Whether he is making a cameo as himself (on Amazon Prime Video’s “The Boys”) or taking on a larger-than-life character (as in everything from “Titanic” to Netflix’s “True Story”), when Billy Zane signs onto a project, you know the piece is going to be elevated. The prolific actor is now staying busy with a handful of titles across film and TV, and he most recently stepped into the role of Brigadier Commander Enos Queeth in Peacock’s “MacGruber.” It is a role that has him playing an adversary to Will Forte’s titular character and one that only required “a hotel room key and a call time” for Zane to say yes to it.
Zane: This was a very well-thought-out and crafted universe that I stepped into. It was unique to my experience in comedy in particular, in playing a straight man — and in this universe the straight man is like so rigid; there is no winking, there is no nod, per se.
From the villain or foil landscape as established in the first film, which is brilliant, in order to allow for such fabulous and absurd work by Will, we have to be absolutely in another movie — just dead, dead serious. It was genuinely a challenge because I love a schtick up. I can’t help it, it’s in my DNA, and it was it took Herculean strength to not play in a more traditional context. It was a very wonderful challenge.
But by no means did I need to be in an echo chamber or a glass cube. I loved being on set and would often go early just to watch and enjoy everyone’s work. Each take was different. I certainly gave variety because I enjoy doing that, and then it was up to them to edit and choose which made sense.
It required a mindset that was not as loose as I like to play it, and it kept me aware of the tension within Queeth that allows for the absurdity to flourish. While there is occasionally a casual aside, a smoothness in him at times, a confidence, I feel that when something goes south, it doesn’t take much to remember why he’s there and what he blames this man for.
In terms of plot, I was providing backstory, but there were a variety of corrections because what you have in this dynamic are two perspectives on the truth. It’s a revisionist history happening in real time between two completely different sides and interpretations: the guy who went free and set everybody up and bailed, and the dude who spent 20 years in torturous prison behind enemy lines. And when you see both of those interpretations, those facts may be informing MacGruber, but it’s fighting for revisionist real estate and trying to bring him back to some reckoning and acceptance. And what’s great about his character is he’s an asshole, and curiously he’s probably the most effective hero in the mix because his moral compass is so askew.
Queeth knows MacGruber intimately well [and] wants to seek vengeance, but MacGruber’s consistent, mind-numbing choices and turns of phrases and perspectives cannot help but be somehow adored. He’s so singularly unique and so bafflingly idiotic that even in the face of complete anger — I think you’ll miss him. I won’t call it respect, but it’s certainly a very unique and singular dynamic and relationship in that there is some peculiar pleasure that just can’t be denied. There is just an undeniable fascination or amazement at the seemingly bottomless well of moronic behavior.
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