It’s been 15 years since Casper Van Dien portrayed bug-killing soldier Johnny Rico in Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi action classic, Starship Troopers. Since then he’s swung from vines as the title character in Tarzan and the Lost City, investigated Biblical codes in the sleeper hit The Omega Code, and co-starred with Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. But the Troopers universe somehow keeps drawing him back in. He reprised the role of Johnny Rico in the 2008 sequel, Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, under the direction of the original film’s writer, Ed Neumeier.
Now, Van Dien has returned to that world as an executive producer (along with Neumeier) of the latest film in the on-going franchise, Starship Troopers: Invasion, on Blu-ray and DVD August 28, 2012. The entirely computer animated film was directed by Japanese anime director Shinji Aramaki, director of Appleseed (2004) and Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007). Invasion furthers the story of Johnny Rico (now a general), Captain Carmen Ibanez, and Carl Jenkins as they continue fighting the Arachnids.
Always busy, Van Dien stepped away from shooting the currently in-production Mucho Dinero to discuss his involvement in the all-new Starship Troopers: Invasion.
Could you have ever predicted 15 years ago that Starship Troopers would continue to be such a big part of your career?
You know, I could never have predicted this, but I’m thrilled to be part of it. I’m thrilled to be still involved with Starship Troopers. It’s been a big part of my life. I mean, I get people Tweeting me all the time with different quotes from the movie. People stop me on the street and they’ll go, “Hey, Johnny Rico!”
So, I wasn’t Johnny Rico before, but it’s become a part of my life. It’s actually kind of exciting. I love it. I love that the original stuff still has such a huge fan base. And that it’s been able to spawn a couple of sequels.
At what point did you become involved with the new film, Starship Troopers: Invasion?
Well, sometime last year they came to me. Tony Ishizuka [vice president of International Production at Sony] asked me to be a part of it. He has been one of the biggest Starship Troopers supporters. And Peter Nelson over there at Sony, they’ve been huge supporters.
So they were instrumental in getting this film underway?
We could never have done the third one without them or this new one. They really want to continue with the franchise and they want to do so much with it. They asked me to come along and be a part of the animated sequel. And I was thrilled to be asked. Which is interesting, because Shinji Aramaki, the director of Invasion, I mean, he did Appleseed. He’s an incredible artist. He also used to draw Kamen Rider, which is Masked Rider [in the U.S.], which—when I lived in Japan when I was little—was my idol. So it feels like a whole lot of energy just happened to come together, and I was thrilled to be involved. It was amazing to see how this man works.
As co-executive producer, with Ed Neumeier, what kind of input did you have in the film’s creation?
I got to see so many of the initial drawings, concepts, and different ideas that they had. For me, that was really thrilling and exciting. But as for my input, basically, when you’re working with someone like Shinji you’re just more or less going, “Wow, that’s amazing!” So pretty much I just didn’t have anything to say. [Laughs] They had me say all the lines in the script. The producer Joseph Chou, Tony Ishizuka, and Ed Neumeier and I, we got to go through the Sony archives and look at all the old concept art from Starship Troopers.
So there were a lot of interesting things that you don’t normally get to do as an actor, but I got to do them as an executive producer. So that was kind of fun. And then you’re also going to the Sony lot and you’re not filming, that’s different too. There are just different aspects of it, meeting for lunch at different places to talk about things. And they’re sending you over concept art and asking what you think. Every time I was just pretty much, “That’s amazing.” Because when you see what these guys do, it just looks incredible.
Was there ever any consideration about you voicing Johnny Rico, or was that never part of the plan?
I would’ve loved to have done it. Unfortunately, there were too many things that kept me from doing that this time. But if we do another one, I would love to be involved with that. Although it was really cool to see [David Matranga] do it. Maybe it’s just me, but some of it sounded like how I would have probably tried to deliver it. Maybe it’s just me projecting that, but I really liked it.
Are there already plans for additional animated sequels?
Everybody involved, all the producers and the director, we would all love to do another one. And I know Ed would as well. I would totally be on board. And I would love to do the voice over next time. Actually I would love to do the motion capture for it as well. If this one does really well, I would love to do it that way.
I think you could also make a cool series, like if you combined the technology of Starship Troopers: Invasion and the live-action of the original, we could probably make a really cool TV series or something. I think it would be awesome. I’d be up for anything.
Was it at all disappointing for you that you weren’t involved in Starship Troopers 2?
I’ve read several different accounts of the scripts that Ed Neumeier had written for Starship Troopers 2, and in one of them Johnny Rico was in it. I think it was a directorial decision or maybe a studio decision. I’m not sure what it was. I would have loved to have been involved, but I was just glad to be brought back for Starship Troopers 3.
But Starship Troopers 2 is its own individual film as well. Phil Tippett [director of Starship Troopers 2 and creature visual effects supervisor on the original] is an amazing special effects guy and we would have never had Starship Troopers without him. It’s all good. I would have loved to have done the Roughnecks animated series as well.
It seems that you really embraced being so closely identified with Johnny Rico right from the beginning. Was there an adjustment period where you had to kind of get used to that?
No, I read the book [by Robert A. Heinlein] when I was 12 and I loved it. So when I got in and people saw me as Johnny Rico, it’s always been something that’s part of my life. I didn’t need an adjustment period. Believe me, when I go to Disneyland, I’ll get stopped by somebody in the military and they’ll tell me that they watch Starship Troopers every three weeks on their carrier or something like that. You see the enthusiasm of the people who come up and go, “Come on, you apes! You want to live forever?” They’re excited. It’s just an awesome experience.
I really appreciate your time, Casper. In closing, tell me about your latest project?
I’m working on a movie right now called Mucho Dinero. I’m a producer on that and also an actor. We have Danny Trejo and Eddie Griffin in it. It’s about three guys who were childhood friends, and their lives didn’t turn out as they were supposed to. So one of us gets the bright idea to go down to South America to try and capture a Columbian drug lord and get the reward money. We all get suckered into it. It’s just crazy. And one of us has a mental breakdown. It’s a cool, fun script. And I’m having a blast working with my buddy, Blake Freeman, who wrote it. He said, “Hey Casper, I wrote this with you in mind.” And it turns out my character is just completely nuts. I was like, “Thanks, pal.” [Laughs]
So despite what anyone might say, it’s not based on your actual personality, right?
No! [Laughs] It’s a comedy—total comedy.
Special thanks to Casper Van Dien for participating in this interview. For more information about Starship Troopers: Invasion please visit the film’s official website.