Entertainment Weekly Online
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As the landmark teen drama ”Dawson’s Creek” ends, the Capeside crew chat about the infamous love triangle, the spicy dialogue, and which star Katie Holmes beat out for her role by Lynette Rice
In the beginning, Dawson was a dog.
It was 1996, and Fox commissioned from newcomer Kevin Williamson an autobiographical drama about a Spielberg-loving teen and his gal pal Joey.
The network hated it.
Crushed, Williamson — whose only claim to fame was selling a little script that became ”Scream” — did the only thing he could do. ”I got a dog and named it Dawson,” he recalls. ”I thought that was the only way it was going to live.”
Fortunately, The WB recognized the pedigree project and bought the series. In January 1998, ”Dawson’s Creek,” starring unknowns James Van Der Beek, Joshua Jackson, Michelle Williams, and the impossibly cute Katie Holmes, debuted and quickly became The WB’s most watched show. ”Creek” represented a new breed for a network that looked to be literally up a creek with dogs like ”Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher.” ”It saved The WB,” admits WB entertainment president Jordan Levin. ”At that time there was a movement internally to pull the plug on the network. When the series came on, it immediately gave The WB a tremendous amount of attention and heat.”
”Creek” would ultimately become a victim of its own success: Williamson left the show after season 2 to pursue a screenwriting career and the show never recaptured its initial allure. In the final years, ”Creek” was most notable for its portrayal of the first gay male kiss on network television.
Alas, the teen hormones of Dawson, Joey, Pacey, and Jen can’t rage forever, which is why the ”Creek” will dry up for good on May 14. The WB is predictably tight-lipped about the two-hour, flash-forward finale — other than to say Williamson came back to finally answer the question that’s dogged this show for years: Who’s it gonna be, Josephine — Dawson or Pacey? In the meantime, we sought answers to pressing questions of our own — like, can Joey actually sail? Why did Jen dress so slutty? And what does Dawson really think of Katie Couric?
Finding the Fab Four
Williamson (creator) Joey was basically a girl named Fanny. She was my girlfriend all through high school [in Oriental, N.C.] and the first year of college. She had a Sunfish sailboat. She would sail around the bend to my house.
Paul Stupin (executive producer) Michelle Williams originally came to read for the Joey Potter role, but then we got a tape from Katie’s mom with Katie reading lines from the basement of her home in Toledo [Ohio]. We wanted to fly her out immediately, but she couldn’t make it because she was playing Lola in her high school production of ”Damn Yankees.” If it meant she would miss that play, then she would pass up the role [of Joey].
Holmes (Joey) It wasn’t worth it to blow off my friends.
Williamson We were ready to go with Selma Blair for the role. And then there was Katie. I thought, This girl is a child on the verge of being a woman. She was so perfect.
Stupin It was a little bit of a coup that Josh was coming in to read. He had been doing the ”Mighty Ducks” movie, and hadn’t been in town.
Jackson (Pacey) [That’s] BS. I went through the wringer like everybody else. They didn’t want me for a long time.
Williamson With Jen I wanted the broken-wing effect, someone who needed to be repaired, but was sort of an angel, but also looked like there was a little Lolita in her.
Williams (Jen) I was a not-so-good girl who came between two people who everybody wanted to be together. There were websites devoted to hating my character.
Stupin It was a nightmare finding Dawson. Everybody was cast and we were two or three weeks away from shooting. I got a call from [casting director] Marcia Shulman saying she had a good kid on tape. I put it in my VCR at home, and it jammed. I went crazy!
Van Der Beek (Dawson) I remember thinking that Dawson wasn’t really the role I should focus on because the character was 15 and I was 20 at the time…. I pitched my voice up and really aged myself down, and didn’t think much more about it until I had a message when I got back to my dorm room.
Stupin An odd postscript to this is how superstitious I was. For the entire first season, I did not take that tape of James out of my VCR.
Carolina on My Mind
Van Der Beek We’d shot the pilot down here [in Wilmington, N.C.]. But I don’t think it really occurred to any of us until they gave us a $5,000 relocation stipend that we’d be moving here and ultimately spending six years here. It was a real culture shock.
Jackson We have mosquitoes and it’s blazingly hot in the summer.
Holmes Just about every time I went into Dawson’s window, I would bang my head. I had to do it again recently and it was like, ”Oh, yeah, I remember this.”… They made me look good sailing. When I rode in the boat, the crew would have a little line underneath to pull me in the water.
Williams They dressed me in tight clothes…. My breasts were all over the place. They appeared larger than they actually were. I remember at some point tirading against it. I was very anti my breasts.
Jackson Me and my friend Mike were out at this inlet where the tides are very strong and dangerous. These two girls from out of town got caught in the tide, so we swam out and held them up until the Coast Guard arrived. Entertainment Weekly made me Winner of the Week. My mother was so proud.
Sex and the Kiddies
WILLIAMSON The show’s about romance, and the first time in every aspect of life. The sweaty palms and weak knees. I was completely flabbergasted that the press made a big deal about the sex. But it seemed to fuel the show.
VAN DER BEEK We couldn’t say ”masturbate” on TV. I remember saying [euphemisms like] ”walking the dog” and ”flogging the bishop”…. I don’t think I actually knew who Katie Couric was [when he gave the line about how Dawson liked to masturbate while watching the ”Today” show anchor].
STUPIN We got a lot of flak about the language. Everyone was saying ”No one talks like this, that’s not how real teenagers converse.” My feeling is, we’re telling an idealized story; sure, these kids speak in slightly idealized ways, but it’s still about the same confusion and emotion and uncertainty that every teenager is feeling.
JACKSON When I called friends from home [in Canada], I would say, ”You’re never going to believe what they’re letting me do on American TV.” If you go back and look at the press from the first season, the Mary Kay LeTourneau case was happening at almost the exact same time that Pacey was sleeping with his teacher.
WILLIAMSON I do remember when we brought the relationship to an end, [then-WB CEO] Jamie Kellner said, ”Oh, thank you.” He breathed a sigh of relief. But he never once said to stop it.
JACKSON People really reacted much stronger to Dawson and Joey sleeping in a bed together than they did to Pacey and the teacher having sex…. Some groups decided to boycott us. Honestly, it was the best thing they ever could have done for our show.
STUPIN I’d say for me the lowest low was the beginning of the third season, struggling to keep going without Kevin.
WILLIAMSON I was overwhelmed [with movies ”Scream 2,” ”The Faculty,” and ”Halloween: H20”]. It was best for the show that I leave. It was a sad time of my life. I sort of stopped watching it. It hurt too much to watch.
HOLMES It was hard. When he left, we had no idea what was to come. We, of course, were used to Kevin’s dialogue.
GREG BERLANTI (former executive producer) We had to try to find a new voice for the show. That’s really when the love triangle came about, when the audience realized that Pacey was in love with Joey, too. That’s what sustained the show…. My proudest moment in season 3 was featuring the first romantic gay kiss on TV. I was able to be a part of the script that brought Jack out of the closet and led to the big gay kiss.
WILLIAMS I took the love triangle personally, because I didn’t know what my worth was here on the show, other than being something kind of bad and sexual and not in a pretty way. So I struggled with that for a while, but I was given more of an identity outside of that triangle, eventually.
Sailing Into the Sunset
STUPIN If I had my way, I’d keep doing the show to the dawn of the next ice age. But that said, I think that this last year has been one of our strongest, and I’m personally very proud of it.
VAN DER BEEK I’ll actually be available to make choices! It’s been a long time since I’ve been available.
JACKSON [Six years] is a long time, but getting your master’s takes a long time too, so I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time being here…. [The] encouraging environment has allowed me to be a very confident, sometimes cocky 24-year-old.
BERLANTI (now the exec producer of ”Everwood”) Kevin did an amazing job. If you’re a fan of the first year, you’ll be a fan of the finale. More than anything, it highlights what’s been missing from the show — the edgy blend of humor and heart.
HOLMES It’s given me so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had. It’s been a wild thing to be 24 and to look back and think that for six years I’ve pretty much been on camera every single day. We’ve been in this bubble, and to have it end…it doesn’t feel real.