Interview – Casper Van Dien on committing 100% to the psychological horror of ‘Daughter’

Daughter is the feature film debut of filmmaker Corey Deshon, and is a psychological horror in which a young woman is inducted into a bizarre family as their new surrogate daughter. The family is led by Father (Casper Van Dien, Starship Troopers), a stern and intimidating presence who keeps his family isolated from the terror’s of the world outside them. However, when the bonding between the surrogate sister and the family’s son awakens questions about their captivity, Father’s clutch on the family becomes far more sinister.

Releasing on various VOD platforms in Australia on February 22, I had the chance to chat with Father himself – Casper Van Dien – about committing to the psychology and beliefs of Father, the pure love of making movies, and working with famed directors Tim Burton, Paul Verhoeven and Robert Rodriguez.

Nick: It’s an absolute pleasure to meet you. I love psychological horrors like Daughter, and you give a powerhouse performance in this movie, so I’m excited to deep dive into it with you!

Casper Van Dien: Nick! It’s nice to meet you and I’m so thrilled to talk to you!

Nick: Daughter isn’t your first foray into the psychological horror genre. How did this project initially come to you?

Casper Van Dien: You’re right, it isn’t. I had done The Pact and other different ones. But with this one, my manager said: “Caspar, I got this script and I don’t think you’re going to want to do it. I don’t get it. But your agent loves it”. So, I read it and I was in. And later he [Casper’s manager] said he was wrong about it!

The script is as chilling as the movie. When I read it, I had hairs standing up on the back of my neck from the get go. And you don’t always have that feeling. At the beginning of the script it states that this movie is based more on fact, than on fiction. When they say that in movies, you know, I get a little bit… “Ah, whatever.” But I was just hooked from the way this movie starts with the opening credits at the beginning, or the long scenes of text and sometimes a slight movement. I don’t usually watch me in my movies, but I think he [Corey Deshon, director] did such a good job, and the other actors are amazing too.

Nick: I’m so glad you mentioned the opening credits because it’s such a bold way to open the movie with it intercutting with that chase scene involving Father. But, it also set that gritty 70s/80s horror tone, which was intrigued to learn from Corey, that despite that tone he was more so influenced by modern horror when he was writing the script. Did Corey give you any material to watch or study to get the tone of Father across to you correctly?

Casper Van Dien: Oh, I ask every director what films they think I should watch for them! I always do that! But, a lot of what we discussed came from how interested I was in his vision. I loved talking to him. He’s so fascinating and intelligent. Everything he says, everything he thinks about is so meticulous. I’d ask him a question and he’d go off and think about it, and kept thinking and thinking. Then he’d come back to me 15 minutes later with an answer. It was always so impressive for me and I was thriller working with him.

But, I Googled all of the quotes written in the script. Some of them were scripture, some of them were from different authors and I thought it was all so fascinating! I wanted my character to obviously know what he was talking about. I wanted to understand him. It’s one thing to just say your line, but if you can really understand everything that is going on in this character’s head, it helps.

I mean, I’m sure everyone thinks about their role, but this is one I wanted to be very specific about. I’d go up to Corey with suggestions of having the beard Father has, or parting the hair down the middle. He loved it. My wife and kids thought the hair parted down the middle was gross though! I’m like: “it’s for my character”!

Nick: You definitely had that physicality as Father, but was approaching his psychology like? He’s an evil character, but everything he is doing, he believes it comes from a place of love and protection of his family.

Casper Van Dien: 100%. I had to believe 100% that everything I was doing was for my family and for their safety and protection. Even for Daughter, you know? I did not want any of the issues that happened to take place. I wanted everything to work and follow everything I said because that is how I believed everything would be okay.

There’s the rage that a man has and the things that happen because of that rage, and then you have accountability for that later on. It was just a fascinating mindset to stay in that character. We would have these long takes that we would do without breaking anything up. It’s like three-and-a-half pages, and it’s just me talking. And the shots would even hold after I was done talking, and it was just stillness. And I would be thinking: “oh, that’s too long”! But, the finished product of those scenes are a crazy work of genius.

Nick: This is Corey Deshon’s first feature film! But, I’d be remised if I didn’t mention the fantastic directors you’ve worked with previously, such as Paul Verhoeven, Tim Burton, Robert Rodriguez! Do you find there is any difference for you as an actor either working with a first time director or a seasoned professional? And how do you approach your collaborative relationship with your directors?

Casper Van Dien: I meet with every director and try to understand their vision. I’m basically like a tree in their painting. I’m one of the characters. I’m just one of the things, but they have the whole picture. So, I find that I just have to be there and support their vision. Sometimes, it’s frustrating because they may not know their vision. Maybe they’re a newer director and don’t know what they’re doing. But sometimes, like Corey, they come in and they’ve done all the work. He was so prepared.

But there can still be all these variables. We had a huge brush fire breakout and we had to shut down for a week. We were gone for 5 days and we thought we were going to come back and everything had been burnt down.

The good thing is that with Corey and the crew – most of them were already friends and they were all new to this. But, we had over 60% people of colour in the crew. And it was so great to be in this group with everyone. It was loads of fun.

When I worked with Robert Rodriguez on Alita: Battle Angel, all Robert wanted to do was talk about Starship Troopers. But he was so cool, just playing his guitar all the time. Tim Burton cracks jokes, he’s really funny. Paul Verhoeven is just loud and has more energy than anybody else. Every director is so different and you get all these different experiences. It’s amazing how movies get made. I’m fascinated by them. If I wasn’t an actor, I’d be doing what you’re doing and talking to people about being in films because I just love the entertainment business. It’s my life.

Nick: Oh, I completely agree. I love the fact that I’ve turned my love of film into something like this, where I can talk to people like you. I just love movies.

Casper Van Dien: I have that love too! I’m always watching movies. My wife always points out that I’ll just watch anything. But I look for moments in film, or moments in a script. I’ve been in over 200 projects, so I’m doing the things I want to do. And sometimes, they’re big misses or you just have to do this job to feed your family. But I still have fun. No matter what kind of movie it is, I just can’t believe that I get to make a movie. I can’t believe I’m still getting to do this. It’s just magical. Sometimes you can get on a set and it’s not always a smooth run. But this was a really good one. I was really proud of it.

Thank you to Casper Van Dien for giving his time to chat, and thank you to Walkden Entertainment for organising the chats. Daughter is available to rent now on various VOD platforms.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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