Perhaps best known for playing the hunky future soldier Johnny Rico in Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 wartime satire Starship Troopers, Casper Van Dien is a soulful and thoughtful actor who was most recently seen in the impressive and underseen haunted house film The Pact, wherein he, rather against type, played a caring police officer investigating a mysterious disappearance at the behest of a frightened young woman, played by Caity Lotz. It’s only a supporting role, but Van Dien manages to come across as wounded and compassionate in what little screen time he has.
CraveOnline got to interview Mr. Van Dien recently, in order to ask him about his role in The Pact, what he drew on to make an interesting character, as well as his experiences playing James Dean (in a 1997 TV movie) and what some of his dream roles might be. He also discusses his surprising blood relation to the legendary Mark Twain.
CraveOnline: Mr. Van Dien…
Casper Van Dien:“Casper’s” fine.
I would like to ask you about The Pact.
That’s totally fine with me!
I loved the movie. I ranted about it on The B-Movies Podcast. I wanted to ask you this: In the movie, you play the only male character who’s not a monster of some kind. Did the director talk to you about the film’s feminist leanings? Was that ever brought up?
Not to my knowledge, it wasn’t brought up. But it could have been to the girls. I, y’know, read the script, and I saw myself as somebody who had been through some stuff. My character had been through some stuff. And I took some of the experiences that I’ve gone through, and I tried to apply it to this character, and it seemed to relate well for me. Well enough to get the audition and play the role, anyway. I, unfortunately, could relate well enough. Some of the things I’ve gone through in my life. And so this character seemed to work well. Talking to even the girl in this [actress Caity Lotz] I could see myself, and how I’ve spoken to some of my daughters. Some people might not see that as a comparison, but it seemed to feel right.
You say you drew on some of your own experiences?
Divorce. I’ve been 18 years sober. So I’ve gone through a lot of my own issues. And I could see that this character had gone through a lot. He was struggling, even through some of the questions [Lotz] asked about my family. Subjects around my wife, and telling her about my daughter. Y’know, in life we’ve all had our issues, our relationships, our family. There’s definitely something I could use when making this character. I felt like I could relate to Caity’s character really well. Also just in dealing with her, and her as an actress. Her talent, and also – to go to a wilder place – my own relationships.
In the past you’ve played mainly “hunk” types. Was it a relief to play something darker?
Um… Well, in the “hunk” ones I was more act-y. In this one I’m more natural [laugh]. A relief? Yeah, maybe. More, uh… Yeah, it’s definitely not Tarzan. Or Rico [from Starship Troopers]. But, it’s nice when you can finally use your life experience in a role, and really complete a character. That’s always nice, and it makes your job more interesting, so yeah. I had fun.
What was the tone like on the set? It’s a scary movie. Was it spooky or laid back?
Was it spooky or laid back on the set?
Well, I’ve always wondered this about horror movies. If the directors try to keep the actors on edge and scared a lot, or if the tone is lighter, allowing the director and composer to do all of the “scare” heavy lifting.
Well, my experience on this film was, once I walked on set I felt… well it’s like the house was another character. It was another character. And you could feel it when you got out there. It was eerie. That part of it was really scary. Y’know, the crew was really into their roles. The set designer, the set director. Makeup. Hair. Everybody did their part. It was a really welcoming environment. But you could feel the eeriness of that place. I don’t think anyone would want to spend the night in that home. At night. Alone. Or maybe even with somebody else! So there was definitely that.
Was it a set, or was it a real house?
It was a real house. That no longer exists, I think.
I loved playing James Dean. I loved playing James Dean. I had actually booked two James Dean movies back in the day. I booked the family one, which was the million-dollar one, which they later did with James Franco for TV. That was the same script I booked eight years before hand, but we never shot. And then I booked this smaller independent one which we made for no money. And it was a blast to play him. I’m a huge fan of his. I loved doing the research and studying for him. Losing weight to be the same weight he weighed…
He was a stick!
He weighed 150 lbs. So I weighed 150 lbs. for my James Dean. I talked to a lot of people. They had known him. I went back and stayed with his family. I watched his three films over 30 times each. I watched all 30 episodic TV spots he did. Yeah, it was a great character study, and it was a great way to learn about an actor. He was pretty fantastic and it was exciting to play that role. Even while we were filming, we did the run in the roadster. I rode, in costume, in the Spyder, which was really fun to do, up to the spot where he died.
I’ve been out to that spot.
I did it in character, which was fun. I did it with George Barrett who has a shop out in Burbank. So that was kinda cool. Jimmy Dean cool.
You got to play James Dean, which seems like a dream role. Are there any parts that you would love to play that you haven’t had a chance to? Or perhaps didn’t get a chance to?
Y’know I love playing all the different roles. The different people. To be able to play James Dean, and then turn around and play Tarzan. So all these different things that I’m not, I get to be. Y’know any role is exciting. To get to play somebody else. Of course I’d like to play every superhero that I ever read growing up. I would have loved to play a lot of them. I would have love to have been Captain America. Or, y’know, Spider-Man when I was younger. Or Green Lantern. Or Green Arrow! Any of those characters that I was a fan of. Or, uh… Maybe when I’m older, I would love to play Mark Twain. Samuel Clemens. I would love to play a bunch of different role, y’know, when the time is right. I like to be able to do it. I like the variety of roles we get as actors.
You would make a pretty awesome Captain America.
Thank you. I think that Chris [Evans] did a pretty good job in The Avengers. I actually met Stan Lee many years ago, and he said “Let’s make Captain America,” and this was way before the actual movie… when he said that to me, my jaw dropped.
You said you want to play Mark Twain. From what I understand, you’re distantly related to Mark Twain…
One of the greatest fan letters I ever got, I was working in a soap opera at the time in New York, One Life to Live, and I got a fan letter from these two little boys who said “You don’t know us, but we’re huge fans of yours, and we’re related. Our great-great-great-great grandfather is your great-great-great uncle. Signed Tom and, uh, Nate Clemens.” Something like that. Two boy names. I was like “Oh my God!” I should have saved that letter. I wish I still had it. But it was kinda cute to get, y’know, distant cousins who were fans of mine because were related. And I’m thinking “Clemens! Holy…!” ‘Cause I wanted to be Mark Twain when I was younger. Or Huckleberry Finn. I wanted to be Tom Sawyer (not Mark Twain), and I wanted to be Huckleberry Finn. I do want to be Sam Clemens when I get older. I think that’d be fun.
Is this something you learned recently, or is this a sort of family legacy, this connection to Mark Twain?
I wouldn’t say it was a legacy. When I got that letter I was in my twenties. Maybe 23 or 24. But I had known that beforehand. It was just a thrill.
What was the first record you bought with your own money?
Um… First that I bought… I meant to buy a Van Halen one, but I bought the Scorpions’ Love at First Sting by accident. It was one of those mail-order things. And I meant to order Van Halen, and I got Love at First Sting. Which at first I didn’t like, and then I grew into it.
Did you eventually get the Van Halen?
Oh yeah. I love Van Halen.