Joshua Jackson

Behind the Scenes of DC

The Virginian Pilot; 1/12/1999
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WILMINGTON, N.C. — You should know something about Katie Holmes’ forehead. It’s a little pimply. I got the scoop from Sara Seidman of the Portsmouth Seidmans. She’s assistant makeup artist on “Dawson’s Creek.”

The WB series about profoundly cool high school kids, including Holmes as Joey Potter, is filmed on three Screen Gems Ltd. Studios soundstages here. Filming also takes place in this seaside city’s neighborhoods and on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where producers pay $1,000 a day to set up their cameras.

It serves as Capeside High. On this morning, cast and crew will do seven scenes at UNCW, including two in which Joshua Jackson – he’s Pacey Witter – appears with Irene Ziegler, cast as Capeside High’s principal. In the 1980s, she taught theater and dance at Old Dominion U.

It will be a long day for Jackson. He reported to work at 5:45 a.m., turned himself over to hair and make-up at 6, began filming in the chill of the school’s parking lot at 7.

See him yawn and shiver at the same time.

When there is a break in the shooting, Seidman materializes with her make-up kit to touch up Jackson’s face here and there. Dare I reveal a cast secret?

The young man does not have a great complexion.

Dare I reveal even more secrets? The tallish (5-7) Holmes is a size 4. And her co-star, Michelle Williams (Jen Lindley), is some sizes smaller.

This I learned from Chris Miller, the wardrobe supervisor who, like Seidman, hails from Portsmouth. He invited me into the trailer where clothes for the actors and extras, including varsity jackets with big “C’s” on the front, are stowed floor to ceiling.

Look, kids. I’m actually touching Dawson Leery’s sweater.

Don’t you wish you were me?

Later, I’ll be hanging out in Dawson’s bedroom. Don’t you wish you were me again?

Today, all the filming is outdoors. The scenes call for 51 extras, including six Capeside High cheerleaders. Miller has their uniforms all buffed up and ready to wear. Go, Capeside.

Capeside is Wilmington, Wilmington is Capeside. It will likely be so for years to come because “Dawson’s Creek” is a smash – the show most popular with adolescent girls, a series that helped the dubba-dubba network increase its overall ratings by 19 percent.

What 12-year-old girl in America doesn’t have a poster of James Van Der Beek in her room? He’s Dawson Leery.

Holmes, the 19-year-old former Catholic schoolgirl from Toledo, Ohio, says she likes working in quiet, even quaint Wilmington.

“I’m from a small town, so it’s nice to be here in a place like home. We’re far from the distractions of show business. That makes it easier to concentrate on the show.”

You’d like her.

She’s so real.

Holmes passed up her first audition for “Dawson’s Creek” to stay in Toledo and play Lola in her high school’s production of “Damn Yankees.” Isn’t that real?

Jackson, a Canadian from British Columbia, is also content to be filming in Wilmington, population 55,530.

“I never before experienced living in a Southern culture. It’s great. Wilmington has all the conveniences of a larger city without the hassles,” he said.

To Wilmington’s residents, Jackson is jes’ folks, as are all the cast members. “I’m not mobbed or followed or bothered when I shop for groceries. It’s not like I’m Tom Cruise.”

Jackson at 6-2 is much taller, thank you.

Where does the fab four of “Dawson’s Creek” live in Wilmington? Somewhere nice. Somewhere private.

Kevin Williamson, the show’s creator and co-executive producer, is delighted to be filming not far from where he grew up – the village of Oriental near New Bern. He wants it known that the studio that produces “Dawson’s Creek” did not set up in Wilmington just because Williamson feels at home there.

“The studio (Columbia-TriStar) talked about shooting a series in Wilmington for a long time, and this turned out to be the perfect series in terms of giving us the seaside location we had in mind.”

The “Dawson’s Creek” script says Capeside is somewhere near Boston. “I decided it would really be nice to invent a coastal town that has a New England feel to it,” said Williamson, who freely admits that Dawson is himself at the age of 15.

“The show is very autobiographical. I grew up on Dawson’s Creek. It’s a real place that exists near my hometown. The series is my childhood come to life in many ways. In Capeside, I wanted to create this magical world, a living and breathing entity that not a lot of people know about.”

With the show’s success, millions of young viewers have come to know the creek as well as Williamson, to connect with the cast although the dialogue is super sophisticated. Williamson calls it “hyper-real.”

The show signed on one year ago at which time the cast – Van Der Beek, Holmes, Jackson and Williams – were strangers to fame and fortune. Williamson, who three years ago was collecting unemployment, rose fast in Hollywood with the release of “Scream” late in 1997. He wrote the script in three days.

He said he created the concept for “Dawson’s Creek” in a flash. A 15-year-old kid grows up in a small town on the water dreaming of being Steven Spielberg.

“It’s basically my story.”

Van Der Beek, 21, was attending college in New Jersey when he met Williamson. “I had no idea he was the hottest thing in Hollywood at the time,” Van Der Beek said. “To me he was just this nice guy for whom I was auditioning. There was no way of knowing we would do a successful show, and if we did it, that people would watch. Dawson is a different version of me at 15. I definitely relate to him.”

Van Der Beek is a tad aloof.

Jackson, 20, on the other hand, is outright cordial. “I’m having a blast doing Pacey. The writers give me nothing but fun stuff to do. Half the time, I play Pacey as the wacky, goofy, comedic guy. Other times, I do heavy stuff. It’s an immensely satisfying and fulfillng role.”

The heavy stuff includes Pacey lusting after his teacher. “Dawson’s Creek” is very much about sex with four frank moments (Dawson’s parents consider an open marriage, Jen is almost a rape victim, Jen’s girlfriend tries seducing Dawson and Joey’s co-worker makes a pass at her) in a recent episode.

“I never realized the show was so racy and provocative until people told me it was. What’s interesting is that when I finished the pilot, I was told by people in television that the show was too tame, too `Little House on the Prairie.’ That it just won’t fly,” Williamson said.

It flew. It soared.

They shoot 22 episodes of “Dawson’s Creek” in Wilmington, giving work to dozens of North Carolinians such as electricians, $6-an-hour extras and full-time stand-in Martin Eckhardt, who comes with shoes of different heights from 5-8 to 6-2.

Filming continues through April. Mimi Cunningham, spokesman for UNCW, said the school is delighted to have the “Dawson’s Creek” cast and crew running in and out of Alderman Hall, happy to give them use of the lockers in the school of nursing, Hoggard Hall.

UNCW has 9,600 students, wants more. Who better than the mega-popular kids of “Dawson’s Creek” to showcase UNCW’s handsome green sweep of campus? “I see the show as a great recruiting tool for us,” Cunningham said.

Go to school in Wilmington. Meet Dawson Leery. Work as a movie extra for $6 an hour. Neat.

You know that “Capeside High School” sign you see on “Dawson’s Creek”? It’s a foamy, fake thing that the prop guys roll out of a truck when it’s needed. “Complete with fake bushes,” Cunningham said.

Her school and its leafy grounds caught the interest of other producers who have come to Wilmington since the filming boom began here in 1983. Where does the prop guy go to find a skeleton in prime condition? Check with UNCW physiology.

The money that UNCW earns from “Dawson’s Creek” is put into a general scholarship fund. The producers are expected to provide security and keep the grounds neat, which they do.

In almost every episode, the cast and crew return to the Screen Gems soundstages near the New Hanover Airport to film in Dawson’s bedroom. Here’s the setup for Scene 34 in a recent episode: “Joey climbs in the window of Dawson’s bedroom.”

Sound familiar?

“That ladder defines the relationship between Joey and Dawson. She’s grown up climbing that ladder,” Holmes said. In fact, Joey doesn’t need a ladder to enter Dawson’s bedroom, because it’s almost floor level on a Screen Gems soundstage.

There you have it – another “Dawson’s Creek” secret revealed.

Here’s one more: When they’re not shooting in the bedroom – the room with posters of Spielberg films on the walls – it’s a mess with clothes and bedding everywhere. I saw Dawson’s Midget League MVP trophy and books about movie making adrift in that room.

Clean your room, Dawson!

When you see Jen and her Grams in Grams’ kitchen discussing Jen’s morals, it takes place on a soundstage behind huge blue doors with “Dawson’s Creek” written in white.

Look at me, kids. I’m bouncing up and down on Dawson’s bed, hanging out in Grams’ kitchen.

Don’t you wish you were me?

Not many months ago, Dawson Leery was just a name in a TV script. Van Der Beek, Holmes and Williams were waiting for lightning to strike. Jackson was beginning to break out in “The Mighty Ducks” movies for Disney.

Then came the premiere of “Dawson’s Creek.” Then came the magazine covers. Did you see Holmes and Williams in flowing skirts and satin corsets as “The Women of the WB” in Entertainment Weekly? One minute, they’re naively sweet, and the next minute they’re hot.

How can your head not swell when you read that your show helped keep a network from crumbling? That with “Dawson’s Creek,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Felicity” and “7th Heaven” – all shows with youngsters carrying the load – the WB went from a network clunking along in sixth place to hot stuff almost overnight.

God bless the little children.

The gushy fame that comes with being teen idols brought offers to make movies for the cast of “Dawson’s Creek.”

Holmes had the lead in “Disturbing Behavior” and will be directed by Williamson in “Killing Mrs. Tingle.” She also appeared in “Go!” Holmes had a small role in “The Ice Storm” before “Dawson’s Creek.”

Van Der Beek filmed “Varsity Blues” last summer. Jackson made two movies (“Cruel Intentions” and “Apt Pupil”) while Williams, the baby in the cast at 17, did “Halloween H20.”

Asked a year ago what her goals were, Williams didn’t hesitate. “To make it in whatever I’ve chosen.”

She chose acting. She’s made it. So has Holmes. Is she the next Sarah Michelle Gellar, the new Jennifer Love Hewitt? Yes, says Hollywood.

“While it’s exciting to have the publicity and magazine covers, I keep reminding myself to concentrate on the series, because that’s what put us on all those magazine covers,” she said.

When the “Dawson’s Creek” hysteria crested last summer, when the cast began showing up on the covers of Rolling Stone and US, production of season No. 1 had ceased. There was no place to focus the frenzy.

“We were away from Wilmington doing other things when the world went bananas over `Dawson’s Creek,’ ” said Jackson. “We had been in our wonderful little universe in Wilmington, being very gung-ho about making this television show with scripts that pleased us very much.”

Then, boom! Teen America discovered “Dawson’s Creek,” which takes place not in New England but in Wilmington, N.C., where on the UNCW campus Alderman Hall becomes Capeside High School as cameras move without a sound on cute little dolly tracks.

Wilmington, you’re wonderful.

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