“I love sharks. I’m terrified of them and love them at the same time.”
With an off-the-cuff comment before we had even started the interview, my admiration for Casper Van Dien had already grown exponentially.
Having taken over the Pop Culture world with his debut turn in Starship Troopers, to this day Van Dien walks the streets admired as one Johnny Rico, his character from the film.
“That has been a complete blessing for the film” says Van Dien. “You look at it and I was never Johnny Rico before Starship Troopers, but I will be Johnny Rico to the day I die now because of Starship Troopers“.
And he has living proof whenever out in public.
“I’ll hear somebody go “HEY RICO!” and I turn to them and say “YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!”
The film itself has found a resurgence in the Social mind, with fans of the series now having a voice to engage others who may not have taken the opportunity to view this cinematic classic.
“When it comes on, Social Media goes through the roof!”
“It was interesting because my daughter sent me a meme of myself before the drop that says [DESIRE TO KNOW MORE INTENSIFIES], and so I put that up on my social and she says “You don’t know Dad! There’s a resurgence of Starship Troopers in College and they made this meme up!” and when I put it up people respond “Glad to see you’re embracing your meme!” and I think to myself “I don’t even know what a meme means!”
Having existed within the cultural mindset for almost 20 years, Van Dien points out how the film is accepted by many different people with many different views.
“Left and Right. Republicans and Democrats” he states, this being a clear showing of Director Paul Verhoven‘s very clever use of cinema to present other messages, with Troopers delivering a tale of propaganda to coax the willing into war; A message that the book did not deliver at all.
“He made it something that had nothing to do with the books. He didn’t even read the book!”
I respond that Verhoven’s intention was that he solely wanted the “Bugs and killing”.
While Van Dien agrees he points out that “he also wanted to have a dark, sick perverse sense of humour twist to it. So with Ed Neumeier who wrote Robocop as well; he has an even sicker, darker perverse sense of humour! So with Troopers still holding up, to me, it goes to their filmmaking”
“You know, people back in the day when they first watched it would go “I don’t understand it”
“And so 10 years, 15 years later, almost 20 years later AS YOU LIKE TO POINT OUT…”
It was here that Casper reminded me that I pointed this fact out; I myself shocked when reflecting on this. I was also partially amused that as young child I was exposed to this type of brutal-brilliance, but that’s a story for another day.
“…people are like going “Wait a minute…I didn’t get that the first time around”. And then they get it. At first they would watch it and find it disturbing and think “I don’t find that funny…” where as others would watch it and go “See, that’s why it’s funny!” and that’s the point.”
“That’s why I like this movie.”
Of course it hasn’t just been bugs for Van Dien. Having fought not only them, but also the Headless Horseman in Tim Burton‘s Sleepy Hollow, and the Sharktopus and Whalewolf (from their respective film), I ask him if there’s anyone else he would have loved to have taken down.
While I agree to this fight that may or may not take place in some agreed upon car park at some point, he takes us across to one of his latest pieces of work.
“I got to play Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat Legacy! So I’ve fought 2 chicks and I got to fight Brian Tee who’s great friend of mine too. Mark Dacascos came in and helped, and I train with him and work out with him and we do Muay Thai together!”
“I’d just love to do a lot more fights. Kill a lot more people. Punch a lot more people in the nuts!”
“Shoot a lot more people and kill ’em all!”
And this is something Mortal Kombat Legacy would easily do, based on the famously violent video game series with the same name.
With a short reflection on the original Robocop and how it’s message was ahead of its time, I ask about his Troopers co-star Dina Meyer who has joined him at this years Armageddon event.
Meyer portrayed Dizzy Flores, an acquaintance with whom Rico shared a love/hate relationship that came through so well on-screen from the actors.
“We love and hate each other to this day! But she’s here, she’s fantastic. And she is my favourite person to do a panel with. We have so much fun.”
Easily believing such a thing, I flurry into an emotional delivery on one of my favourite parts from the film.
With Rico believing his love for Carmen (Denise Richards) to be something real, it completely covers up the fact that he has a chance at a very real one with Dizzy who “genuinely loved him”.
“AS SHE SHOULD!”
He declares with Rico-like aplomb. With Rico taking so long to realise that, they have their brief affair once Rico catches the proverbial bus.
“He’s a little slow…are you saying I’m a little slow??”
I emphatically reply “NO” as Van Dien smirks that Rico-smirk and continues to listen to my tale of endearment around the on-screen Troopers relationship.
With that I shift from Meyers to his other Troopers co-star, Neil Patrick Harris, and ask if he could see him becoming television’s biggest womaniser as How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson.
“NO. I definitely did not see that coming! Him as this…WOMANISER! Never in a million years did I think he’d become that!”
I think he’s a brilliant comedic genius, and I think he’s super-smart and just so quick!
“But I never saw that coming! And anyone who says they saw that coming could not predict that! But he is so deserving because his wit is so fantastic. He’s a funny guy.”
As I’m an amazing conversationalist, we steer into ‘funny stories’, because that’s how that works.
Asking Casper to look over his extensive career for his funniest story, we end up on a doozy that has had me in stitches since it’s first telling.
“So I’m Tarzan in South Africa, I’m the 20th Tarzan. One day they wake me up to this run, and so we’re out and we go through this gate…”
And it’s about here that you start to get the gist of what’s about to happen.
“…and they close it up afterwards. So we get through, and it’s a secondary shot so they go “You’re gonna run from over here to 200 feet down there. And you’re just gonna run by with your bow and your knife” and you know, I’m in my loin cloth here.
So I’m in this tall grass, running through it and all of a sudden I put my foot down and it keeps going! And I fall! And I land in this hole and catch myself with my hands and go “OOF!” and I’m all cut-up and bleeding but nothing’s broken so I get up and finish the run.
Production go “Haha! You slipped and fell and you got back up!” and I say “I didn’t slip. I fell in a hole.” and they go “What?” so I go over and take my bow off and poke the area and say “Look at it! It’s probably like…5 or 8 feet deep!”, then one of the guides goes:
“TARZAN NO! THOSE ARE HYENA DENS!”
And I say “THERE’S 5 OF THOSE HOLES RIGHT HERE!”, where they go “TARZAN! YOUR LUCKY HYENA NOT THERE! QUICKLY, COME BACK!” and I say “WHAT DO YOU MEAN HYENA DEN!” and all I have is my loin cloth on!
And it’s all because we stole the shot out of a National Park! They had cut the bolts, and we had snuck in…”
The story matching the wild it took place in, its wackiness like something out of a comedy, I ask him now what it was like to work with the oft-regarded wacky Director Tim Burton.
“Tim Burton is so funny. He’s hysterical.”
“And he’s sweet, and he’s kind and he’s so prepared and everybody that comes in and does the job for him is at the top of the game, so he can be”.
The genius of Burton showcasing that he can in-fact film however he wants.
“He just knows what he wants and he has great people.”
Van Dien spouts off about a Director who’s genuine personality comes through as they film, Burton spitting out “Okay! Great! Let’s shoot it! That’s perfect!” niceties for the cast as they perform.
Looking back on a moment of filming during Sleepy Hollow, Van Dien tells me of a scene where he has to ride a horse down a hill.
“I can ride a horse really well. I’m not an actor who says it and hops around as I’ve had my own horses, so I was quite proficient. But I would not want to gallop a horse down a hill, period. I don’t know who does because it’s like galloping down rock!”
And it’s here you see his appreciation of Burton, with his easy to answer “YYYEEAAAHHH!” when Burton requests him to ride a horse down a hill.
“I will do whatever you say!” he jokingly replies as we play around with his ease of accepting such a task.
“So I gallop this horse down and I had to stop at a mark and this horse tows up to the mark first take. I looked that good. And I had to load a weapon, and it’s this old musket from the 1800’s that was real! So they had to load it with paper to ‘fire’, and so my paper wad hits the target I have to hit! And I think it’s great, but Burton says:
“Yeah great! But let’s shoot it again!”
And I think “Oh man, I was just perfect for you and I don’t want to screw this up!””
Casper then slides in a fantastic piece of trivia from his shoot on Sleepy Hollow:
“The horse was the Black Beauty from the TV series!”
“So the horse was way smarter than the rider…”
I find myself gobsmacked by this piece of trivia and Casper corrects me by pointing out I’m supposed to say “Of course you’re not Casper, you’re much smarter than the horse.”. But you see, it was Black Beauty and well…I don’t even think I could be smarter than such a horse!
“SO! I do the same scene again and the horse pulls up to the mark AGAIN and I fire the musket and it hits the bottom of the X, so I think “That was luck…”. I was a pretty good shot with a rifle when I was in Military School but that was pretty good. It’s an old-school musket, and I’m a pretty good aim so I hit the X two times and Tim screams out “Yip! Great! Cut! Print, done! Good job Casper!” and I’m thinking “YYYYEEEAAAHHHH! I FEEL GOOD!”
Until I remind him his character is then eventually cut in half in that film.
“YOU’VE MADE ME HALF THE MAN I AM!”
With this very interview being a highlight of his (the answer from him may or may not be a witty response to my question), I ask Casper about what his favourite career highlight has been.
“You know, I’ve had a couple of them that have been really cool for me. Johnny Rico, just being him has been a career highlight for life. It’s something that someone will post to me on Social with everyday…”
I make a comment about how this role has a fantastic amount of movie one-liners for a character.
“As an actor you hope you get one. And that one film I have so many that people will yell a different one at me whenever they see me! So for me, it’s fantastic to have that role.
To be the 20th Tarzan is also fantastic for me.”
“My Dad’s hero when he was kid was Tarzan, so I got to be my hero’s hero.”
And to be in Sleepy Hollow with all those people was pretty amazing and then to play Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat Legacy?
I’ve had a lot of fans say “Dude. You are perfect for Johnny Cage.”, and they’d say that to me and I’d respond “WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? YOU CALLING ME A D-LIST ACTOR WHO CAN’T GET A JOB?” and they would back away in fear and THAT has also been a highlight of my career!”, he laughs.
With a refreshing candour, Van Dien proudly speaks of his latest career highlights which have been around his Directorial pieces.
“I just won Best Director for my second film I’ve directed! This was two Saturdays ago in San Francisco. Best Director for Patient Killer; It won Best Picture at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and at the San Francisco Best Actors Film Festival I just won Best Director.”
Success is finding it’s way to Van Dien in the Director area, with him having just finished his third Directorial piece, I ask if we can find these films any where as us Kiwi’s are often left out of such things.
“I love Kiwis. I’ve done 2 films down here.”
Riffing off with his love for our culture and way of life (and also our lack of dangerous creatures), he tells of seeing a play with Danielle Cormack and Kevin Smith while filming here for his first feature.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, and completely caught in his love of the play, it was not 2 years later than he would get to work with her on Maiden Voyage.
“She was the star in the film with me! She’s so talented and so sweet and I was so thrilled to work with her. After I’d seen her in the play I thought “What a genius actress” and then they hired her without my knowing for the film and when I met her I said “OH MY GOD! I’m such a huge fan!” and she says “WHAT?” and breaking down I say “I saw your play with Kevin Smith” and we connected over the recent loss of him, as I’d heard he was this wonderful man, so it was just wonderful to work with her.”
Educating himself with well-known Kiwi films such as Came A Hot Friday, UTU and Once Were Warriors, he calls New Zealand the place he always wants to return too. Having almost purchased here twice, he finds the solace of our country intoxicating and our sweetness endearing, this leading into a tale of how he loves the ‘Honesty Box’ system found on many rural roads.
“I love this country. I love the way it looks and I just love the energy.”
He doesn’t find himself killing any more bugs since Starship Troopers, but still finds it odd when his children yell out “DAD! BUGS!”; he remembers a time when he lived in Tarzana, California (which he truthfully explains he moved to because he was Tarzan).
“One day I was in my house, up on the stairs, and the doorbell rang. When I answered, there was a guy in a Terminex uniform, which is a bug-killing outfit. On his name-tag was ‘Johnny’, and so I open up the door to him and he goes “OH MY GOD…IT’S YOU!” and I respond “That’s funny!” and he goes:
“YOU’RE MY HERO! AND MY SON’S HERO!”
And it ended up this guy with his camera, his buddy and this bug-killing stuff and he was just so excited to be killing the bugs for Johnny Rico!”
Selfishly I take the last question for myself and I ask if he thinks Johnny Would have ended up with Dizzy had she survived the film. Of course we dance across the idea that it was love created in war, but this was Dizzy and Rico.
“Rico would he have ended up with her? You know, I think Rico would have tried for the Captain (Deladier, played by Brenda Strong), Carmen’s boss. There was also Amy Smart who played alongside Denise, because Rico’s got to leave his options open!
“BECAUSE LET’S ADMIT IT. DIZZY DIED! SHE DIED!”
And like that, I needed no more convincing that Casper Van Dien was perfect for the role of Johnny Rico.
Editor’s Note: This was previously uploaded to CAKE OVEN, October 2015.