The Art Museum goes Hollywood tonight when it plays host to the premiere of Backwards, a movie set here in the world of rowing. One might argue the film’s star is Boathouse Row, but the name at the top of the marquee is James Van Der Beek, 35, who spent some quality time on the Schuylkill and around Rittenhouse Square during the local shoot in the summer of 2011. The Beek won’t be in town tonight, as he’s in production on the second season of ABC’s cult comedy hit Don’t Trust The B— In Apartment 23. But he checked in by phone to praise the film, recall a boozy Center City adventure, and come to terms with a traumatic drug-store epiphany.
Philly Post: Let’s get to the pitch—why should we go see Backwards?
James Van Der Beek: It’s a really sweet film that was created completely from scratch from a local, [Shipley School grad] Sarah Megan Thomas. She wrote the script, produced it and starred in it and did everything incredibly well. I was really blown away by how graceful she was in wearing all of those hats.
PP: Sort of a one-woman Good Will Hunting situation.
JVDB: Seriously, yeah. She rowed competitively, so what I responded to when I first read the script was, it felt authentic. It felt like this person really knows this world. I was just so impressed.
PP: You didn’t have any prior rowing experience, right?
JVDB: No. But I’m an infinitely curious person. What I love about my job is getting to explore worlds that I don’t know anything about and see life through other people’s eyes. I got in a boat and talked to a lot of rowers.
PP: Any “Beek Overboard” moments?
JVDB: [laughs] I did not get wet, except when it was scripted.
PP: How was living on Rittenhouse Square during filming?
JVDB: I loved it. I loved Philly. Really great people. It was almost unendurably humid, but I would just go to an outdoor café or restaurant and sit on the sidewalk. My six years in North Carolina [on Dawson’s Creek] had prepped me for the humidity.
PP: What was the reaction from the locals? Did you blend in or was there a lot of squealing and finger pointing and camera-phone flashing?
JVDB: People were really cool. I had one night out when I was just going to go have a quiet meal by myself and this really sweet couple adopted me for the evening and we ended up [laughs] going to two or three different bars and meeting some new friends. Ended up at some after-hours club in some theater, getting out at four in the morning, smoking a cigar.
PP: I think that was the Delancey Street Plays and Players bar.
JVDB: That sounds vaguely familiar. They were just really sweet and hospitable.
PP: It didn’t feel like a potential kidnapping situation?
JVDB: [laughs] Y’know, it did not. [laughs] Or I was just way too trusting.
PP: Tell me about your Dawson’s Creek PTSD moment in the CVS at 18th and Walnut.
JVDB: [laughs] I was in the drug store getting something and the Dawson’s Creek theme song came on. At this point, y’know, I was a father, 34 years old—and all of the sudden, my first instinct was to run and hide. And it occurred to me, I’m a grown-ass man. I need to get over this. Why to do I feel this need to bury my head and hide from people? [laughs] It was just a Pavlovian response.
PP: Did anyone notice you?
JVDB: I think I was hiding behind the condom rack.
PP: You stopped by Philadelphia magazine’s “Best of Philly” party that summer with your lovely wife. How did that event change your lives?
JVDB: [laughs particularly hard] We talk about it every day.
PP: Congrats on the success of Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23.
JVDB: Thank you. People really like it. We loved it, but thought maybe we’re just really sick, demented people. Maybe the rest of America is more sane than we are? Turns out they’re not, thank God. We’re thrilled.
PP: What’s ahead in season two? Other guest stars who’ll be lovingly mocking themselves?
JVDB: In the season two premiere [Tuesday Oct. 23rd] the fake me contemplates a Dawson’s Creek reunion and what that would mean for my legacy. Busy Philipps is in that. Frankie Muniz makes a cameo. And Mark-Paul Gosselaar stages an intervention.