Casper Van Dien became a household name after the smash hit Starship Troopers from Paul Verhoeven was released and his career has gone from strength to strength since.
His latest project titled Showdown in Manila unites multiple action heroes including Alexander Nevsky, Olivier Gruner, Cynthia Rothrock and Don “The Dragon” Wilson.
Casper chats with The Action Elite about the movie.
What appealed about the movie and your character Charlie?
Normally that character probably wouldn’t appeal to me but Mark Dacascos who is one of my closest friends (and is even going to be in my Wedding Party in June) said to me “I’ve got the perfect role for your you, Casper. This is so you.”
Then I read the role and was like “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” but his belief that I was going to be Charlie was so intoxicating that I actually really got into it and I had a lot of fun with it. At first I was quite shocked that he thought this would be perfect for me because it’s not who I am. He just thought I had the right comedic timing for it so it was interesting.
How did you and Mark meet?
I knew about him in the industry and saw him about a lot but we had gone to The Sci-fi awards and we were presenting together and I got to talk to him. I had met him before I think but this is where I really got to meet him properly. So we had to go up there and announce Best Editing or something and it was a foreign name that neither of us could pronounce. So he got up there and saw the name and was like “annnd this… goes… to… *mutters indecipherably*”. He says “wait a second!” and goes over and does a martial arts move and goes “Hiyahh!” and then comes back and says the name. I was like “thank God I didn’t have to get it first”.
Then I get up and I have another name I can’t pronounce so I imitated him and did the “hiyahh” which got an even bigger laugh so we hit it off after that.
When I got separated from my ex-wife and was living with him for a while he trained me in mixed martial arts and Muay Thai. He just trained me really hard and I was in the best shape of my life when I was living with him which was about 4 years ago.
Did you undergo any new training for this movie?
For this movie I’d been training already but I got in there and I had already been training with Olivier Gruner a few years before. I did acting classes with Tia Carrera before any of us made anything back when I was like 19. I got to meet Alexander Nevsky through Mark and he and Mark both brought people in and I knew some of them. So just meeting all these people was just a lot of fun. You know you’re going to be doing your best stuff because all these other people are going to be doing their own action so we did it for Mark on this one.
You and Alexander Nevsky have great on screen chemistry together; did you improvise any scenes?
We did improvise; we kept saying things and shooting things and going off on it. I was really shocked at how quick he was to pick up on it and play. So for a big guy where English isn’t his first language; he was witty and charming. He had comedic timing that I was super impressed with; it was a lot of fun to have that. I think that if we’d had more time and money of course we could have done even more. I think he’s an underrated talent when it comes to all that; I was wonderfully shocked and surprised at how good he was.
He also comes across as a genuinely nice guy.
He is! He’s one of the gentlemen of this industry. It’s a worldwide industry; it’s not just Hollywood so we have all these different filmmakers all over the world but he is a lovely man. He is really talented in the PR department too. The way he handles press is phenomenal. I was impressed with him because he genuinely seems to like people and goes out of his way to connect with them which is rare and wonderful.
I love that there was some improv in it as it can make the dialogue seem more natural sometimes; would you agree?
Yes, I think it can be. I think our jobs as actors is to make all our dialogue feel like that. What I think we lack now in filmmaking is sometimes actors don’t want to take the time to rehearse and feel like it’s raw which I don’t agree with. I think the old way where we’d rehearse a lot more and we’d talk and go over everything; I feel like that can give you the sense of more freedom because you now know everything backwards and forwards. Then when you do it you can have a chance to improv from a stronger point in my case so it can become more realistic and you feel like you own the dialogue. Then it doesn’t come across as written dialogue, it comes across as yours. That’s why I think you need to know your dialogue and be prepared and I think that’s a fault of some of the filmmaking ways now where they don’t give you the rehearsal or preparation time.
It’s always interesting to me as I think it’s a bad habit but it works for some actors. In my opinion I think it’s a bad habit where some actors get into where they don’t want to do the rehearsal but I think rehearsal is key to a phenomenal scene. You’ve got to have the structure of the scene down and it has to be complete; you should know your dialogue backwards and forwards then when you have the structure of the scene you can go into it and say whatever you want if something else comes up but you should at least know the structure. With the script to Starship Troopers it was what was said in the movie; there was one line which I think was improv and that wasn’t mine. I think Patrick Muldoon has 1 improv line in the whole film; everybody said exactly what they were supposed to say. Some films are done that way where you have to have every line as there’s a cadence to it and sometimes they aren’t. I still think you should know everything and then let the magic happen from there.
Showdown in Manila was Mark Dacascos’ directorial debut; how was he as a director and how would you describe his style?
Well he’s a martial artist so he’s always at the top of his game and always training and in great shape. I knew he would be prepared and I knew he’d have fun. You have limitations when you go to another country and you don’t speak the language. He just so happens to speak a little bit of Filipino as well as Chinese, Hawaiian, German and English. I was like “How do you do all this?” (laughs)
You’re never afraid that he doesn’t know what he’s doing; he really does so the only thing I wished is we had more money and more time but that’s the same on every film. With him I think he’s a great director and he’s a lot of fun but also a great human being. Between him and Alexander they brought in people to be in this who were their friends so when you have that your friends really want to do the best they can to help you out and we all did.
Were there any really tough days on the shoot?
Of course; the fish market I think was the toughest day. It was particularly hot and humid so the fish was really pungent that day. That was hard to be in, walking around in that. There was just this really visceral smell that was just running through really thickly in the air where you would feel like you would actually have to push through it. So it was there and I think that must have been the hardest day because I don’t know how people get used to staying in fish markets. I did not get used to it while I was there.
Any scenes cut that you particularly regret?
Yeah, Mark said there was a scene between Alexander and I which was really funny but they just couldn’t fit in and he said it was probably the funniest scene in the whole film; I guess they had to edit it out. I don’t know what scene that is; I remember we shot a lot. The thing is about Mark is that he would just continue shooting even when I was just improving; he didn’t say cut all the time so some of the stuff got in there and some we couldn’t fit it in. He let us go off on it though and that was fun.
What was the atmosphere like on set? It looked like fun!
Yeah! Well you’re working with all these people who are the real deal so it was a lot of fun for me to be around that energy and see them. We were all waiting around and cracking jokes. I hope everyone has as much fun watching it as we did making it; that’s what I want.
Any plans for a sequel or spin-off?
I would love it but that’s completely up to Alexander Nevsky; if he wants to shoot a sequel I am totally game for that and is something I would love to do. I had a lot of fun working with him and Mark and the entire cast but if we were to do a sequel I would hope we could spend more time on our dialogue together and have an even better relationship. I think he’s an underrated talent and I think that when people get to see him like he is acting with me in this movie he really comes across as a strong comedic actor. He’s a big guy too which is a rare thing when you’re that big and come across as funny. Arnold Schwarzenegger had the accent and Alexander has it too which helps them pull off comedy. It was a different type of acting back then too. John Wayne wasn’t considered a great actor back then when he was first out but if you look back at it now it stands the test of time. He’s my favourite actor actually and I think John Wayne is one of the most underrated actors we ever had.
What do you look for in a script or character?
As an actor you come across the ones that really jump at you or the people that jump at you, like I just did Alita: Battle Angel with Robert Rodriguez last year. I’m excited about that one. Whatever my role is in that I’m excited just for the opportunity to work with him and the talent involved with it is just surreal. Then I did another film where I play Jimmy Doolittle who was the most decorated American pilot during World War 1 and after the Japanese struck Pearl Harbour he re-signed up and led the most heroic mission that these young men ever could have done. It changed the tide of the war in a big way so we could do everything we did to win it. To play someone iconic like that was amazing. I think it’s just different roles that resonate with you and you fight for it and others you do because it’s your job and you’re providing for your family but you still have to put in the effort and work into it. There are some movies where people question why you do it but I put 100% in and I imagine pretty much everyone is trying to do that especially if it’s your life’s blood.
When I am on set I feel more alive than I have ever felt before anywhere else which helps me perform better for my family and I can strive to become that better man because I am fed completely and over saturated with joy after working on a film and getting to do something which shouldn’t be able to be done. It’s just the camaraderie that you get on the set; of course you want the best, meatiest roles and scripts but you have to work to getting those and sometimes unfortunately they are few and far between. Still, you want to put the effort in to make the roles better and make the movie better; when anyone is making a movie I think they are always doing their best job; I don’t think anybody sets out to make a bad movie. I can’t imagine that (laughs).
Any plans to direct again yourself?
I would love to direct again; especially an action movie or something that’s more personal to me but I would love the opportunity to do some action and see what I could do. The Lifetime movies were a lot of fun to direct and my first movie for The Asylum was a blast to direct. I think it would be really cool to get some amazing action heroes in a film and to just go for it.
Maybe you should direct the sequel to Showdown?
I would love to! From your lips to God’s ears, my friend! That would be a lot of fun to me. As long as Mark and Alexander approve it I would be more than honoured!