Billy Zane

I first noticed him in some episodes of the tv series Charmed, playing a personable (and hunky) ex-demon named Drake. And now he’s coming past me again, in the second season of Twin Peaks, once again charming, boyish, playful, and sexy (his perennial actorial persona). In between Twin Peaks (1991) and Charmed (2005) came, among other things, the movie version of The Phantom (1996), with Zane in the title role.

So this will be about actors, the comics, tv and movies, and some of Zane’s masculine attributes: that persona, a strong physical presence, a sensuous masculine face, and (of course) an attractive body. Not a lot about language here.

I’ll lead with the face and the body:

(#1)

A characteristic pose. That wayward curl is part of the boyish thing. Open mouth in a half-smile, with fairly full lips (much exaggerated by makeup in Twin Peaks), and those eyelids: somewhat lowered, and angled, conveying intimacy. (If there’s a name for eyes like this, I don’t know it — but it’s certainly a recognizable look.)

Plus the widow’s peak, often seen as a sign of high testosterone in men, hence high masculinity. Note that the Phantom’s superhero costume (#4-6 below) has a widow’s peak built into its face mask.

(#2)

Showing off his sweaty body. He’s still got the curl and the full lips, but otherwise his face is challengingly masculine: lips closed, eyes open and staring intently.

From Wikipedia:

William George “Billy” Zane, Jr. (born February 24, 1966) is an American actor and producer. He is best known for playing Hughie in the thriller Dead Calm (1989), Kit Walker / The Phantom in the superhero film The Phantom (1996), Caledon Hockley in the epic romantic disaster film Titanic (1997), and for his television role as [businessman] John [Justice “Jack”] Wheeler [enamored of Audrey Horne, played by Sherilyn Fenn] in the serial drama series Twin Peaks.

His other film credits include roles in the science fiction comedies Back to the Future (1985) and Back to the Future Part II (1989), the Western film Tombstone (1993), the horror film Demon Knight (1995), and the comedy-drama CQ (2001).

From Charmed, Zane’s character Drake playing a debonair character in tuxedo, along with Alyssa Milano (as the character Phoebe, also in costume):

(#3)

An episode within an episode. Zane’s time with the Charmed Ones began in S7 E14 “Carpe Demon”, first aired 2/13/05, in which the ex-demon Drake is the newest professor hired at Magic School.

Phantom days. Start with the comic-book character.

(#4)

From Wikipedia:

The Phantom is a long-running American adventure comic strip, first published by Mandrake the Magician creator Lee Falk in February 1936, now primarily published internationally by Frew Publications. The main character, the Phantom, is a fictional costumed crime-fighter who operates from the fictional African country of Bangalla. The character has been adapted for television, film and video games. [Many artists have drawn the comic over the years.]

… In the strip, the Phantom was 21st in a line of crime-fighters which began in 1536, when the father of British sailor Christopher Walker was killed during a pirate attack. Swearing an oath on the skull of his father’s murderer to fight evil, Christopher began a legacy of the Phantom which would pass from father to son. Nicknames for the Phantom include “The Ghost Who Walks”, “Guardian of the Eastern Dark” and “The Man Who Cannot Die”.

Unlike most other superheroes, the Phantom has no superpowers and relies on his strength, intelligence and reputed immortality to defeat his foes. The 21st Phantom is married to Diana Palmer; they met while he studied in the United States and have two children, Kit and Heloise. He has a trained wolf, Devil, and a horse named Hero. Like the previous Phantoms, he lives in the ancient Skull Cave.

The Phantom was the first fictional hero to wear the skintight costume which has become a hallmark of comic-book superheroes, and was the first shown in a mask with no visible pupils (another superhero standard). Comics historian Peter Coogan has described the Phantom as a “transitional” figure, since the Phantom has some of the characteristics of pulp magazine heroes like The Shadow and the Spider, as well as anticipating the features of comic book heroes such as Superman, Batman, and Captain America.

As a boy, I was a great fan of the Phantom (The Ghost Who Walks, with his great strength and intelligence and his powerful animal companions), in the Sunday papers. I do have to admit that, though brave and resourceful, he was awfully earnest, so he lost my interest as I grew older. The Phantom of the 1996 movie is, however, something else. A poster for the movies:

(#5)

And Zane in costume and in character:

(#6)

From Wikipedia:

The Phantom is a 1996 American superhero film directed by Simon Wincer. Based on Lee Falk’s comic strip The Phantom, the film stars Billy Zane as a seemingly immortal crimefighter and his battle against all forms of evil. The Phantom also stars Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar and Patrick McGoohan. The film’s plot is loosely inspired by three of The Phantom stories, “The Singh Brotherhood”, “The Sky Band” and “The Belt”; but adds supernatural elements and several new characters.

… The film suffered the same fate as two other period-piece comic book/pulp adaptations of the 1990s, The Shadow (1994) and The Rocketeer (1991), and did not fare very well at the box office in the United States, debuting at number six the weekend of June 7, 1996. However, it has since sold well on VHS and DVD.

Reviews were mixed with Roger Ebert calling it one of the best looking movies he had ever seen, giving the film three and a half stars out of four. British critic Kim Newman wrote for Empire that the movie “has a pleasant feel – few superheroes have been as sunny and optimistic – as Zane breezes through chases and fights, stops for the odd quip – and pals around with a heroic horse, a dashing dog and the helpful ghost of his father”…

Billy Zane’s performance was praised by filmmaker James Cameron, who cast him for Titanic (1997) on that account.

Somehow Zane’s actorial persona got grafted onto the Phantom character — an excellent move, to my mind.

(Time to watch my DVDs of The Phantom, The Shadow, and The Rocketeer. After Twin Peaks…)

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