James Van Der Beek’s sly rein­ven­tion con­tin­ues in Di­plo

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - JOE COSCARELLI New York Times News Ser­vice

It turns out that James Van Der Beek is funny.

De­fined for years by his ti­tle role as the earnest Every­boy in the teen drama “Daw­son’s Creek,” Van Der Beek, 40, man­aged a sly rein­ven­tion this decade by play­ing an ex­ag­ger­ated ver­sion of him­self on the ABC sit­com “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apart­ment 23.”

Ex­per­i­ment­ing in “that meta space,” as he calls it, pre­pared Van Der Beek for his un­likely — and de­light­fully niche — role as the un­der­ground DJ-turned-pop macher Di­plo in Vice­land’s first scripted se­ries, “What Would Di­plo Do?”, a satir­i­cal (and of­ten flat-out mean) look at the life of an ir­ra­tionally con­fi­dent EDM star.

“In our lofti­est am­bi­tions, we were some­where be­tween ‘Louie’ and ‘Spinal Tap,’” said Van Der Beek, who is also writ­ing, pro­duc­ing and serv­ing as showrun­ner for the com­edy, which be­gins on Aug. 3. (Di­plo, born Thomas Wes­ley Pentz and known to friends as Wes, is an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.)

Ini­tially con­ceived last year as a three-minute on­line short, the gag grew in scope at the be­hest of Nick Wei­den­feld, Vice­land’s pres­i­dent of pro­gram­ming, who raised the pos­si­bil­ity of a full se­ries.

“That night I went back to my pool house, poured some wine, started lis­ten­ing to Di­plo, and it just hit me,” Van Der Beek said, not­ing the comedic po­ten­tial of a “mu­si­cal ge­nius” with real-word blind spots. “This is ‘EDM. Je­sus sucks at life.’”

On the phone from L.A., the ac­tor was thought­ful on silly sub­jects, seem­ing to ap­proach the project as if he were a kind of cul­tural an­thro­pol­o­gist. These are edited ex­cerpts from the con­ver­sa­tion.

Q: How did you and Di­plo first meet?

A: I heard him on NPR years ago talk­ing about us­ing Latin beats and reg­gae­ton. I had him flagged in my head as some­body to watch. Then last sum­mer, Bran­don Der­mer, this mu­sic video di­rec­tor, was tasked with com­ing up with a promo for the Mad De­cent Block Party tour. “What if James played Wes, but in a Dol­lar Shave Club-type vibe?” I look enough like him to be a stunt dou­ble from far away. With a dad hat and mous­tache, it works.

Q: How could you be sure that this was an idea worth pur­su­ing as op­posed to some­thing that just sounds funny when you’re stoned?

A: Part of it was the miles in the sad­dle I had play­ing my­self on TV. When I did that, it was like, “OK, this could eas­ily be a one-off joke that gets re­ally stale re­ally quick.” What you have to do is de­velop a fully fleshed-out char­ac­ter. You have to come up with a rea­son to want to fol­low this per­son, to want to stay with them and be in their world.

Q: What is it that you like about play­ing with re­al­ity? Has it been help­ful in get­ting out of the Daw­son pi­geon­hole?

A: Any time you ex­pe­ri­ence suc­cesses as an ac­tor, that be­comes part of the nar­ra­tive that an au­di­ence brings to your next project. I kind of wish we lived in that hal­cyon era of ac­tors dis­ap­pear­ing into ev­ery role, but that’s just not the case any more. To try to run away from it is just not ef­fec­tive. So part of the meta thing was just run­ning to­ward it and play­ing with it — and then sub­vert­ing it.

Q: What was your process like for get­ting into char­ac­ter?

A: Be­ing around him was the big­gest thing. An impression is more about en­ergy than any­thing else. His Ma­jor Lazer show on Beats 1, I lis­tened to that ev­ery week just be­cause I love the mu­sic. It’s funny — as I start talk­ing about him, I start talk­ing like him. It’s weird to go say mu­sic in­stead of mu­sic.

Q: What is it about this mo­ment of fes­ti­val EDM that makes it so ripe for satire?

A: Wes speaks to this bet­ter than I do, just in terms of how ridicu­lous it is to take your­self too se­ri­ously when you stand in front of peo­ple press­ing but­tons. I’ve heard him say, “We’re all so [ex­ple­tive] cheesy.” But there are very few places in life where ev­ery­body comes to­gether in one spot to ex­pe­ri­ence the same thing. There’s a line [in one episode] where Di­plo says, “Are we just posers push­ing but­tons?” And Calvin Har­ris [played by Tom Stour­ton] says, “No, we’re shamanic he­roes of­fer­ing glimpses of en­light­en­ment through mu­sic.” Which we kind of play off as a joke, but in a way, I think both sides are true.

Q: As Di­plo, you say “fam” a lot. Did you learn any other ofthe-mo­ment slang for this role?

A: You know what’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing? There’s this fear of be­ing “ba­sic,” which seems to mo­ti­vate a lot. Peo­ple live in mor­tal fear of be­ing ba­sic! Maybe it makes me ba­sic that I’m not.


James Van Der Beek plays the un­der­ground D.J.-turned-pop macher Di­plo in Vice­land’s first scripted se­ries, "What Would Di­plo Do?"

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