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The Surprising Actor Who Could Have Played Johnny Rico In Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers, released in 1997, was a box office flop that has gained appreciation as a cult classic, with Columbia even discussing plans for a Starship Troopers reboot. It isn't entirely hard to understand why the film didn't quite stick the landing, as the film took a rather nuanced approach to some tricky subject matter that critics and audiences mostly missed. The film was an adaptation of Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel of the same name, which contained some rather overt endorsements of a fascistic society. However, the movie pushes back against the book's embrace of fascism by depicting a culture with clear parallels to Nazi Germany and then mocking that society throughout the course of the film. Director Paul Verhoeven explained that his idea was to tell a story that "seduced the audience" but then reveal that what they were rooting for was really evil (via IndieWire).

To sell that imagery, Verhoeven tried to cast actors in Starship Troopers who wouldn't be out of place in a Leni Refinshtal propaganda video. One of the key characters was Johnny Rico — the infantry soldier whose journey the film follows — and tall, square-jawed Casper Van Dien fit that mold perfectly, but he wasn't the only actor considered for the part. Here is the surprising star who could have played Johnny Rico.

Mark Wahlberg auditioned for Starship Troopers' lead role

Starship Troopers director Paul Verhoeven was looking for young actors who the audience would root for to support what he felt was a ridiculous premise. Verhoeven said, "It's an idiotic story: young people go to fight bugs. So I felt the human characters should have a comic-book look" (via The Guardian). Verhoeven looked at some of the film industry's up-and-coming stars for the lead role, but he ultimately found his Johnny Rico in Casper Van Dien. "Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon auditioned, but I was looking for the prototype of blond, white and arrogant, and Casper Van Dien was so close to the images I remembered from Leni Riefenstahl's films," Verhoeven said.

Both Damon and Wahlberg had breakout roles the same year that Starship Troopers came out. After all, 1997 saw Damon star in Good Will Hunting, while Wahlberg played the lead in Boogie Nights. Both films were nominated for multiple Academy Awards and competed against one another for Best Original Screenplay, which Good Will Hunting ended up winning. Considering both actors' careers after 1997, Wahlberg seems the more likely of the two to fit the part. His role in the Transformers series featured the same sort of action-oriented, CGI-heavy sequences that played a prominent part in the second half of Starship Troopers — although Michael Bay's depiction of a futuristic conflict with space monsters was a little less controversial than Verhoeven's.