Why Hollywood won't cast Billy Zane anymore

From his role as a part of Biff's gang in multiple Back to the Future movies to wicked Cal in Titanic—as well as his memorable work in Charmed, a Zoolander cameo, and dozens of other movies and TV shows—Billy Zane was once a reliably dashing presence on screens both big and small. But he doesn't seem to pop up to provide his quirky charm as much anymore, and we've wondered what he's been up to recently. Here's why you don't see Billy Zane much anymore…and how that could change.

He's busy selling chicken

Nothing catches fast-food customers' attention quite like a change in a chain's beloved mascot, and Kentucky Fried Chicken—KFC to its legions of fans—has taken full advantage of this over the last few years. After decades of existing mainly as a kindly cartoon emblazoned on grease-lined buckets, Colonel Sanders started appearing in KFC's commercials again recently, with a twist: instead of an anonymous actor to play the part, they hired well-known faces like SNL vet Norm Macdonald and stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan. Zane joined the Colonel Sanders lineup in early 2017, slathering himself in gold paint to help roll out the restaurant's line of "Georgia Gold Chicken."

As KFC CMO Kevin Hochman explained, the idea to hire Zane was directly inspired by his past as a villainous rich dude on the big screen, which is supposed to underscore the idea that anyone can dig into a bag of drive-through poultry. "The whole idea of the campaign is, you don't have to be a millionaire to eat like one," he pointed out. "Billy Zane's playfulness comes through in the ad."

He's not a leading man

Zane scored a series of hits with supporting appearances in projects like Titanic, Dead Calm, or Charmed. But on the handful of occasions in which he was the leading actor in a big-budget Hollywood movie, they tended to strike out—most notably The Phantom. The flashy 1996 superhero movie, based on a relatively obscure (to '90s audiences) 1930s comic strip and intended as the start of a franchise, made just $17 million at the box office. That franchise never materialized, and neither did future opportunities for Zane to be a leading man in a major film.

He can't escape Titanic

Anytime Zane makes the media rounds to promote a new movie or TV series, it seems interviewers don't want to talk about his latest project at all—all they want to discuss is Titanic. This makes a certain amount of sense, as it was once the highest-grossing movie of all time and spent more than a dozen weeks as the #1 movie at the box office. He of course played the villainous, controlling Cal, who tries to bend his fiancee Rose (Kate Winslet) to his will—but he can't keep her away from Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio). (On Today in 2016, Zane playfully suggested that Rose should've ended up with Cal.)

It's all fans ever want to talk about either, he says—for better or for worse. "'You're the a****** from Titanic.' That one I get a lot which is really nice. Nice to meet people that way," he told HuffPo Live. But he jests, because he's well aware of how lucky he was to be in one of the most popular movies of all time. "I'm so honored and flattered to have just been on that ride."

His most recent TV series flopped

In the summer of 2016, Zane had one of his highest-profile gigs in years with the Freeform (formerly ABC Family) soap Guilt. Earning comparisons to the real-life Amanda Knox situation, it's about an American student studying abroad in England who becomes the top suspect when her roommate is found murdered. Zane played Stan Gutterie, a fashionable, scheming defense lawyer who was also an American living overseas, navigating a foreign legal system. Fortunately, the show wrapped up the central case, because it was canceled after one short season.

Zane also played an important role in the Amazon original series Mad Dogs as the quirky, roguish Milo, a part most definitely in his wheelhouse… even if, spoiler alert, he dies in the first episode. Nevertheless, scarcely a month after its debut, Amazon announced there would be no second season, barring any ghostly Billy Zane appearances or flashbacks from ever happening.

n 2010, Zane seemed to have a promising role in ABC's legal drama The Deep End, but that show was taken off the air too, after just six episodes. Zane also had a recurring role in the 2009 ABC sitcom Samantha Who?, which was also put out of its misery midway through its second season. To put it simply, Zane's TV efforts have always been doomed, but it's not like he doesn't have other projects going on. They're just a little less visible.

He's a theater guy

Zane has done just fine not being in major films, because he's busy on the stage. He's a lifelong theater buff, as his parents were professional actors on the Chicago theater scene, and they took him to London every year to see plays. Zane has followed in their footsteps, both in Chicago and on Broadway. He starred as Captain von Trapp in a Windy City production of The Sound of Music, and played skeezy lawyer Billy Flynn in the long-running production of Chicago on Broadway.

He makes his own movies now

Zane loves making movies—but he doesn't have to make them for Hollywood. He's a principal partner in a production company and content distributor called RadioactiveGiant. The company has produced a handful of modest movies, such as Killing Winston Jones (starring Richard Dreyfuss and Danny Glover), By the Rivers of Babylon (with Crispin Glover), and the acclaimed documentary Searching for Eddie Running Wolf. And in the late '90s, Zane produced and starred in a labor of love called I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, a silent film based on an unproduced screenplay left behind by famed bad moviemaker Ed Wood.

Billy Zane is self aware

Zane has entered into the self-aware, self-effacing cameo phase of his career. He seems to be comfortable with his status as an actor who isn't as cool or as in demand as he once was, which means he's up for a cameo as "Billy Zane" in Zoolander, another cameo as a blond-wigged "Billy Zane" in Zoolander 2, or the occasional Funny or Die video. In "Billy Zane Thinks Zayn's Tweets Are About Him," Zane amusingly confuses himself with One Direction singer Zayn Malik.

The return of Billy Zane

Zane may not be an A-lister headlining giant movies anymore—but he was never really cut out for that career anyway. He's more of a character actor, handsome enough to play cads and charismatic villains. That said, he still continues to work as often as he likes. He's got seven current and/or upcoming features lined up, including the family film Adventure Club, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie Blue World Order, and the comedy The Last Party with fellow '90s survivors Sharon Stone and Gina Gershon. In short, Zane's got versatility, and it continues to keep him busy—even if we have to try a little harder to see him in action these days.