What if James Van Der Beek hadn't cried in that infamous scene on The WB's "Dawson's Creek"?
"It wasn't scripted," Van Der Beek told HuffPost TV via phone. "I remember being completely surprised by it because it was completely sincere. The fact that it's being used to mock me now, I think it's so funny," he said with a laugh.
It's been nearly nine years since "Dawson's Creek" signed off the air. But for Van Der Beek, who played the titular character throughout its six seasons, Dawson hasn't really gone anywhere. The Dawson Crying Face meme has spawned a website, a viral video, many laughs and tangentially, a new TV show for Van Der Beek. This week, the now-35-year-old father of two returns to the small screen as a characterization of himself on ABC's "Don't Trust The B---- In Apartment 23" (premieres Wednesday, April 11 at 9:30 p.m. ET). Van Der Beek plays the "gay straight best friend" of eccentric Chloe (Krysten Ritter), who uses the nostalgia of the "Dawson's Creek" theme song and whipped cream bikini from "Varsity Blues" to bed women.
Over the past couple of years, Van Der Beek has taken a new approach to his career, working on Funny or Die videos and appearing in a Ke$ha music video: making fun of himself. Below, Van Der Beek opens up to HuffPost TV about not taking himself so seriously, the face he can't escape, a possible "Creek" reunion and more!
So how did this role come about for you?
I got a phone call during pilot season last year that Nahnatchka Khan, who had done "American Dad," with Jeff Morton, who produced "Modern Family" and Jason Winer, who directed the "Modern Family" pilot, were working on this show called "Don't Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23." [Laughs.] I thought, "I'm in! What could you do to make me say no to this?" And they said, "Well, they want you to play a version of yourself a la what you did in the Funny Or Die videos." I thought, "OK." So I went in and met them and laughed for 45 minutes. They said, "We've written scripts with you in mind. Would you take a look at it?" I walked out the door, read it immediately and it was hands down the funniest pilot script that I'd read in years. So it was a no-brainer to do it. I realized this was the comedy dream team I'd been waiting my whole career to work with.
You mentioned Funny or Die. So with Vandermemes and with your appearance in Ke$ha's music video for "Blow," you've definitely done a lot of self-mocking in the past couple years. Did it take you a while to get to that point where you were comfortable making fun of yourself?
Yeah. It did. But it's so much more fun to not take yourself so seriously. This is the kind of sense of humor I've always had, but then, I think once you get lucky enough to have the kind of success that I stepped into, you feel like you have something to protect or something to lose. So then you take yourself a little bit more seriously for a bit and then, you take a look around and you realize it's a lot more fun to have a laugh. [Laughs.]
Absolutely. Was there anything you weren't willing to poke fun at about yourself?
No. One of the things I said right from the start was, I told the writers: "Don't ever be afraid of offending me. Always go for what's funniest and if there's anything that's really offensive, I'll tell you to scale back, but don't ever self-edit. Let's just have it." And they did. [Laughs.] We didn't find anything that offended me to the point where I said, "We can't do that."
Speaking as a "Dawson's Creek" fan for a second, is there any chance we'll see a former cast member on "Don't Trust The B---- In Apartment 23"? I know fans loved seeing Grams (Mary Beth Piel) and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) on "Fringe" for an episode.
I would love that. There aren't any in Season 1 so it would have to be Season 2. Knock wood. If we get picked up for Season 2, I would love that. I think it'd be great.
Have you talked to anyone about it?
No. I'll wait till we get picked up. I'll wait till the ratings come in. [Laughs.] I'll make sure we'll get to make more of these [episodes] and then I'll make some phone calls.
The Beek Jeans promo is hilarious. And there was the DILF khakis video you made for Funny or Die. Is that coincidental that you're doing multiple pants parody videos?
[Laughs.] It's going to be all pants all the time from here on out. We're gonna do a line of sweatpants after that and then shorts, which will happen next year. [Laughs.] The Beek Jeans came out of an episode in which I release my own line of way-tighter-than-God-ever-intended jeans. And then they asked me to do a promo parodying those Calvin Klein spots.
In the show, your character is going on "Dancing with the Stars." Is that anything you would ever do or have you ever been approached?
I have been asked in the past to do it. I thought it would be more fun to do it this way -- have the fake me go on the fake "Dancing with the Stars" and have all the fun, but not have to do that schedule. [Laughs.]
Although I have to say, your spin move in Episode 4 is pretty impressive.
Well, thank you. I worked at it. It did not come easily. [Laughs.]
I also have to tell you that at The Huffington Post, if there's a broken link, it brings you to page featuring Dawson's crying face.
No way. [Laughs loudly.] That's AMAZING!
Does it surprise you how huge that's become?
Yeah. It does surprise me. Obviously, it's not something you can think about or calculate. It's just one of those things that happens. From the minute I became aware of it, it just cracked me up. You do six years worth of work [laughs] and like 100 and however many episodes and it all boils down to a four-second clip. I mean, I don't remember shooting a lot of it, but I do remember that particular scene because it was at the end of one season and I wasn't supposed to cry, it was just one of those things that happens when you're playing a character for so long.
Wait. You weren't supposed to cry in that scene?
It wasn't scripted, I don't think. I mean, it was appropriate for the scene. You know, it was just high drama; you've been living with this character for a while and a scene like that just kind of drops in your lap and you just lose it. They yell cut and say, "Oh my god. That was amazing!" So I remember being completely surprised by it because it was completely sincere. [Laughs.] The fact that it's being used to mock me now, I think it's so funny. [Laughs.]
Watch James Van Der Beek poke more fun at himself on "Don't Trust the B---- In Apartment 23" on ABC on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET.