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Starship Troopers

Wingman Wednesday

Jake Busey

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Photo By: Dana Patrick

Jake Busey works a lot, and when he’s not working, he’s thinking about work. That tireless desire to hear the words “ACTION” may stem from the fact that, as the son of legendary actor Gary Busey, he has seen the inner workings of the entertainment industry since he was a kid. In fact, he admits that being on a movie set is the one place he feels the most comfortable, and it’s a comfort that has lead to countless memorable performances, from the murderous Johnny Bartlett in the extremely-underrated “The Frighteners” to bug-hunting soldier Ace Levy in the cult classic “Starship Troopers.”

Busey can currently be seen in Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” and in the new horror/comedy hybrid “Dead Ant.” Season 2 of his Hulu series “Freakish” kicked off this week as well, and for those who love a vintage franchise reborn, he will be starring in Shane Black’s “The Predator,” due next summer.

We recently sat down with Busey to discuss his definition of “favorite movie,” how he refuels the mental tank, and why he’s had to be a salmon who swims extremely hard upstream.

TrunkSpace: We spoke with your “Dead Ant” director Ron Carlson recently. We have to say, that sure looked like a fun character to play.
Busey: “Dead Ant” was a hoot. We really had a good time. We really enjoyed filming that. It was quite the bonding experience for the whole gang.

TrunkSpace: An end user, the viewer, sees a film and that’s what they remember, but for actors, the experience is probably where you draw your memories from, right?
Busey: That’s very true. In fact, I wrestled with that for many years. I would have fans ask me what my favorite movie that I did was, and so I would think about trips that my wife and I took in New Zealand – my girlfriend at the time. We spent two weeks traveling in New Zealand while I was doing “The Frighteners,” then we went to Fiji for another 10 days about a month later. And then of course, the culture and the people – and so I think about “The Frighteners” in a very good way.

Then I think about “Twister,” when she got in her Jeep and drove all the way from LA because we didn’t have money for a plane ticket, or a rental car in Oklahoma, so she drove her Jeep out during “Twister.” Then when I booked “Starship Troopers” and bought a brand new Dodge truck, she drove that out from LA to Wyoming for the whole filming. And then I put her in the film – she was a stand-in for Denise Richards. That was a real bonding experience for all the people there, and to have my girl with me was fantastic.

And for about 15 years, I was always answering people in regards to my experience of making the film. Then one day it hit me, “Oh no, they’re wanting to know what my favorite film that I did was on the screen, because that’s what they’re awareness is.” It was a big moment of revelation for me.

TrunkSpace: When looking over your filmography, which is filled with project after project, we’re struck with just how consistent it is. Are you someone who loves the work, loves to work, or a combination of both?
Busey: I think you have me at a loss there, because I don’t know the difference between loving the work and loving to work. I mean, I don’t know the difference in distinction.

For me, I love being on a film set, that’s my favorite thing. That’s where I feel most comfortable and if there was ever a place where I didn’t feel like I needed to be somewhere else, it was a film set. Sometimes you’ll be somewhere and you’ll get that feeling of some sort of sixth sense where something kicks into your brain and you go, “I feel like there’s something else I should be doing,” and then you wind up calling your loved ones or whatever, and as it turns out a friend of yours was in a car crash. Nine times out of ten, it’s just you sort of having a nagging feeling like, “I’d rather be somewhere else.” Besides from my kids, when I’m on a film set, the point is, I never have the thought, “Oh, I should be somewhere else.” I just feel completely at home.

TrunkSpace: With that said, do you feel like it’s important to refuel the mental tank between characters?
Busey: Absolutely. One of my very favorite quotes in the world was by a guy that you would never guess, from the 1960s, and he had a quote that was basically, “It’s an actor’s duty to seek out more of life than life puts at his feet.” And you have to experience a lot of things in your life, because in order to portray different characters, you need to have a wealth of experiences to draw from. Somebody who is a sheltered homebody would not make a good actor because they don’t have anything to draw from except for their own small little world.

My mind just never stops, and I never stop moving. I’ve been told it’s because I’m a Gemini, I’ve been told a variety of things, but I’m always creating something. I’m always thinking about something. I started a motorized bicycle building company. I am a pilot. I’ve now dove head first back into something I was very involved in when I was in my late teens and early 20s, which is desert racing. In fact, I’ll be racing the Baja 1000 this year, which is November 19.

So I’m always busy, I’m always thinking, and I’m always auditioning for more films. And by virtue of that, I’m always acting.

Busey in The Frighteners

TrunkSpace: Outside of film, you’ve also been working in quite a bit of great television, from “Ray Donovan” to “Freakish,” which just kicked off season 2 on Hulu. From a character driven content standpoint, how much has TV changed from when you started your career, and is it creatively more appealing to you now than it was then?
Busey: You know, there’s a lot more available now than when I started. Interestingly enough, when I was beginning, when I was coming up, and also when I was a child – I spent the 70s and the 80s on film sets with my dad. As a film actor, that was De Niro, that was Jon Voight, that was Al Pacino, that was… I don’t know, I could go on. Clint Eastwood. The list goes on and on. But TV, you didn’t want to be Ted Danson, and quite frankly at the time, neither did he. And you didn’t want to be Tom Selleck. He was so pissed off that CBS wouldn’t let him out of his contract to go do Indiana Jones, and Harrison Ford got the role, and he couldn’t do it.

Back then TV was subpar – the craft of it. Film was considered artistic and television was considered second rate. If you did TV it was just a career suicide. You wouldn’t get let back into the world of great filmmaking, with Scorsese or something. And now, everybody has a home theater system, and the internet has turned streaming into a possibility, and everything is all based on home viewing, and laptops, and we’ve got a lot of content now – you don’t even say film anymore, because it’s just considered content. It’s all shot for a tiny screen, for being on the telephone.

Nowadays, there’s only two kinds of films. There’s 100 million dollar spandex movies, and then there’s the tiny, tiny low budget independent films that may or may not get distribution. Film has kind of become a little bit of a wasteland for actors.

TrunkSpace: In a way, the two mediums have kind of flip-flopped.
Busey: Yeah. If you’re doing movies now, unless you’re one of those top 20 people that are in those spandex movies, you’re like slumming it really. No one will outwardly admit it, but if you take a meeting with somebody – a new agent, or a new manager or PR person – and you’re like, “Yeah, I’m doing a lot of independent films,” one might assume that means you’re working and that’s a good thing, but really what the other people are hearing is, “Oh, he’s slumming it in independent film land.” So yeah, you’re exactly right. You said it the best. It really has flip-flopped. Look you’ve got Meryl Streep doing television.

TrunkSpace: Anthony Hopkins!
Busey: I mean, it’s crazy. The world has really changed.

I’ll tell you what, I’ve got a lot of friends who are actors that are my age and we share in a unique thing about being Generation X-ers. There wasn’t as many of us, so we were never the popular majority. So I’ve got a lot friends, including myself, that never quite made it over the top of that multiple million dollar spandex movie for their characters, and you’re kind of caught in this lurch, by virtue.

When I was starting out in my early 20s, I couldn’t get hired. Everybody that was being hired was in the previous generation. They were all like 30 years old. It was Charlie Sheen, and Kiefer Sutherland, and Christian Slater, and those guys who were working. I was a youngster and couldn’t get hired, and then when I was in my mid 20s I really started working a lot. But then, by the time I hit my late 20s and early 30s, then all the young 20-somethings, and I guess the early Millennials – the earliest of the Millennials – took over. Ryan Phillippe, and Timberlake, and all these guys came up.

So, caught in a generational sort of wasteland has been an interesting way to forge a career. And plus, I’m a unique looking guy, so I’ve really had to be the salmon that has to swim extremely hard upstream to even keep working in this industry. And I love it, I love working, but I will not tell you that it’s easy, that’s for damn sure.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned “The Frighteners” earlier. We were all chatting about that film internally here, it being October and all, and the consensus was that it is an extremely underrated film. Had that been released today, particularly with the way that tastes have changed and the horror/comedy hybrid film genre is more accepted, it might have had a completely different lease on pop culture life.
Busey: Oh true, yeah. This movie “Dead Ant” that I did, it is wholeheartedly what “The Frighteners” was going for back in the day. It is comedy and horror combined, but I remember at the time, I got a lot of criticism because critics didn’t know how to interpret watching a film that had comedy and horror. It was like, taboo.

TrunkSpace: And when it opened, it was up against “The Nutty Professor,” so you’re automatically losing half of your comedy-loving audience to that film.
Busey: Yeah, exactly. And how do you market that? But I think today’s audiences, I think with the internet and everyone being so involved and connected on the World Wide Web that we’ve got going, I really do think that people are certainly not as close-minded and a lot more accepting of multiple genres mixed together. Because quite frankly, when you sit down and you get on YouTube, and start bouncing around, there’s a million different things going on within five minutes.

TrunkSpace: And at the end of the day, life is all things. Life is not one genre.
Busey: Certainly true. And that was one of the things that I was bummed out about when “The Frighteners” didn’t do so well. It was panned by the critics for being funny in the beginning, and scary at the end. It’s like, this is a good film – its own unique entity.

“Freakish” season 2 is available now on Hulu.

“Ray Donovan” airs Sundays on Showtime.

Featured image by: Dana Patrick

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Wingman Wednesday

Casper Van Dien

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Van Dien as Johnny Rico in “Starship Troopers”

Very seldom do 100 million dollar movies qualify for cult hit status, but “Starship Troopers” is no ordinary film. A political satire disguised as an effects-laden monster movie, the Paul Verhoeven-directed feature was released in 1997 and has only become more relevant as bipartisan lines continue to fade.

The latest sequel in the franchise, the CG animated “Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars,” places original stars Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer on the front lines of the ongoing bug conflict as fan-favorite characters Johnny Rico and Dizzy Flores. The film arrives on VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray September 19.

We recently sat down with Van Dien as he was on his way to the 20th anniversary screening of “Starship Troopers” to discuss the ongoing interest in the franchise, seeing his character evolve in an animated world, and why he never seems to slow down when it comes to working.

Would you like to know more?

TrunkSpace: We’re living in a very divide world politically. The original “Starship Troopers,” which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, seems just as topical as ever.
Van Dien: Well, it’s an amazing story. It is liked by people who are hardcore Democrats, and is it is loved by people who are hardcore Republicans. And I think what it is, it puts up different perspectives so that people can go and discuss things. It pokes fun at itself and fanaticism. It’s a chance for people to laugh at themselves and each other without doing it in a negative way. It’s not like, “You have to believe this or you’re an idiot!” I think that gives us discussion, and I think that’s the way we need to be more instead of treating each other like idiots in life.

TrunkSpace: It’s a bipartisan movie in partisan times.
Van Dien: Yeah, and it’s funny because Clinton loved it and Bush loved it, and people from both sides say that. People in the military say it and people who are pacifists loved this movie. So it’s just really funny to see and I think it is because they don’t treat either side like a complete idiot. They treat all sides like they’re a joke and they laugh at it. And they laugh at themselves, and I think that’s the genius of Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier.

TrunkSpace: Looking beyond the story as well, the film always seemed ahead its time in terms of special effects. It really was a step ahead of most of the other films out during that period.
Van Dien: It’s amazing. It was nominated for Best Effects, Visual Effects, and it lost to “Titanic.” And I think everybody lost to “Titanic” that year, which was an incredible film. I’m not being negative about it, but I do think that the visual effects and special effects in “Starship Troopers” were superior to all movies at the time. They just were incredible. And “Titanic” was an amazing film, but I think they were creating a new life and new things with “Starship Troopers.” The visual effects people that worked on that movie are still making movies today and they say that audiences today will accept more cartoony-looking things, so they don’t have to work as hard, and they don’t have to put in the time and effort that they did. “Starship Troopers” was like a two-year process for them.

TrunkSpace: Speaking of cartoony, the latest installment of the franchise, “Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars” is an animated feature. What has the medium enabled the franchise to accomplish that perhaps a live action installment wouldn’t?
Van Dien: Well, originally, with “Starship Troopers” they wanted to do the power suits, the big armor, but they could either choose the bugs or the power suits. Even though it was a 100 million dollar budget back then, they didn’t feel like they had enough money or time to do both, and visual effects weren’t up to par yet for what they wanted to do with it. Shinji Aramaki is an incredible director and he’s the number one mech suit designer in the world. He created Soundwave for the original “Transformers” cartoon and he did “Appleseed.” He’s a really talented man and he loved “Starship Troopers.” He became who he is because he saw a cover of the book of “Starship Troopers” when he was a kid, which came out in 1959. He saw the cover and said, “I can make those work.” And that’s how he became who he is. So he loves this. He loves this film and he got Ed and I to come in and be producers, consulting on the last film that he did, but he wanted to do a better job, and he wanted to do the power suits even better. He kind of combined the book a little bit with the movie to give the fans a little bit more of what they wanted.

Johnny Rico (voiced by Casper Van Dien) in “Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars”

TrunkSpace: What is it like from a performance standpoint to establish your character in the live action space and then see him grow and evolve in an animated world?
Van Dien: Well, it’s interesting for me in that way, too, because I didn’t get to do the motion capture. That was another actor who went over to Japan to do it. And when he did the last movie, he tried to sound as much like me as he could because he got to do the voiceover for that one. And then, this time, they wanted me to do the voiceover, but I wished they had brought me over to do the motion capture, too, because that just looked like a lot of fun to me. I got to do that in Robert Rodriguez’s “Alita: Battle Angel,” which I thought was just awesome. And for this film, I would have loved to have done that, but Ed Neumeier wrote it, and he knows me really well. We’ve been best friends for years now. He’s one of my closest friends, and he knows me really well, so to see the way he writes and the way he writes for me as he sees me or as he sees Rico growing… the emotional scars that he’s had and he puts it now in his face and his body… it’s just fascinating.

TrunkSpace: When you’re used to being the physical embodiment of Johnny Rico, is it hard to shut that off when you’re in the studio doing the voiceover work?
Van Dien: Oh, absolutely, but you’re in a little box, more or less, a soundproof box, and you’re watching the motion capture and you’re trying to say what this guy said and did and what was written in. It’s a lot of fun in this motion caption world, and it’s a lot of fun when you have these mech suits that you can put in because there’s also… your face is not seen all the time, so you can put in things that maybe weren’t written or that they wanted to add in or that Ed wanted in or even Robert Heinlein, the original author, had written in the book. I get to say, “On the bounce,” which is key to when I first read the book when I was 12, which I loved.

The power armor in the new “Traitor of Mars” is just awesome. It was a lot of fun to be a part of that. I always wanted to do that, and it’s one of the things I regretted not being able to do in the first film. I’m happy we got to do it in this film and how much he paid tribute to the original “Starship Troopers.” There’s not a day that goes by that somebody doesn’t say something to me about “Starship Troopers,” some quote or something. Quoting me, quoting Ed Neumeier or Robert Heinlein and what they wrote. My kids are coming with me to this premiere tonight, the 20th anniversary, and one of them is wearing a Death From Above shirt, which is just so cool.

TrunkSpace: Looking over your career, you are constantly working. Do you keep that momentum going because you love the work, love to work, or is it a combination of both?
Van Dien: I think you’re right when you said is it both. I mean, I love films. I love watching films. I love being a part of them. I never feel more alive than when I’m on a set. And I’m a father. I love being a dad, and it’s one of the most important things to me, but… successful to me is if you’re putting your heart and soul into whatever you do. No matter what it is, I think, whatever job it is, you’ve got to put in your best effort. Even when I did all these other jobs that weren’t acting, I did it with the intention of doing the best I could to be, the best man I could be to be the best provider I could be for my life. I love working, and I love being on set, and I feel alive. I feel very fortunate to be able to continue to be doing this. It’s 30 years next year for me. I’m very lucky I get to do what I love and it’s just so much fun.

“Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars” is available September 19.

Starship Troopers” 20th Anniversary 4K Ultra HD Edition is also available September 19.

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