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It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the core four — Dawson (James Van Der Beek), Pacey (Joshua Jackson), Joey (Katie Holmes), and Jen (Michelle Williams) — on Dawson’s Creek. But this series could have looked entirely different.
For starters, Jackson was creator Kevin Williamson’s first choice to play Dawson but The WB balked. Remembers the creator, “They went, ‘We love this guy — he’s not Dawson.’ And I walked out the door, and I remember I was sitting in the parking lot, and I went, ‘Well, he can be Pacey then. He’s got to be Pacey.’” Once Williamson met Van Der Beek, though, he realized the actor was a perfect fit. “He looked the part, he acted the part, he talked the part,” says Williamson. “And he was so intelligent, he was so smart. He didn’t look like a nerd but he was a nerd inside.”
Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions) was Williamson’s first choice to play Joey. “I really loved Selma until, of course, I got the infamous videotape from the basement of the Holmes family in Toledo, Ohio,” remembers the writer of Holmes’ last-minute audition. “And when that video showed up, it changed my whole life.” Adds Holmes: “I was still a teenager, and it was nice to read a script that felt like it expressed things that I was still trying to understand for myself. The experience was very overwhelming because I was brand new. It was my second job, and I didn’t even know really, like, where to look.”
Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up) was one of the actresses who auditioned for Jen. Steve Miner, who directed the pilot of Creek and Heigl’s 1994 film My Father the Hero, brought in the young star. Says Williamson, “She looked slightly older at that time. Even though she was younger, I just think she was more mature. She gave a great audition, I remember we were all sort of like, ‘Wow, she’s good.'”
But Williams ultimately landed the part after performing a largely silent scene between Jen and her dying grandfather. Reveals Williamson, “I’m a horror movie guy, so I recognized Michelle from Species. She was the baby Species monster. But she walked in and she came across as an angel.”
Dawson’s father was even a different actor in Creek‘s presentation pilot. John Wesley Shipp (The Flash) was brought in on the second episode and had to reshoot scenes for the premiere. “As I understood it, they didn’t want to make Gail’s affair an easy decision,” says Shipp. “When I tested, [the network] said, ‘I just don’t understand why Gail would cheat on this guy.’ Kevin said, ‘There are no easy answers on the creek.'”