February 15, 2018 03:31 PM

Over two decades after Titanic first hit theaters, its villain Billy Zane still finds himself receiving criticism about his character, Rose’s arrogant fiancé, Cal Hockley.

“They love to hate him,” the actor, 51, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “And then there is a small army of those who sympathize and understand he was just a product of bad programing. You hear it all. ‘How could you?’ or ‘Poor bastard.'”

DiCaprio as Jack and Winslet as Rose in Titanic
20th Century Fox/Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

And when fans ask him why Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) couldn’t both fit on that floating door and survive, the father of two calls the choice “just good storytelling.”

“Your hero had to die,” Zane says with a laugh. “I don’t know what else would have done it. It had to happen.”

One thing that survived his time working on the 1997 drama: Zane’s love of painting.

“On set of Titanic I spent most of my down time painting and doing painting parties, turning other people on to getting painting clothes on and getting a little messy,” he reveals.

Zane as Cal Hockley
Everett

While Zane claims he never planned to exhibit any of his paintings, the Chicago native went on to display his work in art shows and sell it for thousands at fundraisers, including the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s annual charity auction in St. Tropez, France in July.

“Last time I saw Kate and Leo was at his foundation fundraiser,” Zane recalls. “[My painting] sold for like $100,000 Euros, which is the most I’ve ever sold for. Do it for the planet, right?”

  • For more on Billy Zane, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

The SAG nominee kept up with his passion on the set of his latest movie, Samson, which filmed in Stellenbosch, South Africa. “I loved working there,” he says. “Everything informs a canvas — the soil, the water, some found objects. It’s always fun to pilfer an art department. It’s a very practical place to paint.”

Samson is in theaters Friday.

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