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'Apt 23's' James Van Der Beek: You Can Only Make So Many Dawson References

The former "Dawson's Creek" star talks to THR about playing a heightened version of himself, what his upcoming "Dancing With the Stars" story line means for his character and how having kids changed everything for him.

James Van Der Beek Don't Trust the B - P 2012
ABC
"Apt 23's" James Van Der Beek

After references to both Dawson's Creek (flannel!) and Varsity Blues (a whipped cream bikini!) in its season premiere, ABC's Don't Trust the B---- in Apt 23 is clearly having fun with James Van Der Beek's acting résumé.

The actor is in the midst of a career reinvention, using viral videos in which he mocked Crying Dawson and gags including "DILF Khakis"and "Asshole for Hire" from Funny or Die as well as a website devoted to his comedic and often sarcastic brand of comedy to land a gig on ABC's hot midseason comedy.

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The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Van Der Beek to discuss mocking Dawson's Creek, having a hand in coming up with the show's upcoming Dancing With the Stars arc and what other real and fake work of his that will pop up on the series.

THR: Will the Dawson's Creek jokes be a constant part of the series?
James Van Der Beek: When we were working on the pilot, we were very clear about how we're going to move away from specific Dawson jokes -- because you can only make so many of those before they get old -- and really flush out the character. Of course, the way we flushed him out he became this bizarre human being. We might go to it in passing for a joke here or there throughout the season but very seldom do we do that; it's more about celebrity culture.

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You approached the showrunners with the upcoming Dancing With the Stars story line, how much more of a collaborative voice do you have with the show?
What I love about [Apt 23 creator] Nahnatchka Khan is I could pitch five ideas and she'll only take the two good ones. She makes me look good and feel safe that I'll pitch something and she doesn't feel the need to incorporate it just to make me feel OK about it. She'll also refine any raw idea that I have and make it work in a way that I didn't even conceive of.

How much will DWTS be an emphasis for faux-James?
It's something that we're building toward from Episode 4 or 5 when I decide to do it. In this character's mind, it becomes the brass ring: that's going to be the thing that's going to reintroduce him to the world. That mirror ball trophy is going to launch his career and you see him get completely obsessed and fixated on this thing the way a lot of actors do about a certain role or award. The mirror ball becomes our metaphor for that.

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Is Apartment 23 your mirror ball?
The reason I could do Apartment 23 is I've had a kid. It's changed my life in the best possible way and totally rearranged my priorities. So yes, it makes it much easier to go out and have a laugh at your own expense when suddenly something comes into your life that shows you what's really important. The show and how it's being received -- and even our time slot -- I don't know whether it's just dumb luck or what. I'm incredibly grateful for it.

When we spoke in July, you mentioned that your family aspect was one area that was really off-limits for the show. Are there any other limits?
It's much funnier if I'm single. When we started the show I said, "Don't ever be afraid of offending me. Just go as far as you need to. If anything really offends me I'll say let's pull back." But that hasn't happened.

VIDEO: James Van Der Beek Pitches Beek Jeans for 'Apt 23'

The promos for Beek Jeans is pretty funny.
There's a sex tape at one point. Every week it's something crazier. Nahnatchka and I are always going back and forth and riffing on how would this guy act in this situation. For instance, he's asked, "When's your mom's birthday?" and responds, "I don't know. Whenever Luther, my assistant, gives me the card to sign for my mom." That's how I know it's her birthday. Stuff like that, which you base sometimes on people you know, hear about or see.

Did anyone else influence how you play this heightened version of yourself?
I don't think there's anybody specific; it's more my imagination of me, an exaggeration of my imagination of me on my worst day. Like, what if we just took out this part that looks at other people and acknowledges their existence?

STORY: James Van Der Beek: 'No Dawson-Con This Year'

The pilot is filled with references -- both real and fake -- to your work, will there be more references to the things you didn't do, like the energy drink commercial and the promo you shot for Beek Jeans?
Definitely; that's what's fun. The energy drink commercial referenced in the pilot we wound up doing after somebody suggested we make it the tag and I was in from there. There's also a reference to a Guy Ritchie movie that I've done, which I've never done, but the Apt 23 me did. We cut back to that and make reference to that a couple times. You will see a scene from it for sure. There's reference to the blind house painter I played in the Lifetime movie where I taught Suzanne Somers how to love again. There's the paraplegic camp counselor I played on Party of Five.

Can we expect a Varsity Blues "I don't want your life" reference?
We actually haven't gone there; we've had more fun making up stuff that's actually not on my résumé than actually going back to anything that is.

What do you think of Van Der Beek's turn? Do you like him better in comedic or dramatic roles? Apt 23 airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit