Family & Companions
Plucked from obscurity to become an instant heartthrob, James Van Der Beek played the earnest, hypersensitive high school kid Dawson Leery on the seminal teen soap "Dawson's Creek" (The WB, 1998-2003). The weekly foibles of Dawson and his adolescently-charged, anachronistically savvy friends made breakout stars of Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Michelle Williams and Joshua Jackson. It provided the actor with a launchpad for roles in youth-targeted movies, among them "Varsity Blues" (1999), "Texas Rangers" (2001) and "Rules of Attraction" (2002). After "Dawson" shuttered, Van Der Beek found consistent project work difficult to come by. He ramped his screen presence back up in the late 2000s, scoring star billings in the NBC miniseries "The Storm" (2009) and buzz-worthy indie project in "Formosa Betrayed" (2010), capped by his mid-season casting on the NBC medical drama "Mercy" (2009-2010) and playing a version of himself on the hotly anticipated sitcom "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" (ABC, 2012-13). Amid a career renaissance of sorts, Van Der Beek still remained inexorably tied in the public mind to his central role in The WB Generation's most iconic coming-of-age tale.
James William Van Der Beek, Jr. was born on March 8, 1977 in Cheshire, CT, the first child of Jim and Melinda Van Der Beek, a businessman and a gymnastics studio operator, respectively. By junior high school, Van Der Beek had become a regular honor roll student and also gravitated to athletics, but a concussion playing football when he was 13 prompted doctors to sideline him for the year. He took up acting instead, soon finding himself earning prominent roles in school productions. A few years later, he convinced his mother, a former Broadway dancer, to help him locate an agent. He peppered his off-Broadway theater work with the occasional foray onto the screen, including a guest shot on the Nickelodeon comedy "Clarissa Explains It All" (1991-94) in 1993. After high school, he attended Drew University in Madison, NJ, for a time, majoring in English, but the yen to act kept calling. He did a brief stint in a youthful role on the CBS soap "As the World Turns" (1956-2010) and scored his first film roles in the 1995 youth comedy "Angus" and the Claire Danes romantic vehicle "I Love You, I Love You Not" (1996). During a flurry of auditions in 1997, Van Der Beek clicked with young writer Kevin Williamson, thus beginning his tenure on a generation-defining program.
Williamson based "Dawson's Creek" (The WB, 1998-2003) on his own experiences growing up in a blue-collar New England town - though shot in North Carolina, where the cast moved in-season - and he chose Van Der Beek to play, in effect, a fictionalized version of himself, the searching, awkward teen film buff, Dawson Leery. The show became network TV's new gold standard for coming-of-age dramas, as it dealt with Dawson's and his troubled but charming friends' foibles, sometimes in a remarkably frank way - all of which drew some ire from conservative groups for its adolescent characters' sexual dialogue when the show premiered in early 1998. Williamson based Dawson's love interest, the impossibly bright girl-next-door Joey (Katie Holmes), on his own best friend growing up, and the show picked up buzz and intensity as a love triangle developed between the two and their friends, the wisecracking Pacey (Joshua Jackson) and mysterious new-girl-in-town Jen (Michelle Williams). Though reviews were mixed, "Dawson's Creek" captured the zeitgeist of the era, making its stars into nonstop magazine fodder. In the first year of the show, Van Der Beek was chosen by People magazine for its annual ranking of the "Most Beautiful People."
Viacom's MTV Productions made Van Der Beek the lead of football drama "Varsity Blues" (1999) in which he played the rebellious back-up quarterback thrust into a leadership position with his high school football team. Fueled by the buzz around its young star, the film performed well in an off-peak period, becoming No. 1 at the box office for two weeks and eventually earning an impressive $53 million. In less auspicious outings, he joined an all-star ensemble of young talent in the dark, visually adventurous film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' meandering, self-indulgent novel of college sexuality "The Rules of Attraction" (2002) and led another youthful cast in the revisionist Western "Texas Rangers" (2001). A cultural touchstone, he popped up in gimmick roles playing off his Dawson persona, as in the off-the-wall comedies "Scary Movie" (2000) and "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001). When "Dawson's Creek" ended production in 2003 - as Pacey and Joey's romance became more the engine of the show than with its namesake - Van Der Beek returned to New York and live theater, initially winning a role in the off-Broadway production of Lanford Wilson's "Rain Dance." The year also proved auspicious for him personally, as he married fellow actor Heather McComb. Yet, by his own later admission, he felt burned out by the cycle of his youthful stardom and began turning down job offers.
By the time he was ready to return to the spotlight, Van Der Beek mostly turned up in B horror films such as Clive Barker's "The Plague" (2006), "Eye of the Beast" (2007) and "Final Draft" (2007). To put himself back on the A-list map, he began a flurry of TV work, including appearances on popular network sitcoms "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006-2010) and "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 2005-14), where he played the loser ex-boyfriend of Robin (Cobie Smulders) who still held a strange power over her. He went against type in a two-part guest-shot of "Criminal Minds" (CBS, 2005- ), in which he played a religious psychotic serial killer, and in the Lifetime Movie Channel flick "Taken In Broad Daylight" (2009), in which he played a kidnapper. He also went back to teen soap turf with a recurring role on "One Tree Hill" (The WB, 2003-06; The CW, 2006-2012), and took top-billing in the big-budget NBC miniseries "The Storm" (2009). Van Der Beek's renaissance continued with a minor plaudit for his turn as a federal agent in the indie political thriller "Formosa Betrayed," earning him a Best Actor award at the San Diego Film Festival, anticipating the film's early 2010 theatrical release. In early 2010, Van Der Beek and his wife filed for divorce, just as he was about to return to a regular TV stint for the first time since "Dawson." He took a featured recurring role as a swaggering, manly doctor on "Mercy" (NBC, 2009-2010) as an effort by the network to beef up the freshman show's star-power and tension, but the network ended up pulling the plug. He tried his hand at series television again, playing a version of himself on the hotly anticipated sitcom, "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" (ABC, 2012-13 ). Though the series found a devoted cult audience, its ratings were too low to survive very long. After appearing in a supporting role in the Jason Reitman drama "Labor Day" (2013), Van Der Beek returned to series television in a leading role in the sitcom "Friends With Better Lives" (CBS 2014), but the ensemble sitcom suffered from savage reviews and poor ratings. He rebounded with a co-starring role opposite Patricia Arquette in the procedural crime drama "CSI: Cyber" (CBS 2015-16).
By Matthew Grimm
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Made professional stage debut in the off-Broadway production of Edward Albee's "Finding the Sun"
Made film debut as a sadistic bully in "Angus"
Appeared in the independent film "I Love You, I Love You Not" opposite Claire Danes and Jude Law
Breakthrough role as aspiring filmmaker Dawson Leery on The WB teen drama series "Dawson's Creek"
Co-starred with Mary McCormack in the independent drama "Harvest"
Played the leading role in the high school football feature "Varsity Blues"
Co-starred in the Western themed "Texas Rangers"
Played Sean Bateman in the film adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis' "The Rules of Attraction"; written and directed by Roger Avary
Returned to the stage in the New York Premiere of Lanford Wilson's "Rain Dance"
Co-starred in the indie comedy "Standing Still"
Cast in the two-part, post-Super Bowl episode of "Criminal Minds" (CBS) playing a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder
Played a recurring role on "One Tree Hill" (The CW) as a movie director
Cast as a doctor on the medical drama "Mercy" (NBC)
Played a fictionalized version of himself on ABC comedy "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23"
Played leading role in the CBS sitcom "Friends with Better Lives"