Dawson's Crossing

Page 2 of 3

"I went ahead and agreed to meet with James, and from the minute I met him and he took his glasses off and I looked into his eyes, I saw something in him I hadn't seen in the other actors I'd been meeting with," the filmmaker says. "Most of the other actors could easily play dark and, ya know, soulless parts, but what James had was this incredible kind of puppy-dog charisma that has made him a...I don't know what you'd call it...a cultural icon, a teen idol. I looked into his eyes, and James had this kind of capability for cold emptiness, almost doll-like eyes...From that point on, I just knew it had to be him, and we fought and fought. I faltered for a couple of weeks. There was one point where I started realizing nobody wanted to make this movie with James."

It turned into the damnedest thing, watching people with the cash back away from such a sound investment: Dawson goes to college and has lots and lots and lots of sex. Money in the bank, right? Unh-unh, no way. That's what they kept telling Avary. That's what they kept telling Van Der Beek, who had tried once before to shake his image--in Todd Solondz's Storytelling, where Dawson took it up the creek--and found his work on the cutting-room floor.

"A lot of people were not open to the idea that I could do it," Van Der Beek says of Rules. It's a surprising revelation, perhaps only to those who have seen the movie, in which he displays an astonishing capacity for depravity--a bottomless pit for it, actually. Tell him you can't imagine anyone else in the role, and he expresses genuine surprise and delight.

"Really? Well, God bless ya," he says, laughing. "I wish more people thought like that. Everybody from producers to other peoples' agents and managers were really just unwilling to believe that I could do it. At the beginning we ran into a lot of resistance. And then there were some really silly things, like the first time it fell apart ultimately because the foreign financiers were worried about how it would syndicate on European television. You're going, 'What?'"

Finally, Avary went to Lions Gate Films and begged for whatever spare coin the studio could toss his way. And by the time he assembled his cast, he realized he'd handed over his Rules to a handful of refugees from the WB and other TV series: Jessica Biel, one of God's favorites up in 7th Heaven; Ian Somerhalder and Kate Bosworth, who never had the chance to grow old on the WB's ill-fated Young Americans; Jay Baruchel, who had but one semester on Fox's Undeclared; and Fred Savage, a long, long way from his Wonder Years as he lounges around in his tighty-whities and shoots smack between his toes. They're debauched and debased, children set free in a world of Dressed to Get Screwed parties where the only decisions are who to screw and where. And if the movie feels a little buzzed--like it's had, oh, a kilo of coke shoved up its nose--it's because, at long last, actors trapped in the tiny box were given permission to go nuts, lose their shit, make a mess and let Avary worry about cleaning it up later.

"I was worried at first when I decided to go with the young TV-actor, WB types," Avary says. "Then I discovered that these kids have an amazing amount of talent, because they've been working so much. They're just shackled because they're not given the best material, because the material is cranked out. So give them freedom and give them good material, and they cut loose because nobody's ever let them do that. They go wild, and it's fantastic to watch. I would work with any of these actors again in a hot second. I think they were all brilliant."

They are; they really are. Whatever the movie's flaws--and in the end, most of Ellis' novels are social criticisms that wind up playing like R-rated just-say-no after-school specials--you can't fault the performances. They're so sharp you could cut a line with them, so intoxicating one shot gets you hammered. Van Der Beek especially proves himself the real deal, good enough to show up in films to which they do not hand out MTV Movie Awards. It is time for him to move forward, graduate from television, kiss Joey goodbye. The transition has been made; this is not your ninth-grader's actor, not anymore.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

Latest Stories