DAWSON’S CREEK could have looked a lot different.
James Van Der Beek tells me that he nearly lost the lead role in the popular teen drama to another young actor — who would later go on to become star of his own hit series.
James — now a father of two — was studying English and Sociology at Drew University in New Jersey when he decided to audition for the role of 15 year-old Dawson Leery.
“I had three auditions that day,” he remembers. “I was 20 and I thought I was way too old. They flew me out to L.A. and sat me on a plane next to the guy I was testing against, which was awkward because I knew him. Then I met Kevin Williamson [the show’s creator] and I read for the part.
“Sony didn’t want to cast me. Kevin had to fight. They finally said ‘Fine. We will get him through, but for the love of God, get him a haircut!’ So they gave me a haircut. It was kind of kismet.”
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So what happened to the other guy?
“He became the star of Entourage,” James laughs. “Adrian [Grenier]. He was testing for both Dawson and Pacey, but he went home empty handed. Poor guy. I think he is okay now.”
So is James, 36, who returns to television this March on the new CBS comedy FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES.
His character, Will, is newly single but still hung up on his ex-wife.
“What is amazing and fun about this character is his journey of self discovery,” he says.
“This is somebody who has been in a relationship, been married forever, and all of a sudden is thrown back in the dating world. He hasn’t asked a girl to go out since the invention of the text message. So there is a lot of room for pratfalls and that awkward rediscovery of who he is as a man. It is a great journey.”
Here’s more of what James had to share when we caught up this week in Pasadena, Calif.
Who has a better life, you or Will?
That’s no contest. [laughs] I’ve got two little angels at home, so… score one for Van Der Beek!
Will gets dumped in the first episode. What kind of arc does he go through after that?
Season one is a lot of really bad, awkward dating. The girls, he just doesn’t understand. His absolute ineptitude when it comes to picking up a girl in a grocery store. We had a lot of fun.
Sounds like you have a lot of fun at work. What is home life like?
I am in service when I am home. That is home base. That is the rock. That is the tether that allows me to go off in all these wacky places.
You mentioned your two little angels, Olivia and Joshua. Are they ready for their new brother or sister?
I think so. They seem to be.
What does your wife think about this new character?
She likes him. I don’t know if she would date him — as of yet, at least. Maybe in a couple of seasons.
Would she date any of your characters?
Maybe the guy from [the upcoming movie] LABOR DAY. She didn’t watch DAWSON’S CREEK, thank God. Never seen it. My mom came in at one point and plopped an episode in front of her and she was like, “That’s not even you!” So she saw the pilot and that is it.
Did you think when you did that Funny or Die bit that your life and career were going to change?
I didn’t. I just thought it would be something to do for a lark, exercise some different muscles. And low and behold it really revitalized my career for me and gave me a whole other aspect to play around with. So it was a very pleasant surprise. I wish I could say I was smart and calculated it, but really it all just happened organically.
Is it possible to calculate your journey in this business? How much of it is dumb luck and how much is…
I have found that the more I try to calculate, the less good it does me. I think there was a while where I was really calculated about everything and I passed myself out of relevance to a degree. So it is a lot more fun to say yes and take some chances.
Kevin Williamson said he would never, ever, ever do a DAWSON’S CREEK reunion. What are your thoughts on that?
He was speaking the truth. I mean, listen. Here’s the thing: It is so flattering that anybody cares about work you did 15 years ago. It really is. So nobody wants to insult the fans of take it for granted. But the truth is that it is not in the works. I think everybody is pretty happy where they are at.
Do you ever wonder what has happened to Dawson? Where would he be today?
That is a question I honestly can’t answer. I don’t think about it. Or think about him. You would be better off asking a fan of the show then asking me.
When people meet you now are they disappointed that you are nothing like your were on APT23.?
If they are, they haven’t said anything. That was such a fun character. I think everybody was in on the joke. I get asked the question a lot “Do people think you were really that guy.” But I don’t think anybody has really thought that.
Would you ever reconsider DWTS? You turned it down once…
It is too much work. I love the dancing aspect. I had a lot of fun with that on APT 23. But that is as close as I am going to get.
FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES premieres Monday, March 31 at 9:00 PM, immediately following the series finale of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER.
FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES is a romantic comedy about six friends at different stages in their lives – married, divorced, newly engaged and single – who are outwardly happy, but secretly questioning if their friends have it better. Andi and Bobby are happily married with a toddler and another baby on the way, but at times long for the days when they had less responsibility and more fun; Will is newly single and preaching the bachelor lifestyle, but still pining for his ex-wife; Jules and Lowell are high on their passionate new relationship; and Kate has a successful career but may have a breakdown when she finds out her last remaining single friend, Jules, just got engaged. When it comes to relationships, these six friends are finding it a challenge to look at each other without wondering… who really has the better life?
Will you be watching? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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