William George Zane, better known as Billy Zane, was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Thalia (Colovos) and William Zane, both of Greek ancestry. His parents were amateur actors and managed a medical technical school. Billy has an older sister, actress and singer Lisa Zane. He was bitten by the acting bug early on, and in his early teens, he attended Harand Camp of the Theater Arts in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Soon after graduating from high school, Billy decided to venture out to California to attempt acting for the first time. Within three weeks, he won his very first big screen role in Back to the Future (1985), playing the role of Match, one of Biff Tannen's thugs. He would later reprise that role for the sequel Back to the Future Part II (1989). Then after a small role in the science fiction horror film Critters (1986), he landed starring roles in several television films. Billy played villain Hughie Warriner in the Australian thriller film Dead Calm (1989), where he met his future wife, Lisa Collins.
He also co-starred in Memphis Belle (1990), a film version of a 1944 documentary about a World War II bomber. In 1991, he appeared as John Justice Wheeler on several episodes of Twin Peaks (1990). He starred as the eponymous superhero in The Phantom (1996) and as Caledon Hockley in Titanic (1997). He had a recurring role as the poetry loving ex-demon Drake on the television series Charmed (1998), then Billy starred in the television movie Cleopatra (1999).