James William Van Der Beek, Jr. (born March 8, 1977) is an American television, film, and stage actor, known for his portrayal of Dawson Leery in The WB series Dawson's Creek.
Van Der Beek was born in Cheshire, Connecticut, the son of Melinda (née Weber), a former dancer and gymnastics studio manager, and James William Van Der Beek, Sr., a cellular phone company executive and former professional baseball pitcher. He has a brother, Jarod (b. 1979), and a sister, Juliana (b. 1981). He attended Norton Elementary School, Dodd Junior High School, and the Cheshire Academy. At the age of 15, he asked his mother to take him into New York City to get an agent and try his hand professionally.
Van Der Beek made his professional debut in the New York premiere of Edward Albee's play Finding the Sun at the Signature Theatre Company in which he played the role of "Fergus." The production, which was also directed by Albee, received good reviews. At age 17, while still in high school, he performed in the musical Shenandoah at the Goodspeed Opera House, and made his feature film debut with a bit part as a bully in the teen-oriented 1995 film Angus. The following year, he shot a small role on the independent film I Love You, I Love You Not, which starred Claire Danes, Jude Law, and legandary French film star Jeanne Moreau.