James Van Der Beek: Why He Bailed On Hollywood

By Rick Gonzales | 5 months ago

 James Van Der Beek

For a period of about five years, James Van Der Beek was one of the hottest things going on TV. He starred in the ever-popular Dawson’s Creek, gaining a fandom that at the time could have been considered rabid. Add to that his starring turn in the small-town high school football movie Varsity Blues and James Van Der Beek was well on his way to a majorly successful acting career.  But then Dawson’s Creek ended. There wasn’t a Varsity Blues sequel in his future. Here’s what happened…


Dawson's Creek

James Van Der Beek’s career got its start before Dawson’s Creek knocked on his door. One of his very first roles came on the series Clarissa Explains It All. He then appeared on the long-time running daytime soap opera As the World Turns as well as a few other minor roles before he hit is big with Dawson’s Creek.

Van Der Beek went up against some pretty stiff competition to land his role as Dawson Leery. Of course, back then (the show premiered in 1998) many of his competitors were just getting started. The list of people vying to play Dawson included Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Adrian Grenier (Entourage), Adam Brody (The O.C.), and Scott Speedman (Felicity). In fact, Joshua Jackson, who played Pacey Witter, Dawson’s best friend in the series, was also up for the role but series creator Kevin Williamson (Scream franchise) felt Jackson’s good looks wouldn’t capture what he was looking for in Dawson Leery. But once he saw the tape of James Van Der Beek, he knew he had his Dawson.

 James Van Der Beek
James Van Der Beek as Dawson

Along with James Van Der Beek and Jackson, the series also starred a young Katie Holmes as one of Dawson’s love interests and best friends, Joey Potter. She was a main cog in the series for its entire run. Also gaining stardom from the series was Michelle Williams, who played Jen Lindley.

Williamson’s star was on the rise when he conceived Dawson’s Creek. He had just sold his spec script for Scream and was taking on meetings left and right with studios. One studio asked him if he had any ideas for TV series and Williamson immediately came up with the teen angst series idea which he based on his own childhood experiences.

Varsity Blues
James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues

Before the series even premiered, it was gaining a lot of notoriety from a few television critics and consumer watchdog groups because of its rumored racy plots and dialogue. Given Williamson’s brief time in the business, that was high praise for the up-and-coming screenwriter/director. The series did live up to those early prognostications and with it, mixed critical reviews. Some critics hated the show’s preoccupation with sex, with its constant references to pornography and condoms and homosexuality, which others loved the edge to the material and how characters like James Van Der Beek’s Dawson spoke to the teenagers of that time.

The show itself turned James Van Der Beek into a household name. During his time Dawson’s Creek, he also starred in another hit, this one a feature film that was an immediate number one box office smash in Varsity Blues. In it, Van Der Beek played a very bright backup quarterback for his high school team who had an issue with how his head football coach, Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight) ran the team and was constantly putting player’s health in jeopardy just to win a game. The movie was a hit for James, which helped carry his star throughout the duration of Dawson’s Creek.


 James Van Der Beek

It’s not that James Van Der Beek hasn’t had a career since Dawson, because he has. But many times you see these young stars hit it big fast and for the remainder of their careers, chase down that initial success. Van Der Beek just happens to be one of those stars.

James Van Der Beek moved on to TV movies, appearing in episodes of TV series, even finding time on a feature film or two, but nothing came close to his success on Dawson’s Creek. Van Der Beek did make an attempt or two though. He found a recurring role on One Tree Hill. He was on the series Mercy. He played himself on the short-lived TV series Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23. He was in Friends with Better Lives, CSI: Cyber, What Would Diplo Do?, and Pose but none of those TV series took off.

Lately, though, James Van Der Beek has been all but invisible on the acting front. He had a cameo in the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, but nothing major since 2018.


 James Van Der Beek

James Van Der Beek, his wife Kimberly, and their five kids (along with two dogs) have recently relocated. They had been living a nice life in Beverly Hills when things finally just got to be too much for them and a move became a much-needed change of pace. Not only was living life in California taking its pandemically-challenged toll, but personal devastation made the change almost necessary.

James Van Der Beek explained to all via his Instagram, where he started with “And…we’ve landed” referring to their arrival in Texas, their new home. He then went on with his heart-tugging explanation, “In the last ten months, we’ve had two late-term pregnancy losses, each of which put @vanderkimberly in the hospital, we spent Christmas break thinking she had a tumor (the doctor was wrong, thank god), I was prematurely booted off a reality dancing show I was favored to win in front of the whole world, and my mom died. And a shut-down. All of that led to some drastic changes in our lives, and dreams, and priorities… and landed us here. Overflowing with profound gratitude today.”

The Van Der Beeks have not yet decided if Texas will remain their permanent home, but they did decide to give it a year and then see where they stand. As Kimberly says to PEOPLE, “We’re going to try Texas out for a year and really give a lot of love to this property.” The property she is referring to is the 36-acre spread that includes the main house and a bunch of small cabins that they plan on setting up for visiting friends and family.

James Van Der Beek and his family have not purchased the property yet, wanting to see if they take to Texas or if California will call them home. “We have incredible landlords, they’re magical, so they’re really letting us dip into it and really steward the land as if it’s our own and go wild with it. Which is really cool,” Kimberly added. “We are trying it on for size,” she says with a shrug in the Live. “It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen next. I’m loving every moment and really getting myself comfortable here.”

James Van Der Beek’s wife also explained that her sister is pregnant and plans to move into one of the cabins. She also told a secret that wasn’t hard to believe. I’ll tell you a secret: This costs less than it cost to live in Beverly Hills,” Kimberly says. “It’s kind of ridiculous. I love you, California, but I was so done with you.”

Giving his take on leaving LA James Van Der Beek wrote, “At the park in Beverly Hills near the house we just moved away from… you were not allowed to fly a KITE. Also not allowed at any park in #BeverlyHills Riding a bicycle, climbing a tree, throwing a ball against a cinder-block wall, learning anything from an instructor, using weights, cones or any type of pad, wearing cleats (even rubber ones), and you couldn’t use the batting cage built next to the baseball field. … when people ask why we’re moving our kids out of L.A. these are just some of the reasons.”

So, with all the turmoil his life has endured in the past year or so, it is easy to understand if James Van Der Beeks acting career takes a back seat for some time. Loss and healing can do that. Good luck to the Van Der Beeks and here’s hoping that when James is ready, another Dawson’s Creek is waiting.