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Watching the dramatic exploits of Dawson Leery and his pals back in the day, it seemed a no-brainer that Dawson himself – or, as he's known in the real world, James Van Der Beek – was destined to rise the highest in Hollywood. After all, he was the star of the show! It was named after him! (That said, I was always on Team Pacey.) But sometime during his post-"Dawson's Creek" career, after he snagged his first big role in the 1999 football flick Varsity Blues, Van Der Beek's career drifted off, little by little, into indie movie oblivion. Yes, he scored a prime role in the epic-on-paper Texas Rangers, but that became one of the biggest bombs of 2001. And then he played the lead in Roger Avary's racy Bret Easton Ellis adaptation The Rules of Attraction, a divisive film that earned its own solid cult following. But where, oh where, was Dawson Leery during the better part of the '00s? Answer: languishing in TV movies, direct-to-DVD pics, and – shudder – an Andy Dick film (Danny Roane: First Time Director).
In light of all that, this March marks a triumphant resurgence of sorts for James Van Der Beek, who stars in not one, but two theatrically released films in the span of a month. In Formosa Betrayed (released February 28 in select cities), he plays an FBI agent investigating a conspiracy of politics and murder in 1981 Taiwan; next week, he stars in the mystery thriller Stolen alongside Jon Hamm and Josh Lucas. (Stolen is available on VOD from IFC Films starting March 3.)
But enough about Dawson. The show was about more than just his drama -- it was about everyone's drama, too! Where have the other Capesiders gone in the years since The Creek? And whose star has risen the highest?
Joshua Jackson (AKA Pacey Witter)
Jackson, whose career got off to an early start with the Mighty Ducks franchise, diversified his film roles while simultaneously starring as Dawson's BFF-turned-rival Pacey from 1998 to 2003. Small roles in mainstream teen-oriented films like Urban Legend and Cruel Intentions gave way to a starring role in the campus thriller The Skulls, while appearances in indies like The Safety of Objects and HBO's The Laramie Project boosted his thesp cred. Following the conclusion of "Dawson's Creek" (Team Pacey for the win!), Jackson dabbled here (indies Americano, Aurora Borealis, and The Shadow Dancer), there (the ensemble pics Bobby and Battle in Seattle), and elsewhere (the Thai horror remake Shutter) before landing a lead on the hit show "Fringe."
Michelle Williams (AKA Jen Lindley)
For this Oscar-nominated actress, "Dawson's Creek" was a mere stepping stone to a remarkable career as an indie movie queen. Her most commercial films, in fact, came before she became famous (Species, in which she played the young Sil, and Halloween H20, written and produced by "Dawson's Creek" creator Kevin Williamson). Highlights of her subsequent work include The United States of Leland and The Station Agent, but it was 2005's Brokeback Mountain, for which she earned an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress, that made her a household name. Her most recent works (Synechdoche, New York, Mammoth, Wendy and Lucy, Blue Valentine) have earned her further kudos from the festival circuit, and she's currently in theaters with a key role as Leonardo DiCaprio's tortured wife in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island.
Michael Pitt (AKA Henry Parker)
Yes indeedy – the angel-faced star of such edgy cult films as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Dreamers, and Funny Games got his big break as Capeside High's painfully shy freshman quarterback, Henry, who wins a kiss from Jen (Michelle Williams) in a school raffle and proceeds to woo her over the course of a season. Following his stint on The Creek, Pitt dove into films like Hedwig, in which he starred as John Cameron Mitchell's naïve lover Tommy Gnosis, and Larry Clark's Bully, playing one of a group of teenage murderers. Mainstream notice came with 2002's Murder by Numbers, though Pitt kept returning to indie film to work with directors like Bernardo Bertolucci (The Dreamers), Asia Argento (The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things), Gus Van Sant (Last Days), and Michael Haneke (Funny Games). He appears in the 2010 HBO series Boardwalk Empire, produced by Martin Scorsese, Mark Walhberg, and Sopranos exec Terence Winter.
Kerr Smith (AKA Jack McPhee)
Soap opera alum Kerr Smith debuted on the second season of "Dawson's Creek" as Jack, who eventually came out of the closet as Capeside's token gay student. (He shared a groundbreaking homosexual kiss with boarding school stud Ethan and wound up with Pacey's brother, Deputy Doug.) After the series ended in 2003, Smith bounced around in TV and film (starring most unfortunately in the lusty teen sequel, Cruel Intentions 3), with extended appearances on "Charmed" and a series of short-lived shows. In 2009, he nabbed a starring role in the horror remake My Bloody Valentine 3D (opposite onetime "Dawson's Creek" guest star Jensen Ackles) and currently stars on the series "Life Unexpected."
Busy Philipps (AKA Audrey Liddell)
Though she came onto the show late (in season 5), Busy Philipps proceeded to steal most of her scenes away from veteran Creekers like Katie Holmes, whose best friend she played until the series end. (One exception: This episode in which her "Freaks and Geeks" co-star Seth Rogen steals scenes from her in a guest spot.) She continued in television with roles on "Love, Inc.," "ER" and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" while popping up in films from White Chicks to Made of Honor to He's Just Not That Into You, although in my opinion her awesomest achievement in recent years has been coming up with the story for Blades of Glory, for which she received a shared story credit. She currently stars on ABC's "Cougar Town."
Monica Keena (AKA Abby Morgan)
In the early days of "Dawson's Creek," Abby was the girl you loved to hate. So, unlike Jen Lindley, most of us weren't too sad when she died after a drunken accident. But it was actually heartening to see her resurface a few years later on another beloved series, "Undeclared," although when that excellent show met its premature end, Keena's career went all over the map. Guest TV spots and a handful of film roles followed (Freddy vs. Jason, Man of the House, Brooklyn Rules), but Keena's next vaguely high profile project seems to be the horror remake Night of the Demons – if that film can settle on a release date.
Katie Holmes (AKA Joey Potter)
Alright, maybe there was never any contest in this post-"Creek" fame-off. Katie Holmes's Joey – who was always the one through whom we girls lived vicariously– was the real heart of "Dawson's Creek." Through the show's run, Holmes managed to hold onto her sweet, Capeside-cultivated image with slightly daring turns in films like Go, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, and Abandon, and following the series conclusion, with more adult roles in Pieces of April, Batman Begins, and Thank You For Smoking. And then came her pivotal 2005 transformation into one half of the celebrity entity known as TomKat. After a few years away from acting, Holmes came back, albeit as an A-list fashionista, Scientologist, and Mrs. Tom Cruise, with roles in two Sundance entries (The Extra Man and The Romantics) and next appears in the Guillermo del Toro-produced horror flick Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Still, no matter how Holmes continues her unpredictable morph into a Spice Girl-BFFing, couture-wearing, tabloid-topping celebrity, I'll always remember her as the beautiful tomboy Joey Potter, coming into her own at the annual Miss Windjammer contest with this song from Les Miserable: