James Van Der Beek is back creekside.
Five years after his star-making turn as the center of “Dawson’s Creek” came to an end, Van Der Beek is back on one of Wilmington’s sound stages — working with some of his former crew colleagues — for a guest appearance on the CW’s teen drama “One Tree Hill.” The episode airs Monday night.
“This is just a real nice homecoming for me,” he said.
Van Der Beek has tried to distance himself from his days as Dawson Leery, a film-crazed teen with aspirations of becoming a director.
He returned to North Carolina to play a director on “One Tree Hill” who is interested in turning a book written by Chad Michael Murray’s character into a film.
Van Der Beek will appear in three episodes, with the rest airing in January after the show returns from a holiday break.
“I thought it was a real fun character,” the 31-year-old actor said, insisting the roles are quite different. “I’m excited to work with my friends and to play a little bit.”
“Dawson’s Creek” debuted on the WB in 1998, a decade before co-stars Katie Holmes appeared on Broadway and Michelle Williams was nominated for an Academy Award. When the series, set in a small coastal town in Massachusetts, ended in 2003, Van Der Beek said he was exhausted and anxious to move on.
“It’s something I feel quite a bit of distance from,” he said.
Van Der Beek appeared as a star football player in 1999’s “Varsity Blues,” then made a dramatic shift in 2002’s “The Rules of Attraction” to play an obsessive drug-dealing college student.
Although he recently filmed guest appearances on the television comedies “Ugly Betty” and “How I Met Your Mother,” and is working on a pilot for Fox, Van Der Beek said he often finds darker roles the most challenging.
He recently played kidnapper Anthony Zappa in “Taken in Broad Daylight,” a film based on the true story of kidnapped teenager Anne Sluti.
“It comes from a real place of sadness,” he said about preparing for such roles. “What you have to do is get in and track these actions, and come up for some justification in the character’s mind.”
Van Der Beek said he hasn’t watched many episodes of “One Tree Hill,” but admires the actors and show executives for keeping it relevant, referring to creator Mark Schwahn’s decision to jump the show forward by four years in its fifth season. The show is in its sixth season, and there’s talk about a seventh.
“I think anything that shakes things up, breathes fresh air,” he said. “You’re actually pushing these people ahead. It’s good to take those risks because it keeps everybody sharp.”