Joshing Around

James Van Der Beek, the Dawson of Dawson’s Creek, isn’t the only guy on that hit show that teens (and twentysomethings) are obsessed with. As the series starts its third season, 21-year-old Joshua Jackson, is probably bringing in as many fans with his slow-burn charm as Van Der Beek has with his chiseled looks.

Unlike the rest of the Dawson’s Creek cast Jackson has been hesitant to take on major screen roles. Instead, he’s taken smaller parts, playing one of the many students in Scream 2, a former friend of Brad Renfro in Apt Pupil, the class cut-up in Urban Legend and Ryan Phillippe’s scheming friend in Cruel Intentions. Now, though, Jackson has taken the plunge, and early next year we’ll see him in The Skulls, a thriller that’s being touted as “The Firm on an Ivy League campus,” and Gossip, an ensemble about a college student’s dashed reputation which also stars Kate Hudson and James Marsden. It’s high time Jackson stepped out, especially considering that Kevin Williamson is on record predicting that his young star will start small, then “be Tom Hanks.”

What does Joshua Jackson think about Williamson’s generous remark? The actor lets out an appreciative, merrily self-deflating guffaw at the mention of it. “Kevin took four kids who really hadn’t done work substantial enough to get an ego off, and he cast us in Dawson’s and made us blow-up everywhere overnight,” Jackson says. “And it’s not just us—every young actor and actress working in Hollywood owes Kevin a huge debt of gratitude. There’s never been so much work for people our age where you’re not just playing the brother, the best friend or the son. Four years ago, someone my age wouldn’t have gotten the lead role in a big studio film.”

Joshua Jackson has a reputation for having no attitude, which is rare among young actors, especially one on a successful series. “Really, though,” he continues. “We have ended up with a family-type situation, meaning a dysfunctional family with aspects that work and some that don’t.” Like sibling rivalry? After all, James Van Der Beek became hot stuff in Hollywood when his film Varsity Blues turned into a surprise hit. “There isn’t competition,” Jackson declares. “I didn’t want to be in Varsity Blues, James did. And the fact that it made all that money doesn’t matter to me. Now, if we were in competition for a movie and he got it and it turned out to be a Risky Business, then I’d think, ‘Damn. It should have been me.’” But weren’t Jackson and Van Der Beek in competition for the lead in The Skulls? “James was the only other guy the director and writer considered, but he really wanted to do Texas Rangers. And I didn’t want to do Texas Rangers, so we didn’t have to come into direct confrontation.”

Joshua Jackson Movieline November 1999

But it’s not as if Jackson has avoided all discomfort in his search for the right film role. For instance, there was the time he went in for a small part in Saving Private Ryan and gave his “absolute worst audition” when casting executives for the war epic directed him to “act like you’ve been blown up by artillery.” Obviously things went better during his audition for Gossip, the actual production of which Jackson describes as “a frantic shoot, but something I’m really happy I did,” and for The Skulls, his first starring role in a film since 1996’s D3: The Mighty Ducks.

“Four years ago, I was working steadily but I felt like I was disappointing my family, my friends in not living up to what they expected of me. When The Skulls came along I was drawn to it because it’s a morality tale encapsulated in a thriller about a guy caught in a Faustian bargain between doing the right thing and the siren song of, ‘Just let go of your morality and think of all you can have.’ Being Irish, I come from a Celtic tradition of storytellers, and this was a story I wanted to help tell. I can honestly say I’ve never worked harder. But to go to bed every night saying to yourself, ‘Man, I’m exhausted, but I did a great day’s work,’ is the best feeling you can have on this planet.”

One hears Jackson could have been exhausted just dealing with the female fans who constantly turned up during the shoot. How much of a mob scene was it? “On the very first day of filming I did a scene that required me to drive a car,” he says. “The first time I came around the corner, there were 10 girls there. The next time I rounded the corner, there were 100 girls. Within an hour, I had emptied out an entire 10th-grade class of girls who were screaming at the top of their lungs, ‘Josh!’ But, really, I’m on the B list of celebrities next to, say, Leonardo DiCaprio.”

Unlike DiCaprio, Jackson has kept a low profile as a star. “We shoot Dawson’s in North Carolina, so we’re a very cloistered little group. I don’t live among actors and I’ve never even been to the Key Club or Bar Marmont. What I love to do is go camping, to spend time with my mother and sister, for whom my greatest pleasure is that I’m lucky enough to be able to provide financially for them.” And what about a significant other? “I’m not seeing anyone, mostly because the woman who would really capture my heart would have to be someone like Kate Winslet, and she’s already married.”

Jackson says he plans to stay with his series for several more seasons, which shows he’s smarter than many TV stars. But what direction does he ultimately hope he’s headed in? “I’m unfettered by the world, which is a very unique place to be at my age,” Jackson says. “I’ll have to eventually choose what these next few years will be about, but I’m not in a rush. Besides, my personal life is much more important to me than my professional life and my self-worth isn’t based on whether or not I act. I love acting but I’m also looking into the great wide-open at this as-yet-unpainted mural that will be my life. Whether or not it involves the movie business I’m not sure. I’m much more interested in becoming a good man than in becoming a good actor.”

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in Movieline Nov.1999.

November 1, 1999 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links