“it’s been fun to come up with a doofy version of myself.”

by caitlin smith

Starting this winter, James Van Der Beek will tackle his toughest acting role yet - as himself. Or at least, the goofy, spoofy version of himself that doles out advice to Kristen Ritter and Dreama Walker on the new sitcom, Apartment 23.  Naturally, we needed all the details...

So far, you've only filmed the pilot for Apartment 23.  How was the vibe on-set?  It was a lot of fun, but, you know, you do a pilot and you don't know if it's gonna get picked up.  And Kristen [Ritter] and I have done so many other pilots where everybody is like, ‘Oh, this is definitely getting picked up.'  And then they don't... So now, you just go in assuming, ‘Well, the pilot will be fun,' but beyond that, it's like playing roulette. It's just like, when the wheel spins, it's fun to have money on the table.

So was there anything about this pilot that you really thought was special?   Yeah, we kept on looking at each other like, ‘This might get picked up; this is really funny!'  The humor is so dark and twisted and just wrong that I loved it. It was the funniest script that I'd read all pilot season.

How was it originally pitched to you?  I'd done some Funny or Die stuff that came out in January. And I got some drama offers in December or November, which usually happens around pilot season—it's about which drama would I want to do. My Funny or Die stuff came out, and then some comedy offers started coming in. And I was like, "What's this show called? Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23?  That sounds genius."  And they said, "They want you to play a version of yourself."

Did that make it more appealing?  No, it was the producers [who have done Modern Family].  I thought, if I'm gonna do comedy at all, this is the dream team. I'd be insane not to do it. And it ended up being a lot of fun, because we kind of just took my basic résumé, and then just threw out the rest of everything else about me, and just started making stuff up. So it's kind of our opportunity to satirize actors and Hollywood in general.

So you're playing yourself, but not...  You can only get so much mileage out of Dawson's Creek jokes.  But they are fun to make, so, that's fine… And [audiences are] so savvy now—people get it. Like I think, five years ago, people would have been like, "Is it weird? Is it him? Is it not him?"

Tell us about the show.  Okay.  Chloe [Ritter] is the bitch in Apartment 23. Her money-making scheme is to post for roommates, act all fabulous when they come in and interview, take their first, last and security from them, then act like a crazy bitch and force them to move out, and then post for another roommate. So that's how she makes her profit. And then she meets this wide-eyed, bright-eyed girl from Ohio [Dreama Walker], who needs a job and who has a little more tenacity than she first expected, and they're kind of matched in some way. And I play their best friend.

So, how is this James different from you?  Well, I mean, I'm married with a kid. And the Apartment 23 version of me is single, living in New York, and using the fact that he was on Dawson's Creek to get laid. So it's like…

Not you at all, actually.  Yeah. But it's been kind of fun to experiment, to come up with this little bit doofy, just a tiny bit douchey version of myself. I told the writers when we first started, I was like, "Listen, don't ever be afraid of offending me. Whatever's funniest, let's go for that. Just always pitch the funniest idea and if it's something that I really can't take at all, then we can adjust or pull back."

Do you remember anything they were kind of cautious about pitching to you and you were like, ‘Go for it, that's fine'?  I think they were nervous about pitching the whole thing, to be honest with you.