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Revisiting Billy Zane's hilarious cameo in the 'Zoolander' films

Zoolander is one of the most iconic comedies of the early 2000s. The film is an outlandish spoof of the fashion world, and through its surrealistic take on all things haute-culture, it shed a hilarious light on the nature of an industry that over the 1980s and ’90s had grown to become a cultural and economic juggernaut, and at the same time, evolve into an utterly ridiculous monstrosity. 

Written by Ben Stiller, Drake Sather and John Hamburg, Zoolander expertly prised apart the idiosyncrasies of the fashion world, with the narcissism of its characters a clear swipe at the lack of self-awareness that the industry is famous for. 

The memorable scene at the beginning of the movie, in which Derek Zoolander and his model friends are fooling around at a gas station, dousing themselves in gas before one of them lights a cigarette and they all get blasted into oblivion, is one of the best examples of satire in modern cinema. Labelled a “freak gasoline-fight accident”, and the over-pronounced vacuity of Zoolander and his model friends set a precedent for the rest of the film’s style. 

Featuring an all-star cast celebrities world including David Bowie, Heidi Klum, Donatella Versace and even Donald Trump, given just how overblown celebrity culture is today in the internet age, many of Zoolander‘s themes remain even more pertinent than they were 21 years ago. 

The same can be said for its 2016 sequel, Zoolander 2. The picture was critically panned when upon release due to its overblown script wherein model kind are directly descended from God’s third child in the Garden of Eden, Steve. However, at points, the film’s take on the consumerist nature of the modern era is brilliant, not to mention the high-profile killings of celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Bruce Springsteen, who died protecting the secret of Steve.

Although we could spend hours discussing the broader themes of the Zoolander movies, one facet of the films endures in the shared memory more than any other. Yes, this is the cameos of Billy Zane as himself. A big star in the ’90s, best known for his role as the misanthropic Caledon Hockley in 1997’s record-breaking Titanic, in recent times, Billy Zane has segued from in front of the camera to behind it. Because it has long been established that he is not a leading man, many projects he has starred in have been flops, to put it kindly. 

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In fact, aside from his star turn in Titanic, you could argue that Zane’s pair of appearances in the Zoolander franchise rank among his very best. Delivered with zest, the version is plays of himself in the films are a smart take on the man who was once one of Hollywood’s biggest names. 

In the first film, as Zoolander and his rival Hansel (Owen Wilson) share a war of words before Zoolander challenges Hansel to a ‘walk off’, Zane, who is in Zoolander’s corner, attempts to quell the argument by pleading “don’t do this Derek”. Delivering one of the most memorable lines of the film, Hansel responds: “Listen to your friend Billy Zane, he’s a cool dude. He’s trying to help you out”.

Towards the end of the scene, right before the ‘walk-off’ is about to commence, Zane chimes in with his two cents once again, advising Zoolander: “I heard some mad stories about this kid, man, he’s limber, he’s too limber”. The impetuous Zoolander responds promptly, “Put a cork in it Zane”, to which Zane announces the ‘walk-off’ to the stunned onlookers in the room. 

Given that Zane’s cameo in Zoolander is so memorable, it was only right that he returned for the second instalment, with a slightly more prominent role. This time, he’s the man tasked with bringing the retired Zoolander and Hansel back to the fashion world. Delivering their Netflix subscriptions as well as invitations to Rome from the haute-culture Queen, Alexanya Atoz, he sets the wheels in motion for the film’s plot. 

The back and forth he has with Zoolander describing the former model’s character that contains the line “slash” numerous times is excellent. This is the dramatic Billy Zane that we got in the ’90s, just tinged with a heavy dose of irony. In his final scene with Zoolander, he concludes: “Go to Rome, find yourself, become the father you were meant to be, and get your boy back”. As he utters this cheesy line, the camera pans into a close up of his face, evoking the skill we all know Zane has, and some of his more serious but ridiculous parts. 

His final appearance in the film, as he emerges out of the desert as if a mirage, calling out “Hey Hansel”, was an effective way to close Billy Zane’s iconic appearance as himself in Zoolander. It makes us wonder, just how was any of this real?

Watch Zane’s cameo in Zoolander below.