‘Dawson’s Creek: Are the Actors Who Played Mitch and Gail Leery Old Enough to be James Van Der Beek’s Parents?

As those who watch teen-focused TV series know, high-school-age characters are often played by actors significantly older than them. Dawson’s Creek is a prime turn-of-the-century example of this. How old was James Van Der Beek while filming, and were his on-screen mom and dad old enough actually to be his parents?

James Van Der Beek portrayed Dawson in ‘Dawson’s Creek’

James Van Der Beek plays Dawson Leery in 'Dawson's Creek.'
James Van Der Beek plays Dawson Leery in ‘Dawson’s Creek.’ | Getty Images

Van Der Beek played the titular Dawson Leery in Dawson’s Creek for six seasons. Dawson idolizes filmmaker Steven Spielberg and hopes to follow in his footsteps someday. But to start, he’s a dreamer, making home movies alongside his friends in his small Massachusetts town.

Over time, Dawson grows up. Throughout the series, his on-again, off-again romance with the girl across the creek, Joey, is a highlight, as are his Hollywood dreams. He deals with love, loss, and everything else the audience of a primetime teen drama expects. And, of course, the show made Van Der Beek a star.

Van Der Beek was 20 years old when he started playing Dawson

RELATED: ‘Dawson’s Creek’: Which of the Main Cast Members Was the Youngest in the Pilot? Katie Holmes Says They ‘Grew Up Together’

The series begins with four young actors in lead roles: Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes (as Joey), Joshua Jackson (as Pacey), and Michelle Williams (as Jen). Of the four, Van Der Beek is the oldest. In fact, he’s the only one who wasn’t a teenager when he started filming, turning 20 that year.

Van Der Beek wasn’t enthusiastic about Dawson’s Creek right away. “I thought, listen, I’m 20, I can’t play 15,” he told Larry King in 2013. But later, the actor explained, “I read the script and really loved it.” Apparently, the executives didn’t love Van Der Beek for the role, but creator Kevin Williamson insisted he get the part.

Dawson’s parents, Mitch and Gail, are a big part of the show

In addition to those playing teens, four other actors earned lead cast member status in Dawson’s Creek Season 1. Mary-Margaret Humes and John Wesley Shipp portrayed Gail and Mitch Leery, Dawson’s parents. The show begins with the reveal that Gail is having an affair, something Mitch doesn’t learn for several episodes.

Mitch files for a divorce in Dawson’s Creek Season 2, after which Gail moves to Philadelphia to further her career. But she returns in season 3. They get back together and quickly remarry. In Season 4, she gives birth to Dawson’s little sister, Lily. Sadly, in season 5, Mitch dies in a car accident. Gail remarries in the series finale.

How old are Mary-Margaret Humes and John Wesley Shipp?

John Wesley Shipp and Mary-Margaret Humes on December 16, 2007 in Hollywood, California.
John Wesley Shipp and Mary-Margaret Humes on December 16, 2007, in Hollywood, California. | Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

While the characters don’t often talk about what happened before the show, there are facts sprinkled throughout. Gail and Mitch met in college and started dating. They tried for years to get pregnant before Dawson was born in 1983. Given this timeline, we can assume they were at least 25 when they became parents.

As for the actors, Humes is 23 years older than Van Der Beek, while Shipp is 22 years older than the actor playing his on-screen son. Though that would have made them a little bit young as far as parents go, they’re still technically old enough to have Van Der Beek as a son.