After spending the better part of the past decade doing his absolute best to put the career defining role that was Dawson Leery behind him with harrowing turns in films such as The Rules of Attraction and shows like CRIMINAL MINDS, it would seem that actor James Van Der Beek recently reached the conclusion that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Which is just one of the reasons why he jumped at the opportunity to play a hilariously heightened version of himself on ABC’s delightful new comedy DON’T TRUST THE B—- IN APARTMENT 23. But just how different is the “B” version of Der Beek versus the real-life one and what can those who grew up with the artist formerly known as Dawson Leery expect from his newest incarnation? Find out for yourself, after the jump.
Before we get to your latest role, I have to first ask you about your most notable one. Despite the fact that actors would give an arm and a leg for a star-making role like Dawson Leery, is there ever a point during the run of the series that it dawns on you as to just how difficult it is going to be to escape when the show goes off the air?
James Van Der Beek: Well, ideally an opportunity like that needs to come with an equal amount of appreciation for just how fortunate you are to be in that situation. That said, it’s a little difficult to maintain sometimes. The trickiest part was being 24 years old and still playing a 17 year old virgin nine months of the year. So I’d go out, do a movie, have some life experience and come back to DAWSON’S and go back to shaving three times a day, pitching my voice up and playing this young idealistic kid who didn’t have any of the other sides of the emotional spectrum that I was exploring at the time. But the one thing that always made it worth it was seeing fan reaction. The show meant something to people, they were watching it and gathering around their television set to perhaps escape for the week. So that I always took really seriously.
Did the success Neil Patrick Harris has had since playing a heightened version of himself in the Harold and Kumar movies make it easier for you to say yes to a role like this?
It wasn’t something I consciously thought about but yeah, absolutely, I’m sure it did because his role in Harold and Kumar was an example of where it worked out very well. I did an episode of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER and I remember talking to Neil about that, never having any idea that I would end up doing something somewhat similar.
How did the role come about?
The show’s creator, Nahnatchka Khan had a space for the “best friend” and they wanted someone to play themselves. At the time, I had just did some Funny or Die videos that had just been released about the time they were casting and they saw those and thought this is our guy. So they called me in, I had a meeting, laughed with 45 minutes with them and then they said we’ve written the role for you take a look. I read it and it was the funniest pilot script I’ve read in years. It was a no brainer.
To your credit, as far as celebrities go, you’ve had an incredibly tame tabloid career. That said, some of your co-stars have made a few headlines. Is there anything that you’ve told the writers is off limits?
I told the writers don’t ever be afraid of offending me, always go for what’s funniest. If there is anything that’s really out of line then I’d let them know, but you will never ever offend me with a joke and I don’t think they did all season. I don’t think there was anything they ever pulled back on.
Since one imagines there are only so many DAWSON’s-related jokes one can make before it gets tired, what type of character development can we expect as the best friend to Krysten Ritter’s “B”?
Right. You can only make so many DAWSON’S jokes, which we do… in episode 2. But after that, my character becomes our way to parody celebrity, Hollywood and pop-culture in general. I release my own line of way-too-tight jeans, a sex tape, I decide I need some good publicity so I adopt a foster kid, and at one point I tackle the one kind of body-swap movie that’s never been attempted before: Father/daughter! I have to learn how to be an 11-year old girl and Kiernan Shipka from MAD MEN plays herself in that episode. I go on the fake DANCING WITH THE STARS. We really just had so much fun with it.
DON’T TRUST THE B—- airs Wednesdays at 9:30PM on ABC (CityTV in Canada). James Van Der Beek will be live-tweeting the premiere at @vanderjames.