It was always going to be hard for James Van Der Beek to escape the long shadow cast by Dawson’s Creek and the titular character he portrayed - hyper-articulate, kinda whingey aspiring filmmaker Dawson Leery. The teen drama was a US network-launching phenomenon that made household names out of Van Der Beek and co-stars Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson and Michelle Williams. And as the actor playing the series’ protagonist, Van Der Beek had to work extra hard to move beyond his breakthrough role – especially without a couch-jumping ex-husband to replace the show in people’s minds.
But unlike countless other former child or teen stars (or even twentysomething actors that have to shave twice a day to portray teen characters), he did it. Yes, sometimes to his consternation, the Dawson’s Creek association will always be there, but thanks to a series of savvy career moves and self-deprecating send-ups, Van Der Beek has emerged as his own man. A man whose own persona is well enough established that he can take on the portrayal of another real-life star, DJ and producer Diplo, in What Would Diplo Do?
Here’s how Dawson became James became Diplo…
Show you’re in on the joke
It was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it uncredited cameo, but Van Der Beek’s appearance in the original Scary Movie in 2000 established early on that he was up for poking fun at his alter ego. As a pair of teens prepared to get busy – to the strains of “I Don’t Want to Wait”, of course – “Dawson” popped his head in the bedroom window before realising he was on the wrong set.
Establish your meta credentials
The plot of 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back concerned the adaptation of comic book Bluntman and Chronic into a movie starring Van Der Beek and Jason Biggs. When Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) came face-to-face with the actors (appearing as “themselves”), they failed to separate their onscreen roles from “reality”, asking Van Der Beek, “What’s up with Pacey stealing Joey away from you?”, to which he replied, “You actually watch that show?” Van Der Beek also shattered his clean-cut TV image by dropping the F-bomb.
Make an edgy, dark movie
Varsity Blues and Texas Rangers had been the types of film you’d expect the star of a TV teen drama to branch out into, but with 2002’s The Rules of Attraction, Van Der Beek stopped playing safe. He portrayed college student, drug dealer and serial suicide attempter Sean Bateman in the adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel.
Play a serial killer
Because nothing removes the possibility of being typecast quite like putting in a turn as a crazed murderer. In two 2007 episodes of Criminal Minds, Van Der Beek went to the dark (and dishevelled) side as serial killer Tobias Hankel. He followed that up with twisted (but non-murderous) roles in Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Return to teen drama – but in a completely different role
In a knowing wink to his Dawson’s Creek days, Van Der Beek appeared in four episodes of One Tree Hill (which started life on the same network as DC) as movie director Adam Reese. Despite sharing an interest in film, nasty Adam was nothing like idealistic Dawson.
Become a meme – and embrace it
Van Der Beek’s improvised scrunched up crying face during a Dawson’s Creek scene in which Joey (Katie Holmes) broke up with Dawson lived on long after the show had ended, becoming internet shorthand to mock someone for getting a little misty-eyed. The man behind the emotion had the last laugh, however, appearing in a Funny or Die skit advertising other Vandermemes.
Tap into the music industry
The ridiculousness was dialled up high in the music video for Ke$ha’s 2011 single “Blow” with “James Van Der Douche” trading quips and raygun fire with the pop star.
Totally send yourself up
Having thoroughly tested the self-parody waters, Van Der Beek went full tilt in the short-lived sitcom Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, playing a narcissistic, fame-hungry version of himself. Fake James exploited his Dawson’s Creek celebrity to bed women, but desperately wanted to be taken seriously and find another leading man role.
Combine elements of the above into a show you’ve created
If the world of the celebrity DJ/producer wasn’t already a parody, it is now. In What Would Diplo Do?, Van Der Beek inhabits the life of real-life electronic music superstar Diplo – or some semblance of it. Impulsive, insecure and incredibly wealthy, this take on Diplo has the blessing of the DJ himself, who serves as one of the show’s executive producers (as does Van Der Beek). And it’s the role the actor has been building up to ever since he was kickin’ it at the Creek.
What Would Diplo Do? airs on SBS VICELAND Tuesdays at 8:30pm.