The back-story: I never had David Downs as a professor while I attended Northwestern University, but the one time we shared a room together, I instantly recognized him. We were at the 2006 Stage and Screen Writers Panel, where successful alumni come back to give advice to undergrads. We were both there to see Greg Berlanti, a writer and executive producer for Dawson’s Creek. As I chatted with both of them, it became clear where I knew Professor Downs from–Dawson’s Creek episodes! (Just for fun: here are two photos from that day.)
Downs starred in five episodes as Mr. Kasdan, a teacher at Capeside High. He also appeared in five episodes of Everwood, another show by Berlanti, and one of Scrubs (Downs taught both Berlanti and Zach Braff). I recently interviewed him about his role on Dawson’s Creek, as well as his knowledge about the television and acting industries in general. I hope you’ll agree that he provides a unique perspective.
TeenDramaWhore: What classes do you teach at Northwestern? What are the biggest lessons about the entertainment industry you want students to take away from them?
David Downs: I’m retired. I taught the three-year acting course at NU. Truly, the entertainment industry never entered into the classwork. I was teaching acting. For theatre. We worked on great drama from the Greeks to the present.
TDW: You’ve been the professor for well-known Hollywood players such as Greg Berlanti and Zach Braff. You even got a special thanks in Garden State. Are you able to easily identify students with bright futures like theirs?
Downs: Believe it or not, I never spent any energy trying to discern who might make a celebrity path in the entertainment industry. I was always focused on acting, on learning what great drama and great theatre had to teach students–whether or not those students pursued performance in their post-class lives.
TDW: Dawson’s Creek fans will recognize you from the show as Mr. Kasdan, a teacher at Capeside High. How did that work, considering Northwestern is in Chicago and DC filmed in Wilmington? Did you audition for the role, or did it stem from a connection you had?
Downs: In the summer of 2001, Greg Berlanti invited me to stay with him in LA to write a play. One evening he looked up from a script he was working on and he said, “Wanna be in Dawson’s Creek?” The studio saw the episode and decided to include me in other episodes that season. During the year, I flew to Wilmington from Evanston (Illinois) for a few days each time I had an episode. It was a great experience.
TDW: In your role, you had a few memorable scenes with Joshua Jackson (Pacey) and Katie Holmes (Joey). Do you recall what they were like? Did you forsee their careers exploding (especially of late) the way they have?
Downs: Katie was the first of the regulars whom I met. I went into the make-up and hair trailer and there she was. She was lovely and gracious and unassuming and welcoming. Joshua was a great jokester and yet was always professional when the camera was rolling. I also loved scenes with Michelle Williams [Jen]. These were hard-working young people thrown quickly into celebrity. I think filming in Wilmington helped to keep them sane and grounded.
TDW: Are you still in touch with any of the cast?
Downs: No. but a recent alum, Meghan Markle, was just cast as a new regular for the upcoming season of Fringe. I gave her a photo taken of me and Joshua in 2001. It would be fun to visit with him and her sometime.
TDW: Teen dramas have come a long way since the Dawson’s Creek era. Are you familiar with the newer shows like Gossip Girl and the 90210 remake? Do you see changes in the genre?
Downs: Aha. I haven’t seen any of GG or 90210.
TDW: Will we catch you on-screen again any time soon?
Downs: Hah! I always get email from friends who catch me on a rerun of Scrubs or Grey’s Anatomy. I don’t audition but every once in a while I’ll get that call, Wanna be on my show? and I always say yes. So you never know.
Don’t forget–come back this Sunday for another exclusive interview!