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INTERVIEW: Father Knows Best – Casper Van Dien On “DAUGHTER” And The Role Of A Lifetime

Wednesday, February 22, 2023 | Interviews


It’s impossible to write about Casper Van Dien without mentioning Starship Troopers. So let’s get that out of the way now because Van Dien’s role in Corey Deshon‘s new thriller will likely erase Johnny Rico from your assessment of the actor’s talents. Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s beloved sci-fi novel cemented Van Dien as a lantern-jawed hero. His performance is as over-the-top as the film’s pioneering effects and not-so-subtle critiques of patriotism and fascism. By design, Starship Troopers is a propaganda film from the future, with a gung-ho Casper Van Dien cast as an intergalactic John Wayne storming the bug-infested sands of Klendathu instead of Iwo Jima. Critics and mainstream audiences didn’t get it, but in the decades since, the film has become an eerily prescient cult classic.

Van Dien went on to star in the ill-received Tarzan and the Lost City and play a supporting role as Brom von Brunt in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. In the decades since, Van Dien has starred in many indie films and TV movies, transitioning largely from leading man parts to broad (and in the case of 2022’s Mad Heidi, downright cheesy) villains. His role as Father in filmmaker Corey Deshon’s debut feature, DAUGHTER marks another sinister turn for the 54-year-old actor. Yet, this role is unlike anything Van Dien has done before. 

In the performance of a lifetime, Van Dien stars as a family man driven to unthinkable extremes, including kidnapping and murder, to shelter his young son from what he perceives as a hostile, poisonous world. Evoking shades of such real-life horrors as the case of the Turpin family and infamous kidnapper Ariel Castro, Deshon uses Van Dien’s natural charisma and a largely untapped side of the actor’s personality to paint a portrait of an all-too-human monster. We recently caught up with Casper Van Dien to talk about his sinister turn in one of the most surprising horror films of the year. 

DAUGHTER is one of the best horror films I’ve seen so far this year, and you are incredibly disturbing in it. What attracted you to this film? Why did you want to play Father and what went into your characterization of him? 

Well, to get the response that I just got from you!  For you to say that it’s one of the best films of the year, that’s awesome. I thank you for saying something like that.

I read this script. My manager goes, “Hey, look, your agent wants you to do the script. I’m not quite sure.” I read it, and I go, “I’m in. I love it.” My manager is like, “Really?” And my agent’s like, “Yes.” And I was like, “Yes, this is so good.”

And right away, I went into looking up the quotes that I had to say in [the film]. I was looking at the finding the Bible verses and the different authors. Because I was looking up so much, all of a sudden, I was just like, “Where did [Corey Deshon] get all this? This is amazing.”

Corey Deshon, who wrote and directed DAUGHTER, is an intelligent man. You ask him a question, and he’s very thoughtful. He goes off, and he goes, “Let me get back to you.” … You can see him thinking about it, and he comes back with a very thoughtful and thorough answer. And that was always impressive to me. His writing is that way. 

[When] you see a movie like this, where I’m in a scene with everybody, I’m basically the only one talking. When [the rest of the cast] is alone, they have their other conversation. And then later, they pick up a couple of things with me. But at first, it’s a lot of monologuing, and that can be boring. But the way it was written and that it was based loosely on real events made it so intriguing for me. So I was all in, 100 percent. And I loved everything. I loved the way the script was written. I loved everything about [Corey Deshon]. I loved his mannerisms on set, so I wanted to pull everything in there. I also loved the dynamic between everybody.

I just combed my hair down the middle and parted it, and I had my beard. I sent [Corey] a picture. I go, “Is this okay if I look like this for father?” And he goes, “Yes.” And then, when I leave my house, my wife and my daughters are like, “Dad, you look so creepy. Why are you doing this?” And they didn’t know what I’m shooting. So I went off, and I come back, and I still have that hair. I’m like, Oh my, God! This is so creepy.” And that was great for me. I’m not a Method actor, per se, so I don’t always get into a role or a character. But [with] this one, I just wanted to drive as Father. I wanted to do my hour drive to the set as Father because I just figured this would be him in the car. 

Despite the intensity of the film, it looked like you were having a great time with the role. You mentioned some real-life incidents that went into the script. While watching DAUGHTER, I thought of the recent case of the Turpin family, the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and the Ariel Castro kidnappings from a few years back. Father also seems to have a bit of Jim Jones and David Koresh in him. Did you look at any of those real-life cases in your preparation to play Father? 

Interesting. Yes, I did. I did think about that. We even discussed the different cult leaders and everything, or at least I did,  bouncing it off of an acting coach that I was working with, too… My wife loves those crime shows. So we watch a lot of them. I’ve seen all of them. But when [the film states it’s] based on real events, it isn’t really, okay? There are a lot of things that it could loosely be based on like you said – all the ones you just named plus so many more … You just turn on the TV, and you see investigative reports on those murders. There are all these things that happened.

The fact that [the rest of the cast] were all friends already, and they all got along. That made it interesting, too, because I’m the old white guy, who’s horrible and mean and cruel. So I’m intimidating. And I know that. The way I was written was extremely intimidating. And I know that my look was really disturbing because it even disturbed my wife and kids, who had no context for what I was doing. None of them had read the script, and I didn’t describe it to them. I just left with my hair combed. I didn’t go all of a sudden, “Oh, I’m creepy,” to my daughters and my wife. I  didn’t do anything to them. I just combed my hair, went to work and came back. And they’re like, “Oh, my God! You just grossed me out. Dad, you look disgusting.” And then my daughters would come and try to fix my hair. It was interesting. So something was going right. It doesn’t always happen that way on a movie, but this one just felt like it was going that way.

With a character like father, it seems like it’d be really easy to go broad and arch. What was your key to finding the core of the character and making him human and relatable while maintaining that sinister undercurrent?

I think that you can see that he really does love his son and that he would do anything for his son. And he does everything for his son. When a character has something that can be likable, you know, if he’s the bad guy and he has likable characteristics, that makes it more interesting, If he’s just a bad guy, all the way evil, that, to me, is not as interesting, per se. It depends on the script, too. I mean, obviously, it depends on how well the script is written. This one was extremely intelligent, the way it was written for me. And I had to play it off that way. And I had to believe it. So I had to believe everything [Father] was saying, which made it easy because when I looked up these quotes, I would find the different authors that I’m a fan of and different things in the Bible … I love all these different words that he would mix up in an intelligent way. Those were believable for me, so I didn’t want to say something that wasn’t [believable]. All those quotes mean something and putting them together, it just comes out kind of creepy… But [Father] believes it. 

Coming into DAUGHTER, we don’t know much about any of the characters, especially Father. Did Corey Deshon have any sort of backstory for these characters that he would share with you to give you a little more insight into the role? Perhaps elements the audience doesn’t know that informed your performance?

I think that there’s one thing in the script at the end when he takes the mask off, and it’s obvious to some people, that there’s, there’s a situation going to happen or there’s a problem. Some people, they’re like, “What’s going to happen?” In the script, it was a little bit more defined, and you can see it a little bit more, but I think [Corey] didn’t want to be that obvious. He wanted to have the subtlety there. He thinks about everything … He’s just not one person. He’s not a reactive person. He’s very thoughtful, at least in my experience, as a director and as a writer, too. So I think if he was to have gone over anything with the other actors for their characters, he would have kept that close to the vest and wouldn’t have shared it with me. And I think the same for them with me. I wouldn’t have known what he was doing with any of these backstories for any of them. I know that they’re all friends. And I know that they were all working on this before I was even involved. So I’m sure there was a lot more. He’s very hands-on and listens to all the actors. He answered every question. I’d come in with a million questions. 

When I do anything, not that I’ve done great work or anything like that, I go in and I start researching right away, and I start finding out what’s this? What does this mean? Where’s this from? Where do I relate to that in my life? I just get so excited. I’m doing what I love. If I wasn’t acting, I’d be doing interviews. I’d be interviewing people because I love movies. And that’s all I want to talk about. That’s all I want to do. I’m a happier person when I’m talking about them, when I’m watching them and when I’m making them. That’s me. That’s who I am. I love the entertainment industry. It’s my business. It’s your business. You can relate to this. Not everybody can, but they can go, “Yeah, that’s exciting,” and they want their nine-to-five jobs … We don’t have a normal schedule. We’re crazy. And I’m alive because of that. I am crazy, but it’s my kind of crazy.

DAUGHTER from Dark Star Pictures and Yellow Veil Pictures is available now on VOD.

William J. Wright
William J. Wright is RUE MORGUE's online managing editor. A two-time Rondo Classic Horror Award nominee and an active member of the Horror Writers Association, William is lifelong lover of the weird and macabre. His work has appeared in many popular (and a few unpopular) publications dedicated to horror and cult film. William earned a bachelor of arts degree from East Tennessee State University in 1998, majoring in English with a minor in Film Studies. He helped establish ETSU's Film Studies minor with professor and film scholar Mary Hurd and was the program's first graduate. He currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his wife, three sons and a recalcitrant cat.