It has been twenty years since Titanic first hit theaters, and in that time fans have had a lot of thoughts and opinions about James Cameron's big movie. Some of these have been arguments, like that big one regarding whether or not Jack would have actually fit on the door. Some of these have been more general facts and concerns that came out in the years since the movie was first released, too. In the case of Billy Zane, who plays Rose's intended Cal, the actor says he believes Cal really got a bad rap during the events of Titanic, noting the character was a product of the times and the environment he lived in. According to Billy Zane,
He was a bastard. But he wasn't born that way, he was trained that way, in my opinion. He was a tragic bastard in that it was just bad programming. And a mirror of the times. He has his own strange tragedy and comeuppance as a result. Just was not equipped to handle a fiercely independent woman who was breaking social norms. His heart was really broken. He really loved and provided for her. Through the context of history, he wasn't programmed by certain behaviors. It was definitely a patriarchy, a slightly oppressive one, but he was a romantic! He was trying to provide and give and get love and was offended and made to look a fool. It broke his heart, and it pissed him off [laughs].
Variety recently asked Billy Zane if he felt Cal had a bad rap, and he certainly seems to believe that Cal was misunderstood by a generation of people who saw Titanic and didn't understand the context of the world Cal was living in. This isn't the first time he's spoken out regarding the subject, either, as he has previously said he wished Cal had gotten a redemption arc at the end of Titanic when he searches for Rose on the Carpathia.
A lot of times it can be fun to play the villain in the movie. Really, however, although we know that Cal doesn't want Rose to throw her wealthy background and breeding away by marrying a street rat like Jack, there's an argument that can be made that he's not really the main villain of Titanic. Those honors may go to the iceberg itself, which unceremoniously causes the deaths of over 1,500 souls on the "unsinkable" ship. Cal would have always been a bit of a villain, but he didn't actually murder anyone, he just tried to leave Jack in a flooding part of the ship and managed to save his own sorry butt by carrying a child onto a lifeboat.
Twenty years later, Titanic was a big enough deal that we're still talking about this stuff, so whether or not Cal got a bad rap, the good news for Billy Zane is that he got to be part of a movie that mattered so much during its release and that has continued to garner attention over the years. Bad rap or no, that's not a bad place to be at all.