Although he'll always be best known as Dawson Leery (or maybe as Mox from "Varsity Blues"), James Van Der Beek
has never shied from showing other sides of his personality, whether he was going dark for "Criminal Minds" or "The Rules of Engagement" or engaging in shades of self-parody for "Standing Still" or a series of FunnyorDie videos.
's cumbersomely censored "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23
," Van Der Beek takes his winking screen persona to a logical extreme playing none other than James Van Der Beek, platonic best friend of Krysten Ritter's Chloe, the "b----" of the title.
At Tuesday's (January 10) Television Critics Association press tour panel for the April comedy, the show's producers explained that they didn't really have a second choice for the role -- or a second choice for Chloe's celebrity pal -- if things hadn't worked out with Van Der Beek.
"There really is only one James Van Der Beek," observed David Hemingson.
"We just had to get him," noted Jeff Morton.
"I soon as I heard there was a James Van Der Beek, I was so excited that he existed in the world," said series creator Nahnatchka Khan.
And yet, to hear Van Der Beek tell it, he had to work for the role.
"I had to audition against six other James Van Der Beek for this role. I was lucky that four of them weren't actors and two of them didn't speak English," Van Der Beek cracked.
When did it become fair-play for the "Dawson's Creek" star to lampoon himself for laughs?
"I think once the residual money ran out, it became OK to make fun of it," Van Der Beek laughed.
Somewhat more seriously, he continued, "Thankfully, they've kept me around Hollywood long enough to kinda have a second coming. It's a lot more fun to not take myself so seriously."
While it's hard to know when this level of Zen set in for Van Der Beek, he smartly observed, "If you tell a joke at a party, you always get more laughs if it's a self-deprecating one, than if it's a self-agrandizing one."
In "Apartment 23," Van Der Beek presents himself as a somewhat coddled star willing to use his old "Dawson's Creek" flannels to get laid, but also willing to do anything in his power to help Chloe.
"This character is just kinda crazy," Van Der Beek said. "We kinda found it as we were doing it, too. He's really sweet, but he's completely narcissistic... He's got so many blind spots, so it's really fun to exploit those blind spots."
In the comedy, Chloe is tremendously proud of her friendship with Van Der Beek, while his presence strikes a chord with Chloe's new roommate, June (Dreama Walker), a huge "Dawson's Creek" fan.
In one of the panel's funniest moments, the 25-year-old Walker said that she wasn't allowed to watch "Dawson's Creek" as a kid, but she admitted, ""I do remember seeing his face on a calendar a number of times and thinking 'That's what all boys are supposed to look like' and none of them do!'"
Van Der Beek took great pains to point out that "Apartment 23" is not "The James Van Der Beek Show" and that he's just a piece of an ensemble, "seasoning on the steak" as he put it. And he's obviously having a ball.
He added, "Every once in a while I come home to my daughter and I say, 'Sorry what I'm doing to the family name, kiddo.'"
"Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" premieres on Wednesday, April 11 at 9:31 p.m.
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