Casper Van Dien Interview: Shark Bites, Honeymoons And ‘Dead Water’

I love to talk with Actor Casper Van Dien. He’s funny, attentive and down to earth, qualities that many who have spent decades in the Hollywood limelight seem to forget. Every since his breakout role in the sci-fi action film, Starship Troopers (1997), Van Dien has been on a wild ride, playing characters in films all across the genre board: action (Mortal Kombat: Legacy TV series), fairy tales (Avengers Grimm 2015, Sleeping Beauty 2014), family comedies (Army Dog 2016, Baby’s First Christmas 2012), genre parodies (Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf 2015) and outright horror (Sleepy Hollow 1999, Dracula 3000 2004, Darkness Reigns 2018 – read our review here). This time, we were able to discuss his upcoming film, Dead Water (read our review here), his honeymoon and wedding anniversary and the time he got bit by a shark!

Casper Van Dien, Starship troopers
Casper Van Dien in Starship Troopers

PopHorror: Thanks for talking to me, Casper!

Casper Van Dien: Always a pleasure.

PopHorror: I don’t know if you remember this, but I interviewed you a year ago about your movie, Darkness Reigns, [read the PopHorror review here], and you mentioned that you had just gotten married to your fiance, Jennifer Wenger. Now, it’s a year later, so happy first anniversary!

Casper Van Dien: We did have our first anniversary. Yeah! Jen and I have been married for a whole year, and we just got back from the gym. We’re having the best time. We had a lot of fun traveling. Actually, when we shot Dead Water, we treated it like our honeymoon.

PopHorror: Aw, really?

Casper Van Dien: Yeah! We actually had to cancel our real honeymoon because there was a family emergency. I was like, “I’m so sorry, baby.” And she said, “Don’t worry about it. The way you work, you’ll book a movie that shoots on an exotic island somewhere.” She said it, just like that! She was so cool about it. We were planning the honeymoon, and then we couldn’t do it. And then, all of a sudden, we get this film. We were going to shoot on an island, so we went three or four days earlier, so we had some days off there. And then, we had some days off during the week. We were there for five, five and a half weeks, and we had days off in between. I didn’t work every day. So, we had those days, too. It was awesome! We would swim in the morning… It was beautiful! We were down in St. Croix, and we had dinners with Judd Nelson [read the PopHorror interview with him here]. We had so much fun! He was a part of our honeymoon.

PopHorror: Aw!

Casper Van Dien: (laughs) Yeah, we love Judd… and I love Griff [Furst, Casper’s co-star in Dead Water], too! It was awesome. There was just a whole bunch of good people on this one film. But, yeah! It’s been a great first year.

PopHorror: I love it! Plus, how can you not be happy on St. Croix?

Casper Van Dien: I don’t know! St. Croix is a beautiful place. I’d been to the Virgin Islands before, but I had never really spent any time there. We stayed at The Buccaneer, a place that’s been around for hundreds of years. It was absolutely stunning! Chris Helton, who wrote, produced, edited and directed Dead Water, treated it like it was our honeymoon, too. He was like, “You guys just got married? This is your honeymoon!” Jen and I were like, “Wait a minute. That’s what we had said.” He just kept treating us. He really spoiled us rotten. He’s a Marine, and I’m always grateful to work for people who have served our country and care about it. He’s a family man a great director. I loved working with him. He was so welcoming and so warm… I’d love to work with him again.

PopHorror: I suppose we should talk about the movie.

Casper Van Dien: Yeah, maybe.

PopHorror: What can you tell us about John, your character. What was his mindset in this film?

Casper Van Dien: Well, he’s a doctor, and he tried to get David, the character that Griff plays, along with his wife [Brianne Davis], to go on this boat trip with him. There’s a lot of beautiful shots as well as a lot of mayhem that happens. John was an interesting character for me to play. I had a lot of fun playing this guy. For me, I think he has a little bit of anger in him (laughs).

PopHorror: Yeah, you could say that. He was pretty creepy, honestly.

Casper Van Dien: Oh, thanks!

(Both laugh)

Casper Van Dien: It’s not me. I was just written that way! (laughs)

PopHorror: It must be weird to have people come up to you and expect you to actually be like the character you played in a movie.

Casper Van Dien: Yeah, when people expect me to be this guy who goes out into space and kills giant bugs, it always freaks me out.

(Both laugh)

Casper Van Dien: It’s weird for me. I’ll be at the grocery store, and I’ll hear somebody yell, “Hey! What are you doing here, Rico?” And I’m like, “Well, I’m getting groceries.”

(Both laugh)

Casper Van Dien: With that movie [Starship Troopers], they quote everything at me all of the time, almost on a daily basis, I’d say. Or, at least, four or five times a week, somebody yells at me. My kids have grown up with random people yelling at me and thinking that’s normal. When I was a kid, if someone yelled at my dad, I would’ve been like, “What is going on?!?” But my kids are like, “Oh, that one was the ‘Come on, you apes! You wanna live forever!’ quote.” It doesn’t even phase them. I’ll be at the gas pump, and some guy will yell at me, “Oh, my God! Rico!”

PopHorror: And your kids just go back to their cell phones like, “Whatever.”

Casper Van Dien: Yeah, pretty much.

PopHorror: How did you prepare for your role in Dead Water?

Casper Van Dien: Well, I married Jenny. That’s how I prepared for this role.

(Both laugh)

PopHorror: That’s the perfect answer!

Casper Van Dien: When Jenny said, “I’m not worried about the honeymoon. You’ll book a movie, and we’ll have our honeymoon there.” That’s all the preparation I did for this.

Originally, the director had offered me the part that Griff played. I was going to play that. And then he called me up and said, “I want you to play the doctor. You always play the Marine. You play the doctor in this one.” And when we got down there, Griff says, “I had the role of the doctor, but I heard you wanted the role of the doctor, and I was so grateful.” Because that made Griff #1 on the call sheet. He’s the lead of the movie. But I was like, “Um, I didn’t come up with that. That wasn’t my idea at all!”

(Both laugh)

So the preparation, at first, was like, “Okay, I’m going to be a Marine. I’m going back to Military School. Starship Troopers. All the Marine things. That’s what I’ll do.” And then when I found out I was going to be the creepy doctor, I was like, “Wait a minute…”

(Both laugh)

So, you don’t want me as a Marine? I was a little taken aback. Then, I read the script again, and I thought, “Oh, no. Now I really want to play this character.” You just go into it to play, to have fun. If you’re not really getting into it and enjoying it… I think you should enjoy whatever you’re doing. So, as this character, I just enjoyed everything that I was doing. I had a lot of fun.

Casper Van Dien and Griff Furst in Dead Water
Casper Van Dien and Griff Furst in Dead Water

PopHorror: What was it like, shooting on that tiny boat?

Casper Van Dien: It wasn’t so tiny! It was a $2 million yacht! It was super expensive and beautiful. We had other boats that we could go on. Griff and I would just jump off the boat and go swim in the water. My wife did, too. She came out on the boat with us a lot. We’d just jump off and swim during lunch. It was really rough, I’m telling you. It was a hard, hard time.

(Both laugh)

PopHorror: Aw, poor Casper…

Casper Van Dien: I know! (laughs) My wife and I actually went snorkeling. We went scuba diving. We played tennis at the tennis club. We went swimming every day and went hiking on the island. We went four-wheeling into the rain forest. It was just so difficult…

PopHorror: (laughs) How did you ever handle it?

Casper Van Dien: I don’t know! (laughs) And I didn’t want to leave. The Buccaneers is such a fantastic hotel. I recommend it for everybody. They had delicious food. It was wonderful.

PopHorror: There must have been something difficult about this whole thing. Was there a hard scene to shoot?

Casper Van Dien: Actually, there’s a scene where Griff and I jump off Judd Nelson’s boat, and we swim towards the other boat because we’re afraid of what’s happening on the first boat. So, we’re swimming… and the current is going the opposite way that we’re swimming. It’s really starting to pick up and get really heavy. And this was right at the drop off, so one boat was anchored, and the other boat was floating away. It got away from us, floating way away from the other boat. But we were supposed to swim towards it. So, we just started swimming.

And then we realized that, even though we were swimming forwards, we were going backwards. We’re both pretty good swimmers, but the current was pulling us. Then we realized that we were also at the ledge. There’s this spot where the ground just drops a thousand feet under the ocean near St. Croix. Normally, the water is 30-100 feet, but there, there’s this drop off, this shelf, that’s a thousand feet deep. And we’re at that shelf. The water just changed to dark, dark blue. They had to come with one of the little boats to get us, because we were just swimming but we weren’t going anywhere. That was the most difficult shot, I think, for both of us. Later on, he says, “I was gonna quit because we were only supposed to swim a little bit, but I kept seeing you coming!” And I was like, “I wasn’t going to quit until I saw you stop!” So we both just kept swimming!

(Both laugh)

We could’ve swum back to the other boat, but by this time, we were both so far away from both boats because the other boat was floating away from us, and we’re stuck at this thousand foot shelf. It was pretty amazing.

PopHorror: That actually sounds more like it was terrifying.

Casper Van Dien: Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? (laughs) We’re splashing around like a couple of fish…

PopHorror: Hopefully, there were no sharks swimming around.

Casper Van Dien: You know, there’s always sharks. They’re always around. I used to dive all the time, and there were always sharks. They don’t really want to bite us. They’re just trying to explore or find something to eat. You have more of a chance of getting struck by lightning than getting bitten by a shark. I’ve been swimming with sharks since I was 17, and now I’m 50. And I’ve never been bit. Well, except for on purpose, once.

Casper Van Dien, Dead Water
Casper Van Dien in Dead Water

PopHorror: Wait, you were bit by a shark on purpose?!?

Casper Van Dien: For Celebrity Shark Week, I went with Nigel Marvin down to the Bahamas. We were testing out a shark-proof suit which was created by the same guy who invented the mesh suit. Now he has this Kevlar suit. We were going down into the water to get bit by sharks for Celebrity Shark Week, back in the day, around 2002 or so. We realized that sharks weren’t really violent. You have to actually tease them to bite you. They take a big chum-sicle, this big ball of dead fish that they put it in a garbage bag to freeze it. Then they dump it down there to float around with you. I have a photograph of it, but I never saw the actual episode. I wish I had…

PopHorror: Maybe you can find it on the Internet somewhere?

Casper Van Dien: Yeah, maybe.

PopHorror: I think we’re running out of time. I have one last question though: Do you have any projects something up that you’d like to talk about?

Casper Van Dien: Well, this is my main project. I loved shooting Dead Water. I’m very excited about it. It released on the 26th of July on video and On Demand, and even in some movie theaters, too. I loved working with Judd Nelson on this, too. I do have a couple of others that I’m working on, like All American. I’m loving working on that show. I’m also shooting a series called Salvage Marines, which is a lot like Starship Troopers, but it’s a TV series. I did that with Armond Assante [Judge Dredd 1995] and a director friend of mine, Sean Piccinino, who I’ve done four pictures with now. My wife is actually in that series, too. It’s a lot of fun to work with her.

Casper Van Dien, Jennifer Wenger
Jennifer Wenger and Casper Van Dien on their wedding day

PopHorror: You get to play together now.

Casper Van Dien: You know, we’re having so much fun together.

PopHorror: That makes me happy.

Casper Van Dien: Thank you, Tracy. Thank you.

PopHorror: You’re very welcome! You know, I think we’re almost out of time.

Casper Van Dien: Well, it doesn’t really matter. The other interviews I have are through email, and they haven’t emailed me yet, so we can keep talking if you want.

PopHorror: Okay then! Do you have any hobbies that you like to do when you’re not working?

Casper Van Dien: I have kids, so I do different kid things. They’re getting older now, so we do different things. I have to start teaching my two youngest daughters how to drive. They just got their permits. So, I’m excited about that. That’s fun. I also have a koi pond, and I have dogs and cats. I like going hiking and spending time in my yard. I like reading. I really like hanging out with my wife. We travel a lot. I think traveling is one of my favorite things. Oh, and then there’s the Funko Pops. They did a Johnny Rico one. All of these people down at San Diego Comic Con have been tweeting me this, and Instagramming me about the Funko Pops. They’re pretty cool! It’s me covered in bug guts, that shot from Starship Troopers. They actually sell them at GameStop. People had been asking me about that, so it’s cool to see that happen. So many people have Instagrammed me pictures of them with their Johnny Rico Funko Pop. I had no idea that they were that huge!

PopHorror: They are huge! And now, you’ve been immortalized in plastic.

Casper Van Dien: When Starship Troopers first came out, they had these plastic figurines. There was one of me, Jake Busey, Denise Richards and Seth Gilliam. It was interesting, because it was a rated R movie, but they made kid toys for it. That movie has had such a long shelf life, that now dads are showing it to their kids and saying, “This is my movie!” So now there’s a Funko Pop for it.

PopHorror: Movie ratings are weird. Jaws is rated PG.

Casper Van Dien: That’s so funny that you said that! A lot of the messages I got were from people who were saying, “I got my Jaws and my Johnny Rico Funko Pops!” They sent me pictures of the little shark and of Johnny Rico.

PopHorror: That’s so weird!

Casper Van Dien: Right?

PopHorror: Alright, I swear, this is my last question. PopHorror is a horror movie review site. Do you have a favorite scary movie?

Casper Van Dien: I love The Shining. I think that Jack Nicholson is great in it. It’s pretty terrifying. There’s one that was scary to me as a kid but not so much as an adult. Remember Pet Sematary?

PopHorror: Yes, of course! Zelda is terrifying!

Casper Van Dien: Yes!

PopHorror: Thank you so much for talking to me. I really appreciate the time.

Casper Van Dien: I appreciate you! You know, you’re the first person who’s said, “Happy anniversary,” to me, aside from close family. So, thank you!

Keep it tuned to PopHorror for an upcoming review of Dead Water, as well as all of your horror news, reviews and interviews!

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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