HitFix Interview: James Van Der Beek talks 'Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23'
How good an actor is Fake James Van Der Beek?
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It's the part he was born to play.
In ABC's new comedy "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23," James Van Der Beek plays the best friend to Krysten Ritter's title character (she's the "bee," not the apartment). Van Der Beek's character is a actor and lothario, whose acting credits include "Dawson's Creek" and "Varsity Blues."
In many ways, Van Der Beek's character is a lot like the 35-year-old actor, right down to the overlapping resume and the not-entirely-common name of "James Van Der Beek."
There are, of course, plenty of differences.
Real James Van Der Beek is a family man with two kids, while Fake James Van Der Beek likes to capitalize on his fame, and Dawson flannel, for a slew of one-night stands.
Real James Van Der Beek has stretched his acting range with definitively not-Dawson roles in films like "The Rules of Attraction" and on TV on "Criminal Minds," but he has never been in a Guy Ritchie. Fake James Van Der Beek has been in a Guy Ritchie movie, but you'll have to wait a couple episodes to see clips.
I got on the phone this week to chat with Real James Van Der Beek about Fake James Van Der Beek and his new ABC comedy, which premieres on Wednesday (April 11) night.
Click through for the full interview...
HitFix: How talented an actor is the character of "James Van Der Beek" on "Apartment 23"?
James Van Der Beek: He's a savant. The "Apartment 23" James Van Der Beek is brilliantly talented, but has no idea how he does it, really. He takes himself way too seriously. He's not really fit for society, necessarily. He's completely narcissistic and he doesn't really see past himself, but he's oddly really, really good, almost effortless at everything he does. But he doesn't always have the best luck.
HitFix: And how does that compare to the talent of the James Van Der Beek playing the character?
James Van Der Beek: I'm just as talented, but not nearly as egotistical. No, I'm kidding. I work very hard at everything that I do. I think that might be the difference. I think it maybe just comes a little more effortless for him.
HitFix: Lots of people, not just actors, find it very difficult to laugh at themselves or with themselves. How long have you been doing it?
James Van Der Beek: You know, it's always something that I've done, ever since I was younger, before I got famous. Then, I think, for a little period after I got famous, I kinda felt I had something to lose, so I took myself a little more seriously and then I got back to my roots. It's always been my sense of humor to poke fun at myself a little bit. It's something I would do with friends, at parties. My close friends would probably say that this is the kind of humor that they've always known from me. I guess I've just more recently been finding it therapeutic to do it in public.
HitFix: You get a script like this. What's your reaction when you hear about it? What's your reaction when you actually read it?
James Van Der Beek: At first I was just told it was a comedy from Nahnatchka Khan, who wrote on "American Dad," and Dave Hemingson, a producer on "How I Met Your Mother" and all of these other great shows, and from the producers of "Modern Family" and the title of the show was "Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23" and I thought, "I'm in. This sounds amazing." And then they said, "We want you to play a version of yourself, kind of like you did in the FunnyorDie videos" and I thought, "OK." So I went in and met with them and laughed for 45 minutes. They said, "We've written a character around you and will you take a look at the script?" and I said, "Absolutely." I left, read it and thought it was funniest pilot script I've read in years and far-and-away the funniest script of that season. I hesitated for about half-a-second and then realized that this was the comedy dream team that I've been waiting to work with my whole career and I jumped in with both feet. I said, "Alright, I'll do this on one condition: Nobody ever be afraid of offending me. Let's always go for what's funniest and if you absolutely need to pull it back, we can. But let's just have it." So far, we haven't found anything that's offended me yet.
HitFix: Were there any rules about keeping things that were true about you out of the script?
James Van Der Beek: Well, I'm married with two kids and that's not as funny as me being single and living in New York, so those don't come into the equation and that's more just because we're going for comedy. But there's really nothing that we've put off limits. As long as it's fun and as long it's funny, it's been fair. Obviously we don't want to do anything that's sad. We don't want anybody feeling bad for me. So we push it right to that line. That's where we came up with this formula for this guy who's a bit of a savant and really good at everything he does, but who's just so bizarre and self-absorbed and that's worked out pretty well.
HitFix: Does that make it easier for you to approach this as playing a character, rather than playing him as yourself?
James Van Der Beek: Yeah. I thought of him as a character almost immediately. We started making up things on my resume that don't exist and we got away very quickly, too, from... You can only get so much mileage out of "Dawson's Creek" jokes, which we do. We do some in Episode 2. But after that, it becomes about just different things that happen in celebrity and Hollywood pop culture. I release a sex tape inadvertently. I release my own line of way-too-tight jeans. I have to play an 11-year-old girl for a movie, so I study Kiernan Shipka, who plays herself. I decide I need some good publicity, so I become a foster big brother.
HitFix: Have the writers sat down with you to pick your brain about past experiences and fan interactions and that sort of thing?
James Van Der Beek: Yeah. I'll bore them with stories all the time about stuff that's actually happened. We'll sometimes cherry-pick from that, or we'll take it and give it a twist. Then sometimes it's as simple as, "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if the Fake Me went on the Fake 'Dancing with the Stars'?" and then we do that. What's great about Natch and Dave is that I'll pitch five ideas and they'll only take the two good ones, so they make me look brilliant.
HitFix: How much is this a chance for you to showcase these random skills? In the early episodes we see you dance, we hear your British accent. What sort of fun things were being pitched and what was rejected?
James Van Der Beek: I can't think of anything that was rejected. It really became so much fun just to do all these things -- Like you said, there was the British accent and acting like an 11-year-old girl -- just to reach into my bag of tricks and see what I could come up with to get the laughs. It's been the most fun I've ever had and what allows me to do it is the fact that the girls are so strong. Krysten and Dreama [Walker] are so good and they anchor the show and it gives me a very, very long leash to go out and be ridiculous.
HitFix: How do you compare this to the period when you were trying to go against-type with "The Rules of Attraction" and "Criminal Minds" and whatnot?
James Van Der Beek: I'm kind of all of it at once, so I just need different outlets for different aspects of my personality, I suppose. Not that I'm the guy in "Criminal Minds," but I need to shake it up every time, I need to do something different. I love pushing the boundaries of what I think I can do, just from a personal standpoint. After playing such a sweet, loving, sensitive, good guy, just as a human being, I needed to exercise the other side of the human experience for a while, so that's a lot of the darker roles that I've done. Then, for a while, I was playing a straight diet of serial killers and kidnappers. Then, from a life standpoint, I thought, "You know, maybe it would be fun to do some comedy after this." That's what I've been doing. So this summer, I'll probably do some films where I do a little more serious stuff.
HitFix: Normally when you sign on to do a character for potentially five or six years, you want the character to have the ability to change. What kind of evolution would you like to see James Van Der Beek have if "Apartment 23" lasts that long?
James Van Der Beek: Hmmm... Evolution. I love the Season 1 arc of actually getting to a point where he goes through some paparazzi humiliation and ends up a little bit happier and starts obsessing a little bit less. I like that arc quite a bit. With something like this, as long as it's funny, I'm up for it.
"Don't Trust the B**** in Apartment 23" premieres on Wednesday (April 11) night on ABC. James Van Der Beek will be live-tweeting the premiere at @vanderjames.