Like Titanic, American Pie, and Jaleel White, the ‘90s are still back. This time, it’s in the form of James Van Der Beek. This past year the Beek from the Creek has been inescapable: He’s on Funny or Die, was in a Ke$ha video, and is a really popular (vander)meme. Now he’s being James Van Der Beek – a sort of despicable version of James Van Der Beek– on ABC’s new comedy “Don’t Trust the B— in Apt. 23,” which also stars Dreama Walker as a small-town New York City newbie and Krysten Ritter as a delightful sociopath of a roommate.
“Apt. 23” premieres tonight on ABC (We have the first two episodes for free on Hulu, if you just can’t wait). James spoke to us over the phone to talk about his TV resurgence, and we learned all about the degenerate fun he gets into on “Apt 23,” what he thinks Dawson Leery is up to today, and that the real Beek is really nothing like his douche-y persona. (In fact, he’s a proud dad of two and laughs very easily.)
How did you react when you were offered to play James Van Der Beek?
Well, first I heard who was involved. There was Nahnatchka Khan who worked on “American Dad!” and David Hemingson who did “How I Met Your Mother,” then the producers and director of “Modern Family” and I went, “Really?” Then they told me the title of the show was “Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt 23.” [Laughs.] I thought, “Genius. Where do I sign up?” But then they were like, “Hold on. They want you to play a version of yourself that’s kind of like the Funny or Die videos” and I thought, “Interesting.” So I went in and met with David. We laughed for 45 minutes and he said, “We’ve written you into the script.” I read it and walked away thinking it was far and away the funniest script I had read in years.
How did you start working with Funny or Die?
I had really liked what Funny or Die had been doing so I asked to go and meet with them. I said, “I want to play. What do you got? I’m game for anything.” They pitched some ideas, I liked a bunch of them, and they said we could do three. So we shot three but decided to shoot a mockumentary, so it became four. Then, they started calling every week. [Laughs.]
We here at Hulu love the “Beek Jeans” commercial. We were passing the link around.
[Laughs.] That was Nahnatchka Khan who created the fake JVDB line of supertight, way-too-tight-God-never-intended-to-be-worn jeans. It’s a storyline in an episode. We shot a special promo for the Oscars and right when I was on my way out the door they said, “Oh, we’re going to shoot a Beek Jeans commercial!” And I go, “Really?” So I had to pull on the pants again. We were making fun of those Calvin Klein commercials so I watched one online, and then just started riffing. [Laughs.]
What was it like wearing those jeans?
[Laughs.] Um…I…well. Uncomfortable.
“Mad Men’s” Sally Draper, Kiernan Shipka, will be a guest star on “Apt 23.” What was that like?
Yeah, I’m a big fan of “Mad Men” and she’s great. She’s just so cool and gets it. She’s so wise beyond her years. In that episode we do a movie where we take on the one version of a body-swap plot that has never been attempted before: The father/daughter. [Laughs.] So I needed to learn how to be an 11-year-old girl. I asked Kiernan to come over and show me. I imitate her every move. It’s ridiculous.
Tell me about the James Van Der Beek character. I loved Rules of Attraction. I like to think that you’re somewhat channeling Sean Bateman.
I think “Apt 23” me is really a composite of Hollywood actors in general – people I know, people I’ve heard about, and then just whatever our imaginations come up with. We’ve concocted this weird, Frankenstein monster who is incredibly talented but completely self-absorbed.
But he’s highly entertaining.
You’re supposed to be Chloe’s ex-boyfriend, but do you think a more-than-friends relationship will ever be explored?
I love that there’s such an understanding there. It’s like they’re cut from the same cloth. They just get each other. But they both have their sweet sides and really keep each other honest. It’s going to be explored a bit in an episode that’s coming up. Chloe and James apparently made a sex tape back in the day when they were dating. [Laughs.]
You mentioned recently to Entertainment Weekly about a “Dawson’s Creek” reunion. What do you think Dawson Leery is doing in 2012?
Oh god, I have no idea. I really have no idea. Somebody asked me the other day to write a letter to Dawson. I was like, “Uh… Oh, hey! I’m sorry that I haven’t been in touch lately.” I couldn’t think of what he would be doing. I haven’t even thought of him in so long. Did he go the dark Hollywood route? Is he making movies produced by Spielberg? I have no idea. I would probably not write this reunion.
If you decided not to play James Van Der Beek, who would you have wanted to play you?