On Saturday at 8 pm/ET, Hallmark Channel sends onetime Starship Trooper Casper Van Dien to contend with The Curse of King Tut's Tomb, as his maverick archeaologist races a ruthless rival (The Mummy's Jonathan Hyde) to find the boy king's untold riches. Sound a bit familiar? TVGuide.com spoke with Van Dien about his bid to prove he's Harrison Ford-tough, his famous lineage and the secrets to a successful royal romance.
TVGuide.com: So you're doing a little "Indiana Jones" thing here....
Casper Van Dien:
Yeah, it was fun to pay homage to something I'm a fan of, and also to work with a filmmaker I really like a lot. Russell Mulcahy, who did Highlander, The Shadow and Swimming Upstream, is an incredible director. I felt fortunate to be working with him.
TVGuide.com: Plus you have Malcolm McDowell, who's always entertaining to watch, playing one of the baddies.
It was a thrill just to meet him. Jonathan Hyde was wonderful work with, too, as was Leonor Varela [as Van Dien's love interest]. Steve Waddington played one of my friends and it only helped that we already had a relationship working together [on Tarzan and Sleepy Hollow]. It was all a blast because everybody was so much fun to work with. There we were shooting a film in India paying homage to Indiana Jones and The Mummy, while having fun with King Tut, which itself is amazing subject matter.
TVGuide.com: I was going to say, you and I are about the same age, so you must remember the late-70s King Tut mania.
Yeah, I grew up in Jersey, so I went to the Metropolitan [Museum] when [the Tutankhamen exhibit was on display]. Everybody remembers that, so there's not much research you have to do. But our film also has some neat little twists at the end.
TVGuide.com: I'm about halfway through now. I take it things get much worse for your character before they get better?
Yeah, some bad stuff happens! There is this water torture scene I did with Jonathan Hyde, who did not want to keep me underwater for too long because he was afraid I would drown. But that was one of the most fun scenes for me to shoot. I was a lifeguard in high school and college, so it was fun for me to hold my breath and all.
TVGuide.com: It's nice to hear you shot this in India and not, say, Vancouver.
No, we shot it all in India. The desert was 122 degrees, they have big bright lights on you, and one time we were shooting in this white marble quarry, with no clouds.... [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: What did you have on, like SPF 400?
We were wearing sun protection and one time we even had umbrellas over us to block the sun, but I realized we were still getting burnt! The umbrellas were doing nothing!
TVGuide.com: Still, I imagine The Curse of King Tut's Tomb must rank high on your "fun shoots" list with Starship Troopers and Sleepy Hollow?
Sleepy Hollow... just the fact that I was working on a Tim Burton film with Johnny Depp, that, for me, was so exciting. But yes, I think this would rank up there with that.
TVGuide.com: Mark Twain is your great-great-great uncle. Did that make it awkward for you to read the CliffsNotes for his books during school?
You know, it was a thrill for me to read his books and see myself as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as a kid. But then to know that you're also related in some way is fun. When I was working in New York once, I got fan letters from these two kids saying, "You don't know us, but we're really big fans of you and we're related. Our great-great-grandfather is your great-great-great uncle." It was signed "John and Tom Clemens." They're fans of me when they're the great-great-grandchildren of one of the greatest writers ever!
TVGuide.com: You are the sixth Casper Van Dien in your family line. You must have been, like, "Whew!" once you had your own son to pass on the name to.
Yeah, I was glad I got that out of the way! My father said to me, "You can name your son whatever you want, but you'll be breaking a long, long tradition."
TVGuide.com: Not too much pressure there.
I said, "Thanks, Dad!" He said, "I'm just giving you the same speech I got." I gave my son that speech and he goes, "Great, I love the name Casper!"
TVGuide.com: In a day when you can't open a tabloid without reading about the latest celebrity couple split, how do you and Catherine Oxenberg [married now for seven years] keep on keeping on?
Well, we've been through a lot, but we're honest now. There were times where I had my own secrets and things like that, but I have a pretty amazing wife and a pretty amazing life. I've been divorced, and I don't ever want to do that again. Also, I couldn't imagine being with anyone else. I don't know how to explain it. In Hollywood a lot of temptations come up if you're not being honest, but if you're really honest, you work through it. We have a great marriage because we work at it, and that's key. We put our relationship before anything else, and that's important. It's not that my wife and I don't argue, but we never let the kids get between us.
TVGuide.com: Besides, how can you argue with her when she has that cute little British accent?
I know! I've also realized that when you think you've won an argument and you're sleeping on the couch, you really didn't win! Even if I know I'm right, I just say, "Yes, dear," and I get to wake up with her. Then I've won!
TVGuide.com: You have a pair of new Sci Fi Channel movies coming up, one of which you describe as "Predator meets Blade." Are you happy with the niche you fill, as "the affordably priced action star"?
It's because of Starship Troopers that I'm able to work on these other films, and I love working. Whether it's in an action movie or a science-fiction movie, it's what I always wanted to be doing, and here I am doing it for 17 years now!