Casper Van Dien And Ed Neumeier Talk STARSHIP TROOPERS Yesterday And Today
Twenty years ago Paul Verhoeven adapted Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi novel Starship Troopers to the big screen, splicing in subliminal anti-war messages to his dark comedy about killer bugs invading earth, and offending everyone he came across in the process. Originally perceived as pro-fascist propaganda, it wasn’t until years later that people began to realize that the satirical nature of the film was actually spouting a different kind of rhetoric, one which encouraged its viewers to decide for themselves if the cost of war is worth the casualties.
Now, two decades later, Casper Van Dien, a.k.a. the Federation’s Johnny Rico, and Ed Neumeier are back to continue telling the story in Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars, which still carries with it the same message, urging viewers to seek out the truth for themselves, question their authority figures, and make sure that they are representing a world which they can be proud of for generations to come. I was fortunate enough to sit down with these two gentlemen on behalf of Birth.Movies.Death, and engage with them on a wholly exciting day which included paintball and lighthearted squabble over our favorite action movies. Read on to see our conversation, and check out Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars when it hits theaters on Monday.
Does this new movie carry sort of the same anti-war message that the original film did in 1997? Or are you going a different route this time?
EN: Well, you know the attitude towards the war at least as I write it with the Troopers is the Troopers are in this war, and they’re kind of victims in this war, or at least victims in terms of what they believe about the military then, and the military is just doing, and the war is set up as a war against unknowable aliens that want to kill you, so there is, it doesn’t put you into an ‘Oh, we’re killing other people’ mode, we’re going against these bugs that want to kill us, but what we’re doing in this movie more, is we’re sort of examining what is the government really up to? And our three friends have now risen to some power in their world, because they’re older now, realize that the government is not completely straight and they kind of, by working it from the inside, they sort of stop the bad agenda, without, interestingly, upsetting the whole cart. They’re kind of moral despite the moral containment of their world. They kind of do the right thing anyway, and that’s what I think is the nice message of that, is that even if you’re in the military it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say ‘Is this the right thing to do? How can we correct what’s going on?’
CVD: Right, and they even have that in the military, there’s a conduct you’re supposed to adhere to that is to circumvent you just acting on the orders, if somebody comes at you who is morally incorrect, you do not have to follow that, in fact, you’re morally obligated to do the right thing, I mean they’ve pointed that out in different films and stuff, but it is true and I think that mainly, when you look at soldiers in the military, most of them are really good people with good moral character, because otherwise, we’d be in a lot of trouble! I mean the average age of a person on a submarine is like eighteen or nineteen. If you think about that, those are nuclear subs.
That’s a lot of responsibility.
CVD: I’m American, I believe wholeheartedly in the American dream, I believe wholeheartedly in the American people, and I believe in what our country has stood for, one hundred percent, and going back to the films, I think Starship Troopers is liked by the far left and the far right and everything in-between. It’s also hated, and it was misunderstood at first, and a lot of people thought it was a pro-fascist propaganda pro-war film and I was like, ‘Most everybody dies except for my character!’ I mean I don’t know, they’re…
EN: No, I mean, you could, one of the things we decided to do, Paul and I, was we were gonna let you decide how you felt about, it’s very clear how we feel about the world, and we do question the world a little bit as we go on, in the first movie, and in subsequent movies, there’s a sense, kind of, buried in the meme of you know, soldiers who are doing what they’re told to do, that sometimes what they’re told to do isn’t always the right thing, or the authorities don’t always care about you in this world, you can be sacrificed very easily, and so to me, I like the struggle of those characters who are trying to do the right thing anyway. You know they try to find the right moral decision, and in this movie, there’s the agenda of uh, strangely, we wrote it all before the election stuff, but there’s a lot of stuff about popularity in media and how, what your message is and obviously from the first Starship Troopers, propaganda has always been a big part of it, and you are asked from the start to question what the government is telling you, question what the authorities are saying, so when you say, ‘Do you want to know more?’ it’s sort of that, ‘Do you want to know more? Are you really being told everything?’
CVD: I think that was one of the things that really attracted me to it was the sense of humor, that dark, sick, perverse sense of humor that you had for the first film and I think it’s carried on into this film, and he knows me, and he writes a lot for me as Johnny Rico, I mean it’s interesting for him to see my character grow.
EN: It’s so easy for me now to sit down and write. I mean it’s a pleasure, and I mean, writing is generally not a pleasure, but it’s a pleasure to write his character because I always know what he’s going to do. There’s a certainty to how he will react. Sometimes he reacts like, ‘Hm, why is this going on?’ and eventually he comes around to, ‘Well, we gotta do the right thing here’ and so that’s a fun character to deal with.
They mentioned in the trailer that there was a secret about Mars that they were keeping from the public. What can you tell me about this secret and why do they want to keep it from the people?
CVD: There is a traitor!
EN: There is a traitor of Mars and it’s kind of a propaganda, I would say, there’s a scheme going on that has to do more with theatrical propaganda than it does the truth. Sometimes you have a situation where someone is in charge and you have to hope that the people around that person can prevent them from doing harm. (laughs) So it’s kind of a timely movie!
CVD: Yeah it’s kind of surreal. Because people, they said that even in the first film, they said ‘How did you know!? That it was gonna be this, how did you understand what was going to happen?’ and even with him writing this, it’s interesting, so far the critics that have seen the movie have been very positive, at least to me.
EN: We want to try to be a little bit thoughtful about these things. As human beings, we all are worried about security and concern, and we all like power and we like cops sometimes, and we don’t like cops sometimes, and sometimes we want to play war and sometimes we want to not, and so to me, this is a discussion about that kind of thing. Most of these movies don’t ever discuss anything and so to actually put a question in there, ‘Is this the right thing to do? Are they doing the right thing? What would you do?’ this is something that I think is fun to do with entertainment, even in this, our audience might be ten years old, but I do think that people see those things and go, ‘Johnny Rico did the right thing, I’m gonna do the right thing’.
Yeah, well that’s what I like about the original Starship Troopers. It’s a movie I saw when I was younger that I enjoyed on an entertainment level and then as I revisited it as I got older, I started to appreciate the deeper subtle messages in the movie.
EN: So, where did you see it originally?
I think I watched it at home when I was seven for the first time.
CVD: You saw me naked when you were seven!? Wow!
EN: So who showed this to you? Father? Older brother? Who did this to you?
My mom would watch something downstairs, and I would sneak upstairs and watch something I wasn’t supposed to.
EN: But you wanted to watch this movie?
EN: How come?
CVD: Yeah, how come?
My mom raised me on action movies, so I’ve always been a fan of them. She raised me on Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
EN: They say that in action movies, it’s funny, when I was coming up in Hollywood, there’s always the pursuit of the female action film and they kept trying to make them, and they often failed and what they found out is that women who like action like to watch men in action. They sometimes like to watch women, and more and more, with Wonder Woman and always starting with T2, Terminator 2 with Linda Hamilton, you get to see these women in action.
CVD: Sigourney Weaver in Alien.
EN: Sigourney Weaver was an early one too.
Did you know that –
EN: Ripley was written as a man.
CVD: Well, Dizzy in Starship Troopers, in the book, was a guy and then you cast Dina who plays a really tough girl.
EN: That’s right, we actually, it was not a very interesting part in the first draft because I stuck more to the book, and then Paul said ‘Oh I think we should change Dizzy into a man’. That was his idea, and suddenly, it was a part. It was a lot of fun, you could do things with that, I mean Dizzy was just this person that I had hanging around, and then suddenly, it became a real part.
CVD: Well Dina said that they had originally wanted her to audition for Carmen but that she told Paul she wanted Dizzy because it was a meatier role.
EN: It’s an interesting role, yeah, it’s a good role. Have you ever run into military girls who like her?
CVD: No, the guys like her! General Dizzy is the character that more people in general like than Carmen.
EN: Well, it’s Veronica and Betty, and she’s Betty.
I’m curious because we’re talking about female roles and Paul Verhoeven and I’m wondering, have y’all seen Elle?
CVD: Oh, we love Elle!
EN: It’s fantastic!
How does it benefit your experience working with animation this time? How does that affect your process as a writer and your process as an actor?
EN: It’s a lot cheaper, that’s it. I mean as a filmmaker, it’s almost the same as ‘Yeah, we’re on the surface of Mars, and we have giant things happening’, but there’s still a lot of things you can’t do. There’s still a whole lot of ‘We don’t want to build another spaceship, we don’t have the money for that’. It’s a similar process, and the story, you just have to tell the story the same way and the only thing I would say is instead of spending $120 million, we’re able to make this story for quite a bit less, and that’s probably why we got to make it.
CVD: I mean, I had a lot of fun voicing it, but I still like to put on the suit whenever I can. I think this is a lot less sweaty.
EN: He’s mad at them because they wouldn’t let him do the motion capture.
CVD: Yeah, I would say that.
EN: And you know what? It would’ve been better if they let him do it because he would’ve moved more like Rico, but whatever.
CVD: Yeah, because when you’re voicing the actor, then you have to voice somebody else’s movements. You’re still doing your acting, you’re still doing your voice, but then you’re doing it to someone else’s movement, who’s trying to do it as Johnny Rico would do it, they got the actor who played Rico in the last film, he sounded a lot like me, and I said that to him when I met him, and he goes, ‘I was trying to! Thank you so much! That’s great!’ so he was trying to act like I would and that’s huge but the problem was that it wasn’t written by [Neumeier]. It was written by that other guy, even though a lot of the lines were just from the other movies. But I look at the way he writes, and he writes things that I like to go off of, because in the first Starship Troopers I didn’t change any of the lines, I said exactly what was written.
EN: I actually didn’t have any real trouble with that, the only person who was ever troublesome on that was Peter Weller in RoboCop. Peter Weller had a troublesome moment, but I don’t think it was personal, I think it was just troublesome. No one ever changes the lines.
Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars hits theaters for one night only on Monday, August 21st, 2017. Check Fathom Events for your local listing.