"I think I got really burnt out and just did not enjoy [acting] for a little while," he told E! News from inside Mercy Hospital's hangout, Delaney's Pub, during a set visit last month. "I think time [was the turning point]...just time to kind of recharge and grow up a little bit. Now I'm having great fun."
And unlike the Beek's more recent television appearances—he even admits he just started saying "yes, if somebody offered me something"—this fun new gig on Mercy is going to last a while.
James says he's going to be doctoring for at least 8 to 10 episodes, and maybe more.
But for those of you as nostalgic for Creek days as we are, be prepared for Dr. Joe Briggs. Let's just say what Dawson lacked, Briggs brings tenfold.
"He might be a womanizer, he has dark secrets possibly, he might have a gambling addiction," James teased. "He's somebody who is kind of self-righteous, and he's not at all precious with anybody else's feelings. He's got a goal; he goes for it, and he doesn't really care who he upsets. He's really playful in a way that almost borders nasty."
He admits he was drawn to Briggs because he was fascinated by a specific question about his personality: "He's somebody who just considers himself the smartest guy in the room and is right 90 percent of the time. So what happens in that extra 10 percent, when he's not right? What happens then?"
But that extra 10 percent, says Van Der Beek, doesn't necessarily mean we'll be seeing him clash with Taylor Schilling's tough-as-nails Veronica.
"Maybe it's the universe putting me in my place," he said. "You're kinda dealing with life and death here."
After considerable pleading on our part, James offered us just this one final, juicy taste of what might be part of Briggs' big secret:
"There's a reason he's at Mercy Hospital. I think he came from some place that he considers maybe a little bit more upper-crust than that. So there's a reason he ended up there, and I don't think it's necessarily for a promotion."
Sounds like his hell may hath Mercy. See for yourself starting tonight at 8 on NBC!
And check out who else is landing roles in your fave TV shows in our Casting Couch gallery.