It’s been 15 years since “Titanic” reduced us all to sobbing wrecks and smashed box-office records. Today, James Cameron’s classic is being reissued in eye-popping 3-D, and we caught up with its sharp-suited villain Cal Hockley, also known as actor Billy Zane.
How did the original “Titanic” change your life?
It was an incredible calling card. “Titanic” was an invitation to the tables of sovereign leaders for whatever you wanted to leverage, in my case charities. It was a great honor to be canonized in the pantheon of significant movies.
Having played such a villain, are you worried about a new wave of unpopularity with the 3-D release?
Been there, done that, I’m well versed from the first time. There’s been a new perspective on Cal. Perhaps revisiting the movie has helped people see him through a different lens and have more sympathy.
You’re not experiencing hostility?
Men say I was terrible and women are in two camps: The ones who were swept up in Leo-mania and can’t believe I was in the way of true love, and the slyer ones with an appetite for jewelry who thought Rose was mad to leave Cal.
Would you have liked anything about living in 1912?
Life before cell phones! Also, the lost art of craftsmanship. I miss things being well made. Craftsmanship standards in general have fallen.
How do you and the ocean get along?
I forged my career at sea in “Dead Calm,” where I played a nutter on a boat. I do well at sea, the boats just got bigger. In real life? It makes it very hard to charter one.
What will audiences get out of this “Titanic” reissue?
It depends what audience. Most have seen the film before, so they’re going in with comforting expectation. It’s much like seeing an anthem band from the 1980s; waiting for the big hit, fired up nostalgically for when the first chord hits and you’re transported to a time and place. The device of 3-D allows the filmmaker to keep the audience off-balance — it’s an unpredictable space that allows heartstrings to be manipulated.
It’s easy to forget this is all based on a historic tragedy. How has this affected you?
More so than before. I saw a segment of the voyage I had never seen before. While watching it I had a very uneasy feeling. For the original, the tragedy hadn’t hit me. We were always caught up in the artifice of film. Now it’s different, I feel the weight.
Does a real man make his own luck?
But of course.