Dawson’s Creek brought with its debut tons of highly topical themes and storylines that teenage viewers were not prepared for. In the first season alone, plots revolving around inappropriate student-teacher relationships, infidelity, and underage drinking immediately alarmed parents and critics alike.
Despite the racier themes, the overall tone of the show employed not just maturity in the handling of these situations but the characters themselves. Noted for his use of intelligent, witty dialogue and numerous pop culture references, creator Kevin Williamson brought a unique perspective to the typical teenage drama series. Despite how much some of us may have loathed some of its characters (looking at you, Dawson), we cannot deny the impact that the show had on its viewers.
Over the six-season run of the series, not only did the young cast get increased exposure and popularity but so did its numerous guest stars. In fact, many famous actors and actress of today got their early career start in the modest walls of the fiction Capeside, Massachusetts. With so many guest stars appearing on 128 episodes of the series, it is no wonder the most devoted fan may have missed or forgotten these stars once graced their screens on their favorite teen series.
Here are 17 Huge Stars You Forgot Were In Dawson's Creek.
17 Rachael Leigh Cook
Rachael Leigh Cook began her career in the 1995 film The Baby-Sitters Club, based on the popular book series of the same name. She continued additional small young adult roles until she made her big debut as the romantic lead in the teen romantic comedy She’s All That. Starring alongside Freddie Prinze Jr., Cook made a name for herself as the “girl next door” type.
The same year she found new fame on the big screen, she had also starred in three episodes of Dawson's Creek as the character Devon. During her brief time in Capeside, Dawson cast her to play Joey in his film Creek Daze. However, Joey disputed her casting and grew to dislike her. She even ended up posing nude in Joey’s art class, to her dismay.
Cook’s arc came to an end in the episode “A Perfect Wedding”, closing the chapter on the daring Devon.
16 Jonathan Lipnicki
The impact of the 1996 romantic comedy/drama Jerry McGuire still reverberates in pop culture to this day. Packed with unforgettable lines and scenes, almost everyone can recall their favorite parts of the movie. Also, the film introduced the world to lovable child actor Jonathan Lipnicki. Playing Ray Boyd in his film debut, audiences fell for his cute lines and adorable face.
After the success of the film, Lipnicki rode his wave of success to secure additional roles on both TV and film. On Dawson’s Creek, he took on the part of another precocious child, Buzz Thompson. Set to match wits with the ever sarcastic Pacey Witter, Lipnicki brought the same charm and lovable to his one-episode appearance. Fans everywhere delighted in seeing him onscreen again and enjoyed his brief role on the show.
15 Julie Bowen
The ridiculousness of the comedy Modern Family has made it one of the most popular sitcoms on TV today. The impact of their non-traditional family helps to set the show apart from other family-based comedies and helps connect with audiences on a different level. The most “traditional” version of a family is the Dunphy family. In her role as wife and mother Claire Dunphy, actress Julie Bowen has become a more prominent star with fans reveling in her neurotic yet comedic behavior in the role.
However, her acting past has taken her to some additional familial parts that fans may have forgotten about. In her role as Aunt Gwen in season 3 of Dawson’s Creek, she offers some sage advice to the kids when they visit her on their Spring Break. Though lasting only one episode, Gwen still managed to be impactful on the characters and their indecision in their feelings for one another.
14 Jane Lynch
Actress Jane Lynch has brought her hilarious comic expertise and talents to both the big screen and TV for over 29 years. From children’s programming including iCarly to the award-winning musical comedy Glee, Lynch has always brought a unique sense of humor to her roles. In 2001, Lynch was in high demand as she starred on nine different shows in one year.
Included in those shows was a one-time stop in the fictional town of Capeside. During her one-episode spot, Lynch played Mrs. Witter, mother to lead character, Pacey Witter.
In the episode “The Te of Pacey”, his family manages to ruin his 18th birthday party planned by Joey, whom Mrs. Witter continually refers to as Joanna. This character appearance still stands as one of the rare occasions when Mrs. Witter was actually depicted onscreen.
13 Jennifer Morrison
Fans of actress Jennifer Morrison have had the pleasure of watching her career develop tremendously since her role as Dr. Allison Cameron on the hit medical drama House. Gaining considerable attention for that portrayal, she later starred in the popular comedy How I Met Your Mother in a 13-episode arc.
However, her most significant role to date remains as the lead in the fantasy drama Once Upon a Time. Playing the role of Emma Swan, Morrison starred in over 130 episodes until her departure at the end of season 6. As we reflect on her success playing a lead in such a fan-favorite show, it is interesting to see compare her current success with her humbler start in acting.
Dedicated fans might have trouble recalling that back in the 2000s, Morrison once starred in two episodes of Dawson’s Creek as Melanie Shea Thompson, one of the many flings in the life of Pacey Witter starting in season 5. Such small beginning for such an impressive career.
12 Melissa McBride
No one can contest the global phenomenon that the zombie-themed series The Walking Dead franchise has become. From comic book beginning to the highly regarded tv series, the television world has not been the same since. Among its cast of talented actors and actresses, Melissa McBride stands as a fan favorite in the role of mousey housewife turned killer Carol Peletier. Her character development has been incredible during the series and has resulted in a devoted fan base for Carol.
In comparison to her current role, McBride’s one-episode appearance on Dawson’s Creek left little impact on the kids of Capeside. Though Dawson attempted to flirt with her and even kisses her at a bar, they two inevitably decide not to go home together. Although this brought an end to her character’s appearance in season 1, McBride made a second appearance as another character, Melanie, in the series finale.
11 Jensen Ackles
Since it began airing in 2005, Supernatural has gained a cult following. Viewers have been entranced by the fantastical adventures of the Winchester Brothers for years. However, the road to this show was paved with lengthy supporting roles for the lead actors involved, specifically Jensen Ackles (who plays Dean Winchester).
Before his 13-season run on Supernatural, Ackles had 20+ episode runs on both Dark Angel and Smallville. However, tucked in with the soap opera roles and short-lived series was a 12-episode part in Dawson’s Creek. Playing the role of C.J. Baxton, he made appearances throughout the final season as Jen’s not-so-faithful boyfriend. He even managed to get into a fight with Pacey during a No Doubt concert after he reveals he slept with Pacey’s girlfriend, Audrey.
By the conclusion of the series, C.J. was no longer in the picture, though there is a possibility he could be the father of Jen’s daughter.
10 Seth Rogen
Though better known now for his raunchy humor and hilarious movies such as Pineapple Express and Sausage Party, Seth RogEn had modest beginnings as an actor on teen shows. Making his acting debut in the highly underrated Freaks and Geeks, he later moved on to a lead role in another Judd Apatow sitcom, Undeclared.
After the show’s cancellation, Rogen then found his next acting role playing a character that would fit perfectly in his raunchy movies of today: Bob the stoner on Dawson’s Creek. Appearing in the season 6 for one episode, Bob accompanied Joey, Audrey, and Eddie on a trip to Los Angeles after Audrey randomly picked him up. This reunited former Freaks and Geeks co-stars Busy Phillips (Audrey) and Rogen.
Though this one-time guest role was a small bit part in his expansive career, audiences can reflect on the part as a peek into the character type we would see in Rogen’s future roles and movies.
9 Chad Michael Murray
Among the many teen dramas of the 2000s, One Tree Hill still stands as one of the more unique shows of its time. Based around a basketball-centric theme, its overall feel gave off a more masculine vibe that male viewers could connect with. Despite the seedier secrets of its past, One Tree Hill remains a favorite drama from that timeframe.
Interestingly, star Chad Michael Murray’s experience in the world of teen dramas did not begin with One Tree Hill. Not only had he completed an eleven-episode arc on Gilmore Girls but he had also won a recurring role on Dawson’s Creek a year later. His role of womanizer Charlie Todd manages to weasel his way into the hearts of not one, but two of the lead female characters: Jen and Joey.
While his relationship with Jen was purely physical, he later finds he has genuine feelings for Joey. However, their relationship (and Murray’s arc) concluded the season 5 episode “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”.
8 Tony Hale
Another actor known for his exaggerated comedic characters and style is Arrested Development alum Tony Hale. Since playing the neurotic Buster Bluth on the cult show, he has gone on to additional comedy series including Drunk History and his most recent role on Veep. However, in between the laughs and slapstick comedy, Hale has taken several serious roles, like a small role in ER and two parts in the Law & Order television franchise.
Included in his work of hard-hitting, somber parts included a one-episode appearance on Dawson’s Creek as Dr. Bronin. In the episode “A Winter's Tale,” Bronin delivered that heartbreaking news to Dawson that Mr. Brooks had to be taken off life support. His appearance was also punctuated with the eloquently delivered line "Dawson, maybe you want to call your parents."
Okay, so it may not be one of Hale’s more memorable roles, but it is certainly intriguing to see the comedic actor take on such serious roles.
7 Hilarie Burton
One Tree Hill alum Hilarie Burton found her start in a very different part of the teen TV world. Beginning her television career as a co-host on MTV’s Total Request Live, she departed the show after spending four years on the program. Moving into the world of serialized television, she ventured into the world of acting still under the teen TV umbrella. However, her first role in this new world still centered around her VJ beginnings.
On Dawson’s Creek, Burton played VJ Hilarie in the season 5 episode “100 Light Years from Home”. Incidentally, Burton shared the screen with her future One Tree Hill co-star Chad Michael Murray while he played the recurring role of Charlie Todd. The two even shared a few entertaining scenes together in the episode.
Who knew these humble beginnings together would later lead to two of the most popular roles of their career? Goes to show how small the world of teen drama can be.
6 Ali Larter
Actress Ali Larter has had roles in some of the most iconic TV and movie series ever throughout her acting career. Although she gained attention as the whipped cream bikini-clad cheerleader in Varsity Blues, her stardom skyrocketed while portraying Claire Redfield in the Resident Evil movies. In TV, her roles in Heroes and Pitch have cemented her stardom everywhere. However, early in her career, Larter was just another teenager attending Capeside High in the 1990s.
She played Kristy Livingstone in season 2 of Dawson’s Creek and became fast friends with newcomer Andie McPhee. However, this was Larter’s only appearance as the character, though Kristy appeared in later seasons. The part was recast with actress Nicole Steinwedell portraying her in season 6 of the series. Considering her career path since then, Larter made out just fine without a return the series.
5 Sasha Alexander
Long before her roles on Rizzoli & Isles, Shameless, and NCIS, actress Sasha Alexander lived in the drama-filled city limits of Capeside. Although she had a lead role in the series Wasteland before this part, the role of Gretchen Witter in 2000 had a significant impact on her career and popularity.
In 20 episodes of season 4 of the series, Gretchen became an important love interest for Dawson. Though she started as just a friendly shoulder for him to cry on, he eventually developed feelings for her. Despite their age difference, they decides to pursue a relationship but found it too hard to continue.
Considering their different paths in life and Dawson’s unyielding feelings for Joey, they eventually called it quits (because what is a teen drama without numerous heartbreaks?). She made her final appearance in the episode “Separation Anxiety”.
4 Michael Pitt
Actor Michael Pitt has found massive success in acting, taking on the role of up-and-coming gangster James "Jimmy" Darmody in the period crime drama Boardwalk Empire. Poised in slick suits, and delivering outstanding performances, Pitt found new fame in the HBO drama which included numerous acting award nominations and awards.
Though his performance as Jimmy Darmody will remain in the minds of Boardwalk Empire fans for years to come, keen Dawson’s Creek fans will remember Pitt in a more passive role on the show. For 15 episodes, Pitt played the saccharine freshman quarterback Henry Parker. Struck with an unending crush on Jen, he continuously poured his emotions out to her to try to win her heart. His role lasted through the majority of season 3, and he continued as a love interest for Jen until he made his departure from Capeside by season’s end.
3 Bryce Johnson
Known for playing the loathsome Detective Darren Wilden on the series Pretty Little Liars, actor Bryce Johnson has also found success in other teen-oriented shows. Aside from the Freeform series, Johnson has also had roles as a lead on Popular. After its conclusion, Johnson continued acting in numerous small roles, including a guest appearance on Gilmore Girls. In the same year at this appearance, he moved on to Dawson’s Creek to play another bit part: Library guy.
In one of the rare episodes that didn’t include lead James Van Der Beek, "Four Scary Stories" had an urban legend theme. As the gang recalled tales of some of their scariest experiences, Joey shared an experience where she was attacked on Halloween in the library and the tale included Johnson’s strange but brief appearance. Not the most riveting of character appearances, but certainly an entertaining one.
2 Pauley Perrette
Long-standing fans of the police procedural drama NCIS were devastated to find out that Pauley Perrette would be leaving the show. Appearing as a series regular for over 300+ episodes, Perrette has made a significant impact as the goth forensic scientist Abby Sciuto. Known for her two long ponytails and edgy attire, the character has become a recognizable figure in the world of pop culture. However, years before Perrette played the iconic role, she guest starred in much more subdued attire on Dawson’s Creek.
Cast in the role of Dr. Rachel Weir, she can be seen with very blonde 2000-styled hair and suits. She served as the therapist for Dawson while he was living in Boston. Fans of NCIS might be quite taken aback seeing their edgy favorite character in such a vanilla role, but it will only make them more appreciative of how she has grown as an actress. She will be sorely missed on NCIS.
1 Scott Foley
While many actors struggle to find a long-running television series during their career, actor Scott Foley had the privilege of being involved in three shows so far. Felicity fans will recognize him as the Noel Crane, who starred in 84 episodes of that series. Later, in 2006, Foley starred in 69 episodes of the CBS drama The Unit until the series ended in after season 4. Most recently, he plays Jack Ballard on the political thriller Scandal. Foley has even been nominated for a People’s Choice Award for “Favorite Dramatic TV Actor."
With so many accomplishments under his belt, we wonder if Foley ever reminiscences on his early days where his five-episode arc on Dawson's Creek was one of his longest roles early in his career. In his portrayal of Cliff Elliot in season 1, Foley managed to get under Dawson’s skin as he expressed interest in Jen. Sadly, his super-jock persona turned out to be too dull for her and she ended things with him.
Did we miss any future stars who appeared on Dawson's Creek? Let us know in the comments!