received critical praise for his performance. He returned for three sequels of the film: ‘Sniper: Reloaded’ (2011); ‘Sniper: Ghost Shooter’ (2016); and ‘Sniper: Ultimate Kill’ (2017).
He donned the legendary purple bodysuit of “The Ghost Who Walks” in the 1996 superhero film ‘The Phantom’. While it was a commercial failure at the time of its release, the movie has since become a success due to VHS and DVD sales.
In 1998, he lent his voice to one of the earliest English settlers in North America, John Rolfe, in the animated film ‘Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World’ and turned a producer with the camp comedy ‘I Woke Up Early the Day I Died’, in which he also portrayed the main protagonist.
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Billy Zane ended the decade by playing Marc Antony in the 1999 miniseries ‘Cleopatra’, which was primarily inspired by Margaret George’s historical fiction ‘The Memoirs of Cleopatra’.
Getting back to his acting roots on stage, he performed as Billy Flynn in the 1996 Broadway revival of ‘Chicago’. In 2006, he appeared as Michael Minetti in Arthur Allan Seidelman's West End production of ‘Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks’.
He appeared in guest roles in several popular television shows in the 2000s, including ‘Boston Public’ (2001), ‘Charmed’ (2005), ‘Samantha Who?’ (2009), and ‘The Deep End’ (2010).
He collaborated with Ryan Gosling and director Henry Bean in the 2001 drama ‘The Believer’, which received the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and the Golden St. George at the 23rd Moscow International Film Festival. In 2009, he starred in German filmmaker Uwe Boll’s project ‘Attack on Darfur’.
Zane was part of the cast of the short-lived mystery-drama ‘Guilt’ (2017) as Stan Gutterie, a defence attorney who is hired to help the main protagonist of the series, Grace Atwood (Daisy Head). He appeared as American politician and showman P. T. Barnum in a season 3 episode of ‘Legends of Tomorrow’.
He has seven projects in the pipeline: ‘The Dome’, ‘Cliffs of Freedom’, ‘Blue World Order’, ‘V-Force’, ‘Lucid’, ‘Samson’, and ‘Ghosts of War’
Awards & Achievements
In 1998, Billy Zane won the Favorite Supporting Actor – Drama accolade for ‘Titanic’ at the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards.
For ‘I Woke Up Early the Day I Died’, he received the Best Actor Award at the 2000 B-Movie Film Festival.
He was conferred with an honorary degree from Lium University, Bellinzona, Switzerland, for his work in the field of cinematography in November 2010.