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James Van Der Beek on Sex Tapes, Douchiness, and His Big Ass


The premise behind Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23 is that of a classic odd couple: June (Dreama Walker), a naive, goody-two-shoes Midwesterner moves in with Chloe (Krysten Ritter), a neurotic, lying, backstabbing city girl who's best friends with the actor James Van Der Beek. But it's James Van Der Beek (parodying himself) who is stealing the show week after week as a narcissistic celebrity trying to capitalize on his "craft" while negotiating the trappings that come with playing an iconic character, such as Dawson from Dawson's Creek. Even if you're a Van Der Beek newbie, the "fake James" is so brilliantly delusional and over-the-top, it's easy to become a fan of the real James Van Der Beek as he pokes fun at the cultural idea of James Van Der Beek.

Details spoke with Van Der Beek, 35, about developing a character based on his own life, the surefire way celebrities can avoid a sex-tape release, "BJs," his fictional line of high-end jeans, and more.

DETAILS: You play a fictionalized version of yourself who's trying to revitalize his acting career. Do people now think you were struggling?

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: No, everybody gets it. People ask me, "Do people think that's you?" And in a weird way, because it's such an obviously demented version of me, I think people associate it less with the real me than if I were playing a fictional character, where they marry the two in their minds. Audiences are so savvy these days. People get it. I couldn't have done this 10 years ago. It would have been tricky even five years ago.

DETAILS: Who have been some of your comic influences over the years?

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: I remember being inspired by Being John Malkovich. It's one of my favorite films. I love that that monkey, the orangutan had a character arc in that film. It had conflict, it had resolution, it was amazing.

DETAILS: Which is really what you want from a monkey onscreen.

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: Absolutely. If you leave it open-ended, it's just not satisfying.

DETAILS: The Van Der Beek on the show is very stylish. Do you have a say on his wardrobe?

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: I do. The fake Van Der Beek wardrobe, we like to dress him well. We also like to crank up the douche quotient just a tiny bit. We go with some great clothes but are not afraid of looking a little bit douchey.

DETAILS: Like last season's club attire.

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: Just a touch, you know? If the suit is a little too shiny, that might not bother us.

DETAILS: And where does real-life Van Der Beek like to shop?

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: Rag & Bone has some really great stuff. Calvin Klein makes a suit that's designed for a guy who's played sports, which is nice. A lot of the higher-end brands, I tend to not be able to get up over my legs. I don't know who these suit-model guys are, but I guarantee they've never played baseball.

DETAILS: There's a risk of having stellar, thick thighs.

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: [Laughs] I have a big ass.

DETAILS: Well, there you go. This segues perfectly into the idea of "BJs," the Van Der Beek Jeans that were teased this past spring in an Internet promo spot. Will we see this clothing line in the upcoming season?

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: Well, you know, the jeans . . . there's a hilarious episode where fake James goes to a Barney's-type outlet and asks where his boutique has gone, and he's been told that at first [the jeans] sold really well, but they ordered too many and that they've been remaindered to the warehouse sale. Which causes great distress in fake Van Der Land. I won't say whether or not I throw a pair of my jeans in the face of an old woman trying to convince her to buy them, but it might happen.

DETAILS: I love the tagline: "Put Your Cheeks in a Beek." Please tell me you came up with that?

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: "Put Your Cheeks in a Beek" was actually not mine. But I delivered it.

DETAILS: Over the years, there have been a few great examples of actors playing themselves, like Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, and more recently Louis CK and Matt LeBlanc. Are there any specific challenges that come with that type of acting?

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: The trick is to do it in a way where you can get laughs without people feeling sorry for you. Especially when the humor comes from this guy finding himself in a lot of unfortunate situations blowing up in his face. So you want to give him a lot of blind spots. But if they're feeling bad for me, they're not laughing. We made sure he's very talented, even if it's in a savant-ish way. Like, no idea where it comes from. He's also very sweet, but that sweetness is counterbalanced by a complete lack of awareness of other people. [Laughs] Total self-absorption. Which is critical when you're playing a fake, demented version of yourself: a healthy sense of narcissism.

DETAILS: One of the issues brought up in the first season is how fake James negotiates his own sex-tape release. This seems like a really weird career hazard that actors or actresses have to worry about.

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: Well, there's a very easy way to not have to worry about a sex tape. Foolproof way, and it works 100 percent of the time. And that's don't tape yourself having sex. [Laughs]

DETAILS: The show makes a lot of references to nineties pop culture. Why do you think that is?

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: It's the right age range right now. I think a lot of the people making and watching television right now grew up in the nineties, and in 10 years early 2000s pop culture will be resurging. I better make my money while I can.

DETAILS: What's on the horizon for 2013?

JAMES VAN DER BEEK: I did a Jason Reitman movie this summer [Editor's note: Labor Day]. I've been a huge fan of his for a long time. It's kind of hilarious, the minute I stop taking myself too seriously, I end up in one of the most elegant projects I've ever been a part of. I got to work with Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, and that comes out next summer. I play a young police officer. Somebody trying to do the right thing. There's no comedic element to it at all, just very straight.

Don't Trust the B---- in Apt 23 airs on ABC on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. EST.

—Mike Ayers (@themikeayers) is a New York City-based arts and entertainment writer.

• • •


Also on Details.com:
Q&A: For a Good Time Call… Actress Ari Graynor
Q&A: Glee's Jonathan Groff
Q&A: Comedian Amy Schumer

Photos: ABC
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