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Q&A: Casper Van Dien on Adopting a Killer Kid in “JUNE”

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Considering how much depth and pathos STARSHIP TROOPERS/SLEEPY HOLLOW star Casper Van Dien brings to his nuanced, powerful turn as the adoptive father of the titular 9-year-old who drives the spectral coming-of-rage tale JUNE, it’s difficult to believe his path to the role began with the random serendipity of co-star Victoria Pratt passing him her cell phone between shots on the set of his award-winning sophomore directorial effort PATIENT KILLER.

“I had no idea who would be on the other end, but it turned out to be [JUNE director L.] Gustavo [Cooper],” Van Dien recalls. “He’d called to tell Victoria that the actor who had previously signed on to play the father in JUNE had fallen out, and then, while they were talking, she mentioned she was working with me. That’s basically how I ended up on Victoria’s phone, being introduced by Gustavo to the story of this little girl and a family and this extraordinary, frightening circumstance they face. When he sent me the script, I loved reading it so much that I found myself thinking, ‘Thank God that other guy couldn’t do it!’ ”

Though Van Dien has (happily) never accidentally taken in a possessed child from a sinister cult, as his character Dave Anderson does in JUNE (now on DVD and digital from RLJ/Image Entertainment), the emotional bones of the story spoke to his life and experience. “No matter what Dave does, things seem to end up the opposite way of what he has planned,” he says. “Which is a lot like what happens in life; we can’t always control the way things go. And that lack of control becomes harder to accept when you become a father, and want more than anything else to protect your family from all the bad things out in the world.

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“But, you know, you go through a lot of challenges as a parent with your children; you go through a lot of challenges as a husband with your wife. I felt like there was a lot to pull from personally. I saw JUNE as a chance to dive into an interesting and challenging role that would allow me to depict a heightened version of this struggle in a real way.”

The success of that depiction would not rest on Van Dien’s shoulders alone, however—the film’s premise and subject matter required placing a huge amount of trust in the still-blossoming skill set of a preteen actress who would need to believably embody both sweet, vulnerable innocence and supernatural, diabolical power. It was a leap of faith that paid off in the terrifying and affecting performance of 11-year-old Kennedy Brice.

“Kennedy’s super-talented and funny and wise beyond her years,” Van Dien raves. “I mean, she’s a real actress who truly enjoys—and gets—the process, so it was just a blast to work with her. Coming into this, Victoria and I had already done a few things together—it’s probably safe to say she’s my favorite actress to work with—but we knew that our ability to pull our roles off together wouldn’t really matter if Kennedy wasn’t as fantastic as she proved to be. Everything about her impressed me, and we and Gustavo were very lucky that Kennedy was the one to do this. I believe she will be a talent to be reckoned with for years to come.”

This writer is about to ask the next question when Van Dien casually adds, “She even put on a Death from Above tattoo, which blew me away.”

Wait, what?

“Yeah, it was a really cool thing—on the last day of the shoot, the cast and crew all got the STARSHIP TROOPERS Death from Above symbol on their shoulders, and we took a group picture,” he says. “It was a complete surprise to me. I’ve never seen anything quite like it on a set. It tells you a lot about how close we all became making this movie. I’ve said before that as soon as I stop learning and having fun in this business, I should probably retire. On JUNE, I learned a lot, had so much fun and some great experiences, and worked with people who touched my heart in an amazing way. It reminded me why I do this and what I love about doing it.”

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The gesture speaks to something else as well: The enduring cult phenomenon of STARSHIP TROOPERS generally, and more specifically, Van Dien’s one-for-the-ages portrayal of the swaggering iconic bad-ass Johnny Rico.

“It’s pretty surreal, actually,” he laughs. “At home I’m myself, but walking down the street, I’m forever going to be Johnny Rico. On my Twitter, I get quotes from the film posted all day, every day. And if someone shouts ‘Rico!’ at me, a lot of times I’ll stop and yell back [the recruiting line from the film], ‘Do you want to know more?’ Fans love it and I love it. It’s great to be part of a film that endures, and that has that kind of longevity.”

And while the chance to gift a rabid fan base with jovial celebrity encounters is, of course, a worthy end in and of itself, sometimes the interactions are considerably weightier. “Once while I was doing a movie in New Mexico, a guy asked me if I’d take a picture with his son—a Marine who had lost both his legs over in Iraq,” Van Dien recalls. “Story was, right after he got blown up, the last thing he remembered seeing was someone with a Death from Above tattoo pulling him to safety. So I had the makeup artist on my set make one for him, and we did a Death from Above pose and sent a picture of it to his buddy with the real tattoo who had rescued him.

“I almost cried many times during that whole encounter. To think that a movie you were in or a character you played could mean something to someone on that level, or have that kind of effect…it’s very powerful, very humbling. You do just have to sit back and say, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty awesome.’ ”

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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