From inspiring a series of memes to appearing in Ke$ha’s unicorn-filled music video, James Van Der Beek has come a long way from the teenage heartthrob, amateur movie-making, lovestruck Dawson Leery on hit TV show, Dawson’s Creek. Van Der Beek appears in this DA MAN exclusive, dressed up in top men’s clothing brands, and shows us how the boy has become a man.
Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack and Eric Silverberg
Fashion Editor: Ashley Phan-Weston
You may still look at him and think, ‘that’s Dawson Leery’, but James Van Der Beek has grown up and become a successful all-around man. Not only has he made his wife and daughter his first priority, he’s also dabbling in comedy, as well as modeling high fashion in this DA MAN exclusive. By Obed Napitupulu
Millions of people around the world virtually grew up with James Van Der Beek’s Dawson Leery on the hit TV show Dawson’s Creek. Now Van Der Beek has moved on to other projects such as feature films like Formosa Betrayed and TV shows One Tree Hill and Mercy, among an array of other smaller projects over the years since Dawson’s Creek finished up in 2003. He is also in the highly anticipated upcoming sitcom Apartment 23.
DA MAN: You’ve made appearances on dozens of programs and, of course, you were integral to the success of the wildly popular Dawson’s Creek? Tell us how it all began?
James Van Der Beek: I was lucky enough to live in a town that had a children’s theater program. One year, when I was about 13 years old, I suffered a concussion playing football and was told I’d have to sit out almost the whole season to recover, so I did a play instead. I loved it immediately—it felt like playing on a sports team except no one was looking to beat us, and there was a significantly decreased chance of sustaining bodily injury.
DA MAN: And your dad was a pro baseball player?
James Van Der Beek: My father played in the minor leagues before I was born. I grew up loving baseball, and definitely benefited from expert instruction growing up. My dad, God bless him, never pushed it on us, so I’m still a fan of the game to this day.
DA MAN: Dawson’s Creek ran from 1998 to 2003. Some deep relationships must’ve been forged over that time, do you still keep in touch with the old cast?
James Van Der Beek: I do keep in touch with a number of them. It’s funny, I get asked this a lot, but it’s been so long since the show ended that I have a hard time remembering which of the people in my life are ones I first met there, because we’ve forged a relationship outside of that. But I still keep in touch with Busy [Philipps], Michelle [Williams], Kerr [Smith], Meredith [Monroe], Hal Ozsan and I ‘m sure others I’m forgetting.
DA MAN: You’ve worked with legendary playwright Edward Albee, how was that as a rookie actor?
James Van Der Beek: That was pretty much the defining moment of the beginning of my career. I was 16 years old, I’d been auditioning for commercials for about 18 months with no success, and my first professional job was under the direction of a two-time (soon to be three-time) Pulitzer Prize winner. Edward was kind, patient and very encouraging. He told me to trust my instincts, and made me feel like I was among friends in that cast. He made me feel safe. And the fact that the reviews were raves allowed me to justify to everyone back home that the time and energy I was spending auditioning was actually worthwhile. It wasn’t until four years later that I would get my ‘big break’ with Dawson’s Creek, but that experience with Edward Albee in an 80-seat black box theater in New York was the cornerstone.
DA MAN: Do you have any plans to go back to theater projects?
James Van Der Beek: The first thing I did when Dawson’s Creek ended was get back on stage, this time working with the late, great Lanford Wilson. I haven’t done a play since, and I’m really starting to miss it. I think I might have to get back on the ‘boards’ sooner rather than later.
DA MAN: How has being a father affected the trajectory of your acting career?
James Van Der Beek: It’s changed the trajectory of my life. I feel like before my daughter, my priorities were arranged like a stormy sea—spread out everywhere; different ones popping up at random. And I was just floating along in the middle of it all. The minute my daughter arrived, everything instantly got rearranged like a pyramid, with my daughter and wife at the top, and everything else existing to support that.
DA MAN: Who has inspired you over the years as an actor?
James Van Der Beek: I am inspired by everything. That’s the great thing about acting; it forces you to become a student of human behavior, so the guy who checks your groceries can inspire you just as much as an Oscar-winning performance.
DA MAN: You’ve been so great about being able to laugh about yourself and the infamous five-second crying clip from Dawson’s Creek. You’ve even started your own site; tell us about JamesVanDerMemes.Com.
James Van Der Beek: I loved what the website Funnyordie.com was doing, so I asked to meet with them. They very carefully, very tentatively asked if I was aware of that five-second crying clip, and I laughed. Some of my Twitter followers tweeted it to me, and I just thought it was so bizarrely funny that someone had taken such a sincere moment and was now using it to mock people. They pitched a very funny idea that eventually became the Vandermemes short, and we shot it. We messed around with a bunch of different memes, and I guess every couple of weeks they put a new one up there. It was all done for a laugh. That’s basically how we came up with all four shorts—they pitched ideas, we picked three, shot them and then, since we were putting so much time and energy into it—we decided to do a mock short film on the making of the three videos.
DA MAN: Formosa Betrayed was a very solid movie and at least one film festival gave their Best Actor award to you. How did that feel?
James Van Der Beek: Thank you. It felt great that the movie was recognized and well-received by an audience. That film started with a desire on the part of the producer, Will Tiao, to tell the true story of what happened to his parents’ generation in Taiwan. It was a set of facts I had been completely ignorant of and a story that had never been told on screen. Will fought for years to get it made, and it was very gratifying to be part of a labor of love.
DA MAN: The film was about 1980s Taiwan, but shot in Thailand? Did you get to see much of the area or was shooting too hectic?
James Van Der Beek: It was a very demanding shoot, and I was in just about every frame of that movie, so unfortunately, I didn’t really get any time to do any sightseeing. We shot around Bangkok because the outskirts of the city actually look a lot more like Taipei in the 1980s than Taipei does now.
DA MAN: Do you plan to stay focused on feature movies or something else?
James Van Der Beek: I just like telling good stories, and there seem to be opportunities to do that in both arenas. So, I’ll basically go for the best possible story and whatever format best suits it.
DA MAN: What are the differences, for you, in terms of preparation for TV, movies and plays?
James Van Der Beek: With plays, you get a luxurious, four-week rehearsal period. For TV, you get almost no rehearsal, and film you sometimes get maybe just a day or two. I’ve always been kind of a self-taught person, and after reading about different techniques, it looks like I’m a bit of a mutt, technique-wise. I’ve stumbled upon many different methods through working over the years, and so, for me, each situation calls for a unique approach, depending on the day, the scene, the tone, how much sleep I had the night before, how closely I relate to the character, etc. I’m very open-minded in my approach.
DA MAN: Which projects are you most proud of?
James Van Der Beek: Oh boy… I fully invest in everything I do, so I have a soft spot in my heart for all of it. I’m certainly proud of the success and longevity of Dawson’s Creek. I was ecstatic when the Albee play got rave reviews, and as far as movies, there was a dark, edgy film called The Rules of Attraction that I’m quite proud of. It’s a different kind of movie, but I love what the filmmaker, Roger Avary, did with it.
DA MAN: What inspires you as an actor and/or who is your muse?
James Van Der Beek: I am inspired daily by the people I meet and speak with. My wife and daughter certainly top that list, but even random strangers can inspire an attitude, an accent or even just a gesture. So, the whole world is my muse.
DA MAN: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
James Van Der Beek: Who knows? Probably a teacher. Maybe an English teacher. But honestly, if I knew how to not be an actor, there are many times I would have considered doing something else. But, for some reason, it’s just something I’ve known I needed to do since I was a kid. Even though I was never comfortable with the attention I got from it, even though kids made fun of me for it when I was younger, acting was just something I knew deep down I was supposed to do. I know it sounds strange, but it’s true.
DA MAN: What’s next for you?
James Van Der Beek: I shot a comedy pilot for ABC, I just starred in a music video with Ke$ha and I just hosted my first awards show. I’ve been on a kick lately of saying yes to anything that sounds fun, so we’ll see where else that takes me.
DA MAN: Who do you hang out with when you’re not working on set?
James Van Der Beek: My wife and daughter get first priority, and then I’ve also got some great friends who I still try to meet up with as often as I can.
DA MAN: You must’ve seen all the good and bad that showbiz has to offer, what are those things?
James Van Der Beek: The best part is the community that springs up when an entire cast and crew is all focused on a common goal: telling the best story possible. I love the camaraderie and dedication you find on a set. The worst is probably the loss of privacy and the attention that comes along with being lucky enough to be successful, but I’ve had some time now to adjust to that, and I feel like I’m starting to handle it a little bit better. Or, at least I hope I am. It is, after all, part of the deal.
James is dressed up in clothes and accessories from these top fashion brands:
See the full story and all the high-resolution images in the June/July 2011 edition of DA MAN