Joshua Jackson

“The Skulls” Josh/Cohen

The Boston Herald; 4/1/2000; Schaefer, Stephen
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Welcome to the club; With ‘The Skulls,’ Joshua Jackson hopes to join teen heartthrob acting elite

Director Rob Cohen knew that telling a story about an Ivy League university’s secret society was a bit unusual for his teen-oriented thriller, “The Skulls.” To cast his hero, a pre-law college senior who discovers a murder and cover-up and decides to tell the truth despite threats to his life, Cohen said he knew the film “needed a Spencer Tracy or a Tom Hanks, not some elitist Ivy Leaguer.”

His choice: cherub-cheeked Joshua Jackson, a regular on “Dawson’s Creek.” Johnson’s burgeoning film career has not yet kept pace with that of his series mates – James Van Der Beek (“Varsity Blues”) , Michelle Williams (“If These Walls Could Talk 2,” “Dick,” “Halloween H20”) and Katie Holmes (“Wonder Boys,” “Go”) – but Cohen, a Harvard graduate and former head of Motown records, resisted pressures to cast someone else.

“What ‘Skulls’ needed is a guy from the wrong side of the tracks who you root for,” Cohen said, “a kid who is loaded down with $100,000 of student loans and you automatically feel sympathy for him to rise up.

“We went to North Carolina (where ‘Dawson’ films) to meet him and he was exactly what I’d hope he would be, which is not James Van Der Beek,” Cohen said. “First, I wanted someone who could act. I also wanted someone you could love, who didn’t hold himself back from the audience. Someone who could embrace the audience.”

For Jackson, who had a small role as a gay teen blackmailed by a buddy in “Cruel Intentions,” stepping up to star in “Skulls” was a no-brainer. The son of a Vancouver, British Columbia, casting director, he’s been acting professionally since the age of 11. Before “Dawson” Jackson’s biggest break was as a hockey-playing kid in “The Mighty Ducks.”

“I went at 18 to North Carolina and I’m now 21 and the most drastic change for me is: I don’t live in Vancouver anymore,” Jackson said. “At 18, I was begging for work and an opportunity like this didn’t exist. When ‘Dawson’s Creek’ became a success, I’m given the opportunity to be the lead in a film. None of that would have happened five years ago.”

He co-stars in another movie, “Gossip”, expected to be released later this month, in which he plays “a silver-spoon kid named Caleb who becomes the object of this rumor.”

As a teen hunk, Jackson has dealt with his share of rumors. One of them names him as a finalist for the role of teenaged Anakin Skywalker in Episode 2 of George Lucas’ latest “Star Wars” trilogy.

“To dispel the myth,” Jackson said, “George Lucas has never called me.” But that doesn’t mean Jackson is not interested.

“I would quite literally do it for free,” he said. “But there’s nothing I can do to get that job, I can’t sell George Lucas on casting me.”

If Lucas is looking for a real-life hero, though, he should look no further than Jackson, who made headlines last fall when he saved a drowning woman in Wilmington, N.C.

“I don’t think she would have died if I wasn’t there,” Jackson said. “She was having an asthma attack in the water and she picked a foolish place to go swimming.”

As for his reward, Jackson revealed the woman and her husband “repaid me by selling the story to the Star (tabloid). They were so happy about it when they bumped into me at the grocery story, they told me and I said, ‘That’s not very funny to me.’

“The next time if you’re drowning,” he said, “it’s ‘I’ll come in a second – when you sign (a privacy agreement).”‘

While Jackson, 21, wades through sexually charged teen territory each week in “Dawson’s Creek,” “Skulls” mixes fact and fantasy.

Inspired by such secret societies as Yale’s Skull & Bones, “Skulls” is set at a fictitious university campus where the Skulls are depicted as a powerful cabal in finance, politics and government.

“There are six organizations and Skull & Bones is the granddaddy of them all,” Jackson said. “This movie has everything to do with Skull & Bones at Yale, only I don’t know if I’m allowed to say it. The foundation of our story and the rituals you see is what little people know about the organization. An Internet site has an 18-page dossier of everyone who’s been ‘tapped’ in – Skull & Bones people who have positions in industry and government.”

The film depicts some of the society’s secrets, such as recruiting night. “The only time you’re revealed to be a member is when you get tapped senior year at Yale by these men in, literally, monk’s cowls,” Jackson said.

Because of anti-discrimination laws, “You can’t have an organization on campus that’s exclusive anymore so they have to have tokens,” Jackson said. “But the barrier for women would fall quicker than inducting a minority male, because it really is about being white and Protestant. Anybody will tell you.

“Both George Bush and his son, George W., have been listed as Skull & Bones members. The CIA was founded at Yale at the Skull & Bones crypt which is what they call the tomb,” Jackson said, as if to point out his film’s paranoid conspiracy plot isn’t too wild after all.

What about the last club this teen idol was in? “Midget hockey. Lot of tapping in that.”

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