Film Scouts Interviews

Billy Zane on "The Phantom"

by Leslie Rigoulot

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June 3, 1996

I wish I had written my review of "The Phantom" before I met Billy Zane. One look in those sultry bedroom eyes and I forgot what questions I was going to ask him, much less what I was going to write about his comic-book-based movie. Luckily it is a roundtable of film critics who dive right in: not to the questions, but into the breakfast buffet that the studio has provided.

The question "where was 'The Phantom' filmed" brought not only the response of "Thailand", but an elaborate description of the film crew's efforts to clean up not only their own mess but also the mess left by others on Phang Nga Bay. "It is a beautiful place and we anted to leave it that way," says Zane, and he is so charming that we are ready to drop our muffins and pick up trash along side him. In fact, when Zane says that he was "destined" to play the Phantom, no one even snickers. "I read the Phantom comics when I was in Australia shooting 'Dead Calm'' and when one of the crew told me that there were plans for a movie, I went for it. That was in 1987 and I told (producer) Graham Burke I was going to be the Phantom. We had a laugh about that recently because you usually get what you deserve, not what you desire, and that is especially true in Hollywood!" To the question of whether he did his own stunts, he answered "A lot, but not the uninsurable ones. I did have some tense moments with tiger in the zoo. It was just him and me, and if you notice I keep my hand clenched when I'm near him. I didn't want him to mistake my digits for an Oscar Meyer hotdog!" he laughs. With his boyish smile, Zane has disarmed the entire roundtable of cynical film critics. And that brings us to another of the similarities between Zane and the Phantom: in person and on screen, Zane is charmingly disarming, and the Phantom is just plain disarming. He is a crack shot, but Zane reminds us that the Phantom has never - in sixty years - shot anyone dead. "He doesn't have super powers or the biggest, baddest gun. The point isn't how many people you can kill or how you kill them. He is there to fight piracy, greed, and cruelty in all their forms on land and sea," says the actor. "The Phantom is a Zen cowboy and you have to realize that he was originally marketed to women, in a women's magazine, in fact." Would that be the reason that all the women in the audience gave a collective sigh when the half-dressed Phantom is being patched up back at the Skull Cave? "Well, I knew I wanted to do this so I worked out for a year and a half to get in shape." Zane replies. Was the purple suit, like Batman costumes, molded plastic? "No, what you see is what you get," Zane offers (and every woman in the room sighs). If George Clooney doesn't work out as Batman, would he step into the Batsuit? "No, the Phantom doesn't have a dark side. There is no dark secret psychosis that motivates him. I like that." What about your contract? "They prohibit George Clooney from being the Phantom!" he laughs. "I have an option for two more Phantom movies if this one is a success".

It looks like it will be. Treat Williams is perfectly slick as Xander Drax, the man searching for the ultimate power in the universe. Kristy Swanson and Catherine Zeta Jones make a lovely heroine and a beauteous villainess. In a summer movie glut of R rated movies, "The Phantom" stands out as a PG fun ride for everyone. Besides, there is no Batman movie to compete with, so it stands a chance.

Oh, and how did the interview end? Well, Billy put his arm around me for a photo and I don't remember much after that.

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