One of his most memorable roles went way against type, though. He usually plays affable characters when he isn’t playing an intentional caricature of his Hollywood actor persona. In Criminal Minds, the one-time teen heartthrob played one of the most loathsome characters on a series packed with them.
‘Dawson’s Creek’ was a career-defining role for James Van Der Beek
Dawson’s Creek was the definitive WB — and later, CW — show of the late 1990s. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the unexpected cult phenomenon, Dawson’s Creek was the network’s blockbuster hit. As the titular Dawson Leery, Van Der Beek was the show’s emotional core.
Many of his principal castmates, like Joshua Jackson and Michelle Williams, went on to major Hollywood success. But Van Der Beek, on the other hand, was unable to shake his Dawson’s Creek connection quite so deftly.
His first big film, Varsity Blues, was a success. But it further tied his image to the teen drama genre. He’d eventually shake that by working in comedic roles, often subverting his sappy image. But one memorable part put him in a different category entirely: playing a serial killer.
‘Criminal Minds’ was a surprising destination for James Van Der Beek
Criminal Minds maintained its success throughout 15 seasons. In 2007, it was at the height of its live viewing days, although likely less popular than it is as a streaming megahit. With its morbid fixation on serial killers, it was the darkest of the 2000s trend of primetime murder-solving procedurals.
Making a serial killer character stay with viewers years later on a show like Criminal Minds takes some doing. Van Der Beek, in retrospect, was perfect for the triple role of Tobias Hankel, who has multiple personalities. But before he decided to “jump in and do it,” the actor admitted to TV Insider he was hesitant.
“I immediately felt a little bit afraid because I was like, ‘this is a very big stage and a very tricky thing to pull off,'” he said of the gig. As Van Der Beek noted, the episode aired in a primetime slot — right after the Super Bowl. While he described it as “that feeling of walking a high wire,” the actor said his turn on the show “marked a beginning of a new way of working.”
Van Der Beek acted in another big TV procedural
After that terrifying two-episode arc on Criminal Minds, James Van Der Beek found himself in more diverse roles. He guested on the comedies like Ugly Betty and How I Met Your Mother. And, in line with his time on Criminal Minds, he spent two seasons on a major network crime drama.
The CSI franchise was exploding in the 2000s. A considerable part of the draw for each iteration of the show was the charismatic leads. For CSI: Cyber, series producers went with Patricia Arquette and Van Der Beek to hold things down.
While franchise fatigue brought the show down quickly, Van Der Beek’s career has continued in earnest. The one-time CW star starred in the first season of Pose, and even took on reality TV with Dancing With the Stars. Seemingly, his decision to branch out has only helped him in show business.