James Van Der Beek Doesn’t Cry in His New TV Role

Posted June 8, 2018 10:36 p.m. EDT

LOS ANGELES — James Van Der Beek may be best known for playing the title character in “Dawson’s Creek,” a 1990s teen drama fueled by adolescent angst and Sperry boat shoes, and maybe an ugly crying face GIF that spawned a thousand memes.

But on a recent Monday, all he wanted to do was fight. “Let’s get into it!” said Van Der Beek, 41, who was at 87Eleven, a stunt and choreography studio near the Los Angeles International Airport.

Wearing a black Under Armour hoodie with matching shorts and compression tights, he was trying to master a fight sequence for an action TV show he is developing. The scene had him fending off multiple assailants, so it involved complex choreography.

It’s not the only new project on Van Der Beek’s IMDB page. He had just returned from New York, where he spent the better part of the spring shooting “Pose,” Ryan Murphy’s new show about the 1980s voguing scene.

Van Der Beek plays a character named Matt Bromley, the swaggering right-hand man of Donald Trump, who personifies the era’s embrace of wealth and greed.

Unlike the many transgender actors on “Pose,” Van Der Beek doesn’t get to do any dancing or fighting. So he sought out the help of 87Eleven.

“What’s up, dude?” he said as he bro-hugged Kyle McLean, a stuntman with wind-swept blond hair who could pass for Van Der Beek’s brother. Turns out, he was Van Der Beek’s stunt double for several episodes of “CSI: Cyber.”

Entering the hangar-like studio, which was equipped with weights, a blue tumbling platform and a massive green screen, Van Der Beek eyed a wall adorned with movie posters for some of the big-budget films that 87Eleven has worked on: “The Matrix,” “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” “The Wolverine,” “Atomic Blonde.”

After being introduced to three additional stuntmen, Van Der Beek put on a black baseball hat and found a spot on the tumbling mat. McLean stood before the group and attempted to lead them through a set of stretches. But like a PE teacher failing to corral unruly students, he couldn’t stop them from cracking jokes at every turn.

“Have you always been that flexible?" McLean said after noticing Van Der Beek’s limberness when performing a butterfly stretch.

“Oh yeah! I was able to do the splits at age 6,” the actor said, prompting the group to burst out laughing.

After a brief warm-up, the group split off in pairs. Van Der Beek and McLean headed to one corner to run through basic fighting moves, including 10-repetition sets of jabs, hooks and uppercuts.

“Let’s try something more complicated now,” said Greg Rementer, a stuntman with a salt-and-pepper beard and bulging quadriceps, as he demonstrated a balletic fight maneuver. Van Der Beek, whose mother was a professional dancer, traced a V-like shape on the ground with his feet, before returning six punches.

“I haven’t seen you move before," Rementer said, impressed by Van Der Beek’s skills. “That’s really good. We should hire you.”

Van Der Beek smiled. He removed his hat and ran his hands through the long blond-highlighted hair he’d grown out for “Pose.” He hadn’t grown his hair so long since the “Dawson” days.

“I keep telling my wife, ‘Baby, I was hot the last time I had this haircut,'” he said with a laugh.

He was not exaggerating: When “Dawson’s Creek” first appeared, in 1998, Van Der Beek became a heartthrob celebrity. He required a police escort for public appearances and starred in racy coming-of-age films including “Varsity Blues” and “Rules of Attraction.”

“Dawson” ended in 2003, and, like many young stars, Van Der Beek had trouble shedding his most famous role. In recent years, however, he has experienced something of a career turnaround by flexing his comedic muscle with meta roles that play off his fame.

He played a fictionalized version of himself on the sitcom “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23,” and a swaggering caricature of the music producer Diplo on the Viceland series “What Would Diplo Do?” (he was also the writer, producer and showrunner).

“The fun of having a set of expectations is subverting them,” Van Der Beek said.

After an hour of piecing together his fight scene, punch by punch, he was ready to string it together. McLean yelled, “Action!” Van Der Beek spun in a circle as three stuntmen lunged at him. He shed the first two with choreographed punches to the throat, and the last with a perfectly timed kick to the midsection.

“You crushed it for having not done it for a while,” McLean said.

“It’s a weird thing to memorize at first,” Van Der Beek said. “Your brain doesn’t know what to do. But once you’ve got it instilled in you, it’s like riding a bicycle.”