Why James Van Der Beek Didn’t Think ‘Dawson’s Creek’ Was Going to Be a Hit Show

Dawson’s Creek aired on the WB from 1998-2003. The hit teen drama series not only elevated the genre but boosted the careers of its young stars. Chief among them was James Van Der Beek. But the actor didn’t expect Dawson’s Creek to get anywhere near the kind of attention that it did.

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

James Van Der Beek in a plaid shirt in front of tall grass
James Van Der Beek plays Dawson Leery in ‘Dawson’s Creek.’ | Getty Images

Van Der Beek portrayed the titular Dawson Leery in Dawson’s Creek. Dawson begins the series as a high school sophomore obsessed with becoming the next Steven Spielberg. When he’s not in class or working at the video rental store, he’s making his own movies with the help of his friends Joey and Pacey.

Dawson’s Creek aired for six seasons with much acclaim. Dawson dealt with the regular ups and downs of life, from dating to familial troubles, all while continuing to pursue his filmmaker dreams. The series finale sees him in his 20s, finally on the way to becoming the creator he always wanted to be.

The show quickly became a cultural phenomenon

The late ’90s was a massive time for teen dramas. Much of that popularity began with Dawson’s Creek. Because the show filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, the cast and crew were their own “tight little circle,” according to creator Kevin Williamson. But after season 1 aired, “we couldn’t go to the mall anymore.”

“I remember loving the script. I remember thinking everybody was amazing. Like all the actors were perfectly cast,” Van Der Beek said of Dawson’s Creek’s success. “But I think it would have been weird to have any expectation that it was going to blow up in the way that it did. I think we were just excited.”

Van Der Beek is still best known for playing Dawson

During Dawson’s Creek, Van Der Beek pursued a film career. He starred in such movies as Varsity Blues and The Rules of Attraction. When the show ended, Van Der Beek recurred in series like How I Met Your Mother and One Tree Hill. Later, he starred in Don’t Trust the B—— in Apt. 23Friends with Better Lives, and Pose.

Despite all of these notable roles, Van Der Beek remains best known to many as Dawson Leery. “My memory of the show and what the show was is what’s been reflected back to me,” he said in 2018. “The people who connected with it. That’s been the coolest thing to see: The resonance that it held with people.”

Dawson's Creek cast poses for the show
James Van Der Beek Michelle Williams, Joshua Jackson, Meredith Monroe, Kerr Smith, and Katie Holmes | Columbia/TriStar International Television

RELATED: ‘Dawson’s Creek’ Revival: James Van Der Beek Already Had an on-Screen Reunion on Another TV Show

Van Der Beek’s first movie, Angus, wasn’t successful and didn’t lead to any major success. He remained humble. So, when Dawson’s Creek came around, he didn’t anticipate the significant attention it got. “At that point in my career I had a pretty good attitude—I just didn’t expect anything,” he told Vanity Fair in 2011.

“I shot this tiny pilot in North Carolina and everyone was like, “Oh, this is going to be a huge hit.” I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve been down this road before.’ They said, “No, they’re going to put billboards up in L.A.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah,'” he continued. But this time, they were right. “All of a sudden, I’ll be d*mned—there are billboards up in LA.”