The actor opens up to ET about his latest action-packed film, while looking back on the cult sci-fi classic.
Friendship goes a long way with Casper Van Dien. So when his old pal Mark Dacascos approached him about starring in his directorial debut, there was no way Van Dien could pass on the project, despite his busy schedule.
“Mark is one of my closest friends -- I’ve known him forever -- and he’s just one of the greatest guys,” Van Dien says of the Iron Chef host and actor. “I was training and working out with him and he said, ‘We should do this movie. I want to get a bunch of my old Hollywood friends together in this action movie.’ It sounded like a lot of fun. I’d do anything for that guy.”
The finished product, Showdown in Manila, which hits theaters on Jan. 19 before moving to VOD on Jan. 23, stars Van Dien and Russian bodybuilder-turned-actor Alexander Nevsky as a pair of private investigators in the Philippines who find themselves embroiled in a murder case involving the local crime kingpin (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Unlike most of his roles, Van Dien serves more as comic relief than a guns-ablaze hero, as his disgraced-cop character would rather spend his time with the ladies than on stakeouts.
“Mark said, ‘I have this script for you and it’s perfect. It’s like it was written for you,’ and I get into this guy and all the things he says, and I’d look over and say, ‘What do you mean? What are you trying to say?’” Van Dien recalls with a laugh. “I’m like, What do they see in me that they would write this character this way? I guess I’m the humor and I guess it’s because of my personality.”
In addition to Nevsky and Tagawa, the film boasts an all-star lineup of action heroes, including Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Matthias Hues, Cynthia Rothrock, Tia Carrere and Olivier Gruner, making going to work every day a thrill for Van Dien. “It was really wild for me. It was kind of surreal,” he says. “Just to see Mattias, Don The Dragon. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to run around with these guys. They’re all just awesome to work with.”
Van Dien credits Dacascos and Nevsky, who also served as a producer, for getting Showdown made despite budgetary issues and the usual hiccups that are part and parcel with making B-movies. And while Van Dien’s resume includes everything from Sleepy Hollow to Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf, he approaches every film with the same enthusiasm.
“It’s a tight budget and there’s always something that happens, but it’s still a lot of fun,” says Van Dien, who has directed three films of his own. “All these guys have done B-movies, A-list movies, and we were just there supporting Mark and Alexander.
“I don’t think you can judge what (a movie) is going to be. You can say, ‘Oh, this is just a B-movie,’ but I don’t think that’s how you should go into a project. You go in and do your best job no matter what it is. Some B-movies are a lot of fun and I enjoy them. Sometimes you go, ‘Oh, my God, no!’ but it’s still part of the experience and you have to go in with the best intentions. You can’t go in thinking it’s not going to be great. You put your heart and soul into it -- I always do. I love being in movies and making movies. I know what it takes to do this; I’ve been doing it for 30 years now.”
And as his career enters its third decade, Van Dien is still identified by his most iconic role, Johnny Rico in the 1997 sci-fi cult classic Starship Troopers. Unlike some actors, Van Dien is comfortable with being closely associated with the film, and recently celebrated the film’s 20th anniversary by voicing Rico in the animated Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars, which was released in August of last year.
Starship Troopers was misunderstood by critics upon its release, but over the years, its satirical bent has grown to be appreciated by just about everyone, a development that Van Dien enjoys.
“Paul Verhoeven is a genius filmmaker, and if you look at his films, he’s really one of the most amazing and underrated filmmakers,” Van Dien says. “He made a film that attracted people from the left and the right and he made everybody feel like it was their film. For me, that’s interesting because you can see both sides of it and it makes people come in and talk. This film challenges you in a way, and I think that’s awesome. That’s why it’s stood the test of time.”
Van Dien stays in contact with most of his Troopers co-stars, noting he hangs out with Dina Meyer at conventions and that Patrick Muldoon will be in his upcoming wedding. “We are all in a group chat still where every once in a while, we connect,” he says.
The 49-year-old Van Dien has a number of projects in development, including Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel, and stays busy on the convention circuit, which gives him the opportunity to look back on what he’s done up to this point.
“There are plenty of times when you get to reflect on your career, either from people at conventions who have different pictures from the different movies I’ve been in, to the people who hire me just because I was in Starship Troopers or Tarzan,” Van Dien says. “I really appreciate being able to work this long. I have a lot of fun and I feel lucky.”