PLAYBILL.COM'S CUE & A: James Van Der Beek, Star of Screen and Geffen Playhouse's The Gift
By Matthew Blank
February 19, 2013
Stage and screen actor James Van Der Beek, currently appearing in the American premiere of The Gift at Geffen Playhouse, fills out Playbill.com's questionnaire of random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.
Van Der Beek is making his L.A. stage debut, having made his New York bow 19 years earlier in Edward Albee's Finding the Sun at the Signature Theater.
Other stage credits include My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine at the Vineyard Theater, Shenandoah at the Goodspeed Opera House and Lanford Wilson's Rain Dance, also at the Signature.
For six years he played the title character on the hit TV show "Dawson's Creek." His many film credits include "Varsity Blues" (MTV Movie Award), "The Rules of Attraction" and "Formosa Betrayed." He will next be seen on the big screen in the upcoming Jason Reitman film "Labor Day."
Full given name:
James David Van Der Beek
Where you were born/where you were raised:
Raised in Cheshire, CT
What your parents did/do for a living:
Dad was a minor league pitcher before I was born, then worked for the phone company.
Mom was a dancer before I was born, then taught at her own gymnastics studio.
Jared and Juliana. I'm the oldest.
Baseball, martial arts, and asking if you need help with the dishes when they're almost done.
Something you're REALLY bad at:
First Broadway show you ever saw:
Guys and Dolls with Nathan Lane and Faith Prince
If you could go back in time and catch any Broadway show, what would it be?
I've heard so many great stories about Richard Burton, John Barrymore... would love to see them on the boards.
Did you have any particular mentors or inspirations when first starting out?
I've had so many, but Michael Park and Marc Kudisch both adopted me as their little brother and let me crash on their couches so many times I probably owe them rent.
Some favorite musicals:
I had a music teacher in 7th grade play us Jesus Christ Superstar - first musical I ever heard - and it blew me away.
The one performance – attended - that you will never forget:
Elaine Stritch in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance. I had just gotten back from backpacking around Europe, and that production reminded me that I in fact did still want to be an actor.
Music that makes you cry, any genre:
Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah" usually gets me every time.
You personal acting idols:
Growing up, I always thought I wanted a career like Mandy Patinkin's... but then I got really famous at 20 and screwed that plan up royally ;-)
MAC or PC?
So MAC-dependent it's frightening.
Twitter, for sure.
Last book you read:
"7 Days in the Art World" by Sarah Thornton. Fascinating read.
Must-see TV show(s):
The first season of "The Wire" is probably the best TV ever shot.
Last good movie you saw:
Woody Allen's "Interiors" - had never seen it. Blew me away.
Some films you consider classics:
"Days of Heaven"
"All the President's Men"
"Children of Men"
(am I giving away my age?)
Pop culture guilty pleasure:
My two-year old daughter and I have not missed an episode of "Smash." She's spellbound when they sing, dance or yell at each other.
New York, Paris and Wilmington, NC
First stage or screen kiss:
Melissa Joan Hart on Nickelodeon's "Clarissa Explains it All"
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living:
At 13, singing "Alone at a Drive-in Movie" as Danny Zuko in my hometown's children's production of Grease.
Pre-show rituals or warm-ups:
Nothing beats a good, pre-show Alexander lie-down.
What continues to draw you to the stage in general even while busy with screen work?
It's where I started... where I first fell in love with this crazy occupation. Being onstage feels like touching home base for me.
Any desire to one day play Broadway?
It was the first career goal I ever had and one of the few I haven't gotten around to, yet. So yes!
What drew you to this project in particular?
It was such a provocative piece, with humor and truth laced into an argument that's tricky to pull off... but there's so much support from the script, I thought it'd be a fascinating challenge to undertake in front of an audience every night. And it is...
What can audiences expect to see in this character/performance that is perhaps different from what you've done before?
It's a very adult role... the kind of thing I simply wasn't old enough to have pulled off 5 years ago.
Out of so many, do you have any favorite screen or commercial roles?
I have very warm memories about the experience of making "Varsity Blues," and I remember loving what Roger Avary had done with "The Rules of Attraction" when I first saw it.
Who have you played on "Law & Order"? What edition?
I've done several "Law & Orders" actually... always playing someone creepy and/or smarmy. It's a rite of passage for any actor to do some time on a "Law & Order."
Any other upcoming or side projects you can talk about?
I'll be in Jason Reitman's "Labor Day" with Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet.
Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:
I actually love it when mishaps occur... I find it can infuse an energy of truth that positively effects everything after it... at least most of the time.
I once realized I had forgotten my watch while doing a Lanford Wilson play at the Signature - a watch I referred to constantly throughout the show - so I casually left my poor co-star on stage while I sprinted up to my dressing room and grabbed it. Poor guy had no idea what was going on.
Worst costume ever:
In hindsight, just about everything I wore on the first few season's of "Dawson's Creek" could probably be considered my worst wardrobe ever.
Most challenging role you have played:
I played a guy with multiple personality disorder on an episode of "Criminal Minds" a few years back... that was pretty crazy.
You've played funny, dramatic, nice guys, psychopaths... Is there one type that is most fun or easiest for you to play?
I've found it's pretty easy to make an audience hate you or be scared of you... and while that can be a lot of fun, I love the challenge of playing characters who are unmistakably flawed - without losing the empathy of the audience.
Leading man role you've been dying to play:
I've wanted to be in a "Star Wars" movie since I knew what movies were.
Something about you that surprises people:
I can sing a little.
Career you would want if not a performer:
Three things you can't live without:
My wife and two kids.
"I'll never understand why…"
… some Americans, of all people, feel they can take pride in their lack of tolerance.
Words of advice for aspiring performers:
The most interesting thing you can be is authentic. And don't despair - you're one audition away from changing your life!