In the early 1990s, Casper Van Dien took a gap year off from his studies at the University of Florida to try his hand at becoming a professional actor — and he’s never looked back. After a few years of paying his dues in small television roles, he got his big break playing teenage space soldier Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers. Other roles in films and television, including Tarzan and the Lost City, Sleepy Hollow, The Pact and All American have continued to keep him busy. “I love this business,” Casper, 54, tells Closer. “I love being around it. I love talking about it. I think I’m a better person because I get to be on set. I’m a better husband, a better father, a better everything, because I get to be on movie sets and do what I love.” 

Casper has two new films out right now. Hunt Club and Daughter are both available on Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Redbox, among other outlets.

So, what got you interested in acting? 

My parents were both educators, and we used to sing and dance after dinner. They introduced me to Broadway, movies, books and literature. I think that is what got me started. 

You’re from a military family. Did you have thoughts of joining the service? 

Yes. I was born in Florida and then we moved to Japan. My dad was in charge of handling the navy base for the Japanese from 1969 to 1973. I thought I was going into the military. I chose to go to a military school when I was 16. My mom said, “Don’t go away to school.” My dad was like, “I’m proud of you.”

Do you think your background with the military has helped you in your acting career? 

Yes. Having that background gave me discipline, which has been extremely helpful in the industry. There are some producers I’ve worked with multiple times. I’m always prepared. I’m always early. I can’t not do that, otherwise I’d feel like I’m not being me. That background gave me great tools as an actor. I’ve been very lucky, but I also think it’s the structure and discipline that helped me. 

In your two recently released films, you’re playing villains. Are those roles hard to play? 

It’s been very challenging. Hunt Club was a hard movie. It’s a good old revenge story about female empowerment. I have four daughters, three sisters and a beautiful wife. I love all the women in my life. Anytime you are not being kind to a woman, it’s always difficult for me. It goes against the grain of my soul. 

And then in ‘Daughter,’ you play a pretty terrible father! 

I play a horrible father who takes his daughter and replaces her with another daughter. That was the most difficult role. But it was a great experience, and I was really impressed with everybody who worked on it. 

You also have a very different look in it.

I had a beard and parted my hair down the middle. As I was leaving one morning, my wife and daughter were like, “Dad, why are you doing your hair like that? It’s gross.” They hadn’t read the script but just thought I looked so creepy. It was good for the character.

Of course, ‘Starship Troopers’ was a huge film. Do you have any favorite memories of filming it? 

Casper Van Dien On Playing a Villain, His Favorite Roles and More
Columbia Tristar/Kobal/Shutterstock

I remember filming the scene where the drop troops are landing. We had 1,400 extras, 250 crew, 30 actors and 30 stunt people. We had a second unit of 138 people. We’re all running around with weapons. And I look over and see Paul Verhoeven, our director, who also directed RoboCop, one of my favorite movies. I was just thinking, “Oh, my God.” I loved being with those people. I was in awe of how professional everyone was. We did this huge scene and nobody got hurt.

Would you like to go back and play Starship’s Johnny Rico again? 

Oh yeah, we have talked many times about doing it. I would love to play Old Man Rico. I think he’d be a battle-worn person. In the original Starship Troopers, he didn’t question authority. Now, I think he would be more likely to ask the question whether something was the right thing to do. 

What have been your favorite roles? 

Johnny Rico from Starship Troopers is 100 percent my favorite. My second would be Tarzan and then Johnny Cage [in the web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy.]

You also costarred with Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. Was that a good experience? 

That was so surreal. In my experience, Johnny Depp was one of the greatest gentlemen and a kind, giving actor. I had just quit smoking cigars, and he was rolling a cigarette one day. He asks, “Hey, Casper, do you want a cigarette?” I always regretted that I said no. I should have gone out and smoked a cigarette with Johnny Depp. At the time, he was representative of what a real Hollywood star should be. 

What do you do for fun? 

I’m a big hiker, and I like going into the forest. Now that I live in Florida, I’m also going to the beach. I love reading, and I love watching movies and TV. Hanging out with my wife, friends and family. 

What makes your marriage work? 

My wife, Jenny, is the kindest person, the most compassionate and loving. She goes out of her way to make sure everybody feels welcomed and feels important. I’ve never met anybody like her. I wish I was as sweet as her or as kind as her. I strive to be a better person because of her. 

Aw! Your daughter Grace Van Dien followed in your footsteps as an actor. Did you give her any advice? 

She’s killing it as an actress. It’s been so amazing to see her do this. I didn’t put it on any of them. I want all my five kids to be who they are. Grace used to come on sets and just watch me. Now she calls me for advice, and I try to be as positive as I can. I am very impressed with her. She’s a much better actor than I am, and I think she will be much more successful. I couldn’t be more proud.

—Reporting by Fortune Benatar