Interview: Casper Van Dien on STARSHIP TROOPERS, SLEEPY HOLLOW and More

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Casper

SHOCK talks to genre actor Casper Van Dien about some of his key roles.

2015 was a busy year for actor Casper Van Dien and 2016 isn’t shaping up to slow down either. And with his upcoming visit to Toronto Comicon (March 18-20) along with his STARSHIP TROOPERS co-star Dina Meyer, SHOCK figured now would be a great time to spill this interview we conducted with Van Dien last summer.

Van Dien is as knowledgeable as he is funny. Here he is…

SHOCK: You’ve previously said that STARSHIP TROOPERS is a film that has “something for everybody”, which is huge part of its staying power and why it was a hit. Have you experienced any opposition to the film?

VAN DIEN: There are people who absolutely hate the film. They don’t understand the sense of humor at all. Ed Neumeier (screenwriter) and Paul Verhoeven (director) are both wonderfully deliciously sick individuals with the darkest sense of humor and I LOVE them for it because they actually challenge people to think and they get people talking about things and that’s always interesting for me. The movie and the book are completely different. The book is amazing and used to be required reading for the US Marine Corps. When I read Robert A. Heinlein’s STARSHIP TROOPERS as a kid, I didn’t know that I had an intense sense of humor that I developed because I LOVED that book as a kid. Then, when I reread the book I realized it was the power suits that weren’t even in the movie that were the reason that I loved the book. The humor wasn’t there, Ed Neumeier put that humor in.

SHOCK: I watched the film again recently since I loved it so much as a kid and it was just as cheeky and thrilling and smart as I remembered. As a kid I was drawn to it because it was the first time I saw girls in normally male roles. The gender playing field, finally, was balanced.

VAN DIEN: You saw me naked as a kid! This is a bit awkward (laughing) Where were your parents! They should be scolded(laughing)! No the girls they were badasses! They had power! They were just as tough as the guys. They were the quarterbacks and the pilots they were the sky marshals, they did it all. They were in the showers with the guys with no sexual tension. They could harass the guys as much as the guys harassed the girls.

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SHOCK: Did you foresee the hit that it would become and how iconic your character Johnny Rico would become?

VAN DIEN: I don’t know if I foresaw it but I know that every day I was on that set I would think. “thank you god! thank you thank you so much I feel so blessed to be on this set, this 100 million dollar movie at 27 years old and I was playing a character I had read as a kid and here I was in this massive movie with a director I loved and adored and a writer who became one of my best friends”. To this day we talk all the time. I loved the humor in it I thought the film was fantastic and I thought “it’s gonna be huge!” but it didn’t break the records they thought it was going to because it was rated R. People were buying tickets to go see Mr. Bean and then sneaking in to see STARSHIP TROOPERS instead. The second weekend it was out people were buying tickets to the re-release of The Little Mermaid and sneaking in to see STARSHIP TROOPERS. The New York Times did a piece where they gave 1000 13 and 14 year old boys tickets to Mr. Bean to see if they could sneak into STARSHIP TROOPERS because people were doing that a lot at multiplexes then. After that they had to put the kibosh on it. They think we would have doubled our income so instead of 25 million it would have been 50 if it had been a PG 13 film. The movie has held up and people still watch it and there has not been a week in my life since I did that movie where I can go down the street without someone going “ RICO!!” or some quote from the movie. Its every week! My kids are so used to it. They just know it.

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SHOCK: Have your kids seen it?

VAN DIEN: My littlest ones haven’t. No. My 13 and 11 year old daughters have seen pieces of it, but for me it’s too violent and too sexual for them at their age. I also don’t think they want to see their dad naked.

Here’s a story: when they were 10 and 8 I went by the line at school to pick up my kids. You know, you drive up to the school and when I get there and there are these six 10 and 8 year old boys hanging out with my daughters. I pull up in the line and the boys go “JOHNNY RICO! WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL US YOUR DAD WAS JOHNNY RICO!” and I said “ what are you boys doing watching STARSHIP TROOPERS!” and they said “our dads made us watch it with them!” then my daughters get in the car and my 10 year old says “dad were you really naked in STARSHIP TROOPERS?” and I said “yeah” and she said “ HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME!” then my 8 year old says “ wait, like naked naked?” and I said “yup” and she said “OH MY GOD MY LIFE IS RUINED!”. That was the longest three minute ride home I have had in my life.

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SHOCK: SLEEPY HOLLOW’s development began in 1993 with Kevin Yagher set to direct it as a low budget slasher film. The film ended up going in another direction, and in the end Kevin Yagher took the role of prosthetic makeup designer and co-producer. Kevin Yagher Productions (his company) has created effects for films such as FACE/OFF, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2-4, CHILD’S PLAY and STARSHIP TROOPERS, starring yourself. How was it working with him on both films?

VAN DIEN: I love Kevin. He is such a sweet sweet man. I was so thrilled to work with him. At one point in time he was going to direct the film and then took on prosthetics and co-producing. Even though he wasn’t credited for it, he actually wrote SLEEPY HOLLOW with the other writer as well, but the other writer got full credit. He did the original story and the script but they changed it a lot when Tim Burton came on but he was actually one of the creators, and he was going to direct it. He only stepped down because Tim Burton stepped in. It’s always going to be hard when you are doing something like that but Tim Burton is amazing! Who wouldn’t want to step down so Tim Burton could take over one of their films. He’s just a really fun guy, super creative and one of the geniuses of filmmaking.

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SHOCK: You also worked with the late Michael Gough famous for his roles in The Hammer Horror films. He retired after SLEEPY HOLLOW. Was that shoot particularly grueling?

VAN DIEN: No, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp films work the 12 hours and they are done. Your shoot is good and it’s a 5 day week so it’s actually really quite reasonable. It’s probably one of the most reasonable shoots I have been on. But, they did go 2 months over budget or something like that. So instead of 4 1/2 months it was 6 ½ months. My part was not particularly that large. I went to London, I came back for a month and a half and then I went back to London and finished it up. I had a lot of time off on that set because Johnny Depp was the one who mainly worked on that. It was so much fun because you are working with some of the greatest actors. Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon and I had worked with Steve Waddington who was in TARZAN with me. I was just around people that I really loved. My daughter and my son came on the set, and Johnny Depp was so cool with them. A couple years ago my daughter came up to me and said “ is it true that Johnny Depp said I was the cutest baby he had ever seen?” and I said “ That was before he had kids” and said “Dad, you couldn’t even give me like 5 MINUTES with it?!you had to shoot me down right away?!” . It is true though, he did say that she was the cutest baby he had ever seen in his life. That was my daughter Grace who was born during STARSHIP TROOPERS.

SHOCK: So next up is DRACULA 3000. I watched that this week…

VAN DIEN: Oh my god. Oh my god I’m sorry.

SHOCK: I watched it this week and, well…it looked like fun, fun to film?

VAN DIEN: I loved it! I was working with Darrell Roodt who is an AMAZING director. He did CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY; he got an Academy Award for the very next film he directed. He is an absolutely amazing director. He called me up and said “Casper come do this movie with me” and at the time it was called something else but he said “come do this movie, we are gonna change it and have fun I have always wanted to direct a vampire movie and I want you to be in it! and we will do something again later but I have always wanted to do this. It’s what I want to do and we will change stuff up and go there” and well I think he had higher hopes and expectations for it but he is a sweet sweet man and an amazing director. I mean LITERALLY is so amazing I called him up and said “REALLY? DRACULA 3000 ME? And then the next one you get an academy award for directing best foreign film!” and he said “yeah but could you have played a Zulu African pregnant woman with AIDS?” and I said “ well……THANKS A LOT ANYHOW!” . DRACULA 3000, next film an Academy Award. I did have so much fun working on that though, what a great bunch of people that were on that. We had Coolio in it, how could it not be cool?? And Tiny Lister, Tiny Lister is amazing and Erika Eleniak is just wonderful. So many cool people it was just fun.

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SHOCK: Coolio’s character has a serious preoccupation with weed.

VAN DIEN: Imagine that! What a surprise! Hmmmm…I wonder if that was actually written into the script…hmmmm….

SHOCK: The film takes place on a deep space salvage ship which is in orbit at the time. So clearly, you guys are stuck on this ship with no escape and that is a major fear a lot of people have. What are you afraid of? What scares you?

VAN DIEN: People asking me about DRACULA 3000 (laughing) it really scares me! I have a lot of fear of that! Okay let me see…what am I scared of….well I am sure I have lots of fears but those are the things that test us. One of the fears I had when I was younger was being on camera.

SHOCK: Really?

VAN DIEN: Yeah and…’m dyslexic. I got held back in the first grade because I couldn’t read. I had an audition last year, I am not going to say for who was the casting director but I went in and they had been casting this role for two weeks and I auditioned for it. There were two scenes. I knew it inside and out. I go and I do the first scene and she (the casting director) turns to the casting assistant and says “SEE THAT WAS PERFECT! WE’VE BEEN WAITING ALL THIS TIME FOR THAT! TWO WEEKS WE’VE BEEN CASTING THIS AND YOU NAILED IT!” so I said “Thank you” and she kept going on saying all this great stuff. So I’m getting into the second scene, and I get to this part and my words got mixed up. I said them backwards, so it made no sense. I said “I’m so sorry, let me do that again” so take 2. I do take 2 and I messed up again and I said “one more time, I’m so sorry” and I do take 3 and I did it again and she says “ REALLY??? WHY DON’T YOU JUST READ IT OFF THE PAGE CASPER!” and I said “ no, I got this” and I did it, but I knew I had lost the audition all because I have this dyslexic thing. When you are acting you can normally fix it and get everything done. But this woman, I couldn’t believe her reaction. I have been doing this for 27 years and when I talk about this audition people say “man she sounds like not a very nice woman” and I say “I think she was just really annoyed because she had just finished giving me all this praise”. I guess my fear is when somebody is that….I don’t know what the word is, ignorant or that they can be that rude. Yeah, the 4th time I did it but it wasn’t the same empowered thing. Look there are some casting directors who LOVE actors and you know who they are and they are awesome. I see them all the time. Then there are some that HATE actors or particular actors and they don’t like it. For the most part, casting directors are wonderful, this one was so sweet at first then sooo annoyed. I don’t use it as an excuse though, I would never tell a casting director that I am dyslexic. I have never said it once. I have never even told that in an interview before. I don’t see it as a fear anymore, I see it as a challenge. When her tone changed, that sent me into “I fuckin’ got this” and I was fine, even though I had already blown it.

SHOCK: How was it working opposite Lynda Carter in SLAYER?

VAN DIEN: What a thrill to work with Wonder Woman! She is absolutely stunning. Her eyes …I was so captivated by them. Also Kevin VanHook who I have done several films for, I love him. He is also a comic book artist. He is a huge film geek like me! We can talk about all kinds of movies from the 20’s, 30’s, 40, 50’s films people won’t remember or know and it’s so much fun. It’s the same with Kevin O’Niell, Ed Neumeier John Murlowski as well. They all know so much history.

SHOCK: Tell us about PATIENT KILLER, the film you directed and starred in.

VAN DIEN: PATIENT KILLER is the second film I directed, the first was called SLEEPING BEAUTY. It’s gotten picked up by Lifetime and will be out soon, it’s on VOD now. It’s a whodunit. The audience at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, where it won best picture, nobody knew who did it. One or two people actually got it right. That was cool.

SHOCK: PATIENT KILLER stars your fellow STARSHIP TROOPERS actor Patrick Muldoon. You have been in multiple projects with Patrick including TURBULENT SKIES and BORN TO RIDE. What is it about Patrick that you think works so well on camera?

VAN DIEN: Patrick is a genius. He has been a friend of mine for a long time. When I called him to do this role they wanted a character actor for the part he was playing. They didn’t want a good looking guy like him so I had to fight for him but in the end they said I was right. See I know dark secrets about him so I was able to pull stuff out of him later and he’d say “Cap, I can’t believe you just went there!” I would say “Dude…just for the film” afterward he said “thank you” you can ask him! He wants me to direct him in another film he is producing he said that I got the best stuff out of him and he is using it for his reel. He is a phenomenal actor and he did the best job in this. I could not have made this film without him or Victoria Pratt or Richard Bergi, they were all really amazing. All the actors were so amazing. I was so grateful that Barbie and Eric Castro gave me the opportunity to direct that film. They were the ones encouraging me to and I am really grateful for that.

SHOCK: Lastly, What genre of films do you enjoy watching the most?

VAN DIEN: Everything! I will watch anything. I watch everything and anything. I love ALL films. I love good films I love bad films. I love horror, I love B movies, musicals, westerns, sci-fi, action drama I love it all.

Follow Casper Van Dien on Twitter.