"I didn't know what to do with fame. I didn't know what to do with recognizability," Van Der Beek said.
Van Der Beek opened up in an interview with "Good Morning America" about different moments in his life that taught him how to relax and enjoy the ride that came with fame and success.
Your weirdness will be your greatest superpower
As a kid, James Van Der Beek says he was very shy.
"I never wanted to be an actor as a kid. I wanted to be an athlete," he said.
It wasn't until he was 13 or 14 years old that Van Der Beek fell in love with acting. Despite his shy personality, Van Der Beek came to realize how much the stage was a safe space, allowing him to be anyone he wanted.
Growing up, he felt like "a weird kid" because his ideas and perspectives on things in life were always different compared to those around him. Looking back, Van Der Beek says his weirdness was like a superpower, giving him the opportunity to stand out and be different in his own way.
Choices are all you got
As Van Der Beek immersed himself more in acting, he knew he couldn't let go.
At 17, he starred in a production of "Shenandoah" at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. He calls his time performing in the production "the best summer of my life," because he was getting paid for something he loved doing.
"It was a big triumph to book that production because I had to sing. I had to dance a little bit," he said.
During his summer acting in "Shenandoah," Van Der Beek booked his first feature film, "Angus." The comedy was released in 1995 and although it wasn't a huge box office hit, Van Der Beek says it was totally OK. He continued to follow his heart and making choices that would one day help him shine.
"You just keep doing what you're doing," he said. "Trust your instincts."
Relax and enjoy the ride
Going with his gut was definitely the right move. Years later, Van Der Beek was cast in the wildly popular TV show "Dawson's Creek" as the lead character, Dawson Leery.
Van Der Beek calls that the craziest point in his life.
"My reaction to fame was to run away from it," he said adding he didn't know what to do with his fame and success.
The fame and attention that came along with starring as a lead character in a teen drama was intimidating and more than he could handle. Through the years, he told himself to relax, be grateful and enjoy every moment more.
"Just recognize that you're able to make people very happy by doing something very simple," he said.
Find a mentor who pushes you
"It was a movie I really, really cared about. It was a role I really had to fight for," he said.
The opportunity to work with Voight, an Oscar-winner, was one he would never forget. He considered him a mentor who was always there for him.
During filming of a scene in which Mox tells off Voight's character, coach Bud Kilmer, Van Der Beek felt his monologue was coming off as "too speechy."
While the cameras were rolling and the scene was still in action, Voight tried closing the door. In the heat of the scene, Van Der Beek immediately slammed his fist to prevent the door from closing. The director then yelled cut!
"John turns to me and goes, ‘That was good, do that,'" he said.
Van Der Beek later realized that Voight was giving him direction to avoid the scene coming off too much like a speech.
"That's the kind of actor I want to be," he said, "who not only knows what he's supposed to do, but can look around and help out everybody and make the whole production better."
Kids give you a license to be crazy
There's no question that Van Der Beek's family is his crew.
After years of being center stage for various acting roles, his role as father has given him an opportunity to look at the world differently. He says when he was younger, his thinking didn't extend far beyond his own needs. Van Der Beek says his favorite thing about his kids is how weird he can be with them.
Looking back, it's something he often felt he never had permission to be as a kid.
"But then you have kids, especially daughters, and you start looking at the world from a whole different perspective, and things that you never thought about before," he said.