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All the mysteries of the universe, all the answers to life's questions can be found in a Spielberg film
—Dawson Leery[src]

Dawson Leery is the title character on Dawson's Creek. He is portrayed by James Van Der Beek.


Dawson is a starry-eyed dreamer, who idolizes the works of Steven Spielberg and aims to become a director himself. To that end, he enlists his childhood friends, Joey and Pacey, to star in his productions. His teen life is catapulted into romance when he re-meets Jen Lindley, the next door neighbour's granddaughter and they find themselves falling for each other. Dawson sees his life as a script with him as the star in a narrative he can control, which tears him up whenever life provides something unexpected. Through his parents marital woes and eventual divorce, Dawson slowly learns to cope with reality and understand the trials his friends must endure and how he can support them.




Dawson and Joey.

Dawson and Joey have been best friends since childhood and their relationship is changing as they're starting their sophomore year of high school. Allergic to change he cannot control, Dawson struggles with his growing romantic feelings for his best friend and is shocked when he discovers his mother's affair with her colleague. Amidst the confusion, Dawson finds himself drawn to his new next-door neighbour, Jen Lindley, but is surprised yet again when he finds she is not who he has imagined her to be. Dawson tries as best he knows from the works of Spielberg and classic films to woo Jen and be a good boyfriend, but ends up floundering and lashing out when he feels insecure and overwhelmed in the face of Jen's vast life experience and the problems she face courtesy of her negligent parents and unsupportive grandmother.


Dawson and Jen's double date.

At a Saturday detention, in a game of truth or dare, Dawson shares his first kiss with Joey, although he doesn't admit that something is romantic between them.[1] When Jen breaks up with a nonplussed Dawson he's hurt and immediately plots to win Jen back somehow, all the while his friendship with Joey is still complicated, although Dawson refuses to deal with the reality of it. He goes on a double date with Jen and her date, which ends pretty disastrously and tries to make amends by agreeing to let Cliff bring Jen on their second date to his Friday the 13th séance.[2] Despite this, Jen and Dawson talk in his room and they almost kiss, as Dawson admits to Jen that he wanted a chance for he to compare and realize that she still loves him. Jen decides it's best if they don't kiss and leaves.


Pageant interviews

When Dawson's mom asks him to conduct interviews for a Capeside beauty pageant, and Dawson witnesses the entire competition, he finally realizes how he feels about Joey when he sees her baring her soul for all of Capeside when she performs a song about her unrequited feelings for him.[3] Dawson talks to her and tries to start something, but is shut down as Joey doubts he really sees her for who she is. Dawson is more confused than ever and struggles to really commit to this change in his life. When Joey has a chance to study in France, Dawson kisses her.[4]


They start dating, but Dawson soon finds that he doesn't know how to adapt to their relationship being something new and different. He is also bemused by Jen, who wants him back and tries to seduce him during a study session, but he harshly rejects her. Joey pulls away from Dawson and he is heartbroken when he learns that she and Jack kissed. They say they love each other for the first time and Joey breaks up with him. Devastated, Dawson doesn't want any relationship with Joey, who suffers under this and he agrees to give her space, while feeling incredibly threatened by her budding romance with the artistic dreamer, Jack. To distract himself Dawson throws himself into writing a script and he wins the Boston Film Festival Junior Division cash prize of $2500 to finance his next project.


Shooting Dawson's film.

As Joey doesn't feel they should work together, Dawson suddenly wakes up to how Jen is doing when she invites him to a party and he sees her getting plastered. Dawson tries to reach a clearly sad Jen and supports her, trying to get her to see how amazing she is. Dawson asks her to produce his next film and Jen agrees to work with him, although the film is a thinly veiled retelling of the love triangle between herself, Dawson and Joey. It draws Jen and Dawson closer, however, as they finally have a breath to settle their break-up. With Dawson on the rebound, his time spent with Jen turns romantic as she shows him how to have fun and let loose, leading to him kissing her. Although Jen tells Dawson she likes the friendship they've come to, there's still feelings and as they continue work on Dawson's film he finds himself drawn to Jen and they hook up, almost sleeping together.


Dawson screens his film for Ms. Kennedy.

Their friendship survives their dalliance and they continue working together, while Dawson still yearns for Joey. When Jack is harassed in school, Dawson is there for Joey and tries to help her and Joey seeks out Dawson for comfort when Jack has told her that he's gay. On his 16th birthday, Dawson expresses frustration that, while his friends all seem to be growing as people, he's at a standstill in his life and wants to take action — specifically win Joey back. When she declines, he gets drunk with Andie at a blues club to distract himself from how sad he is and ends up drunkenly lash out at all his friends (except Andie).


Dawson and Joey get back together.

When a new film teacher arrives at Capeside High she agrees to watch Dawson's film. When she trashes it, Dawson is disillusioned, especially as her sees her with his father, who starts a relationship with her much to Dawson's chagrin. When Dawson learns from Jack that Joey's father's been paroled, he tries his best to talk with Joey and be there for her. Following advice from Jack, Dawson presses Joey on opening up about her fears so he can help her and she is grateful to him. They share a kiss and officially reunite.[5]


Dawson saves Joey's Dad.

Dawson continues to support Joey as Abby Morgan's accidental death stirs up unresolved feelings about her mother's death.[6] On their 1-month anniversary, Dawson takes Joey out to a fancy French restaurant, which turns sour when his reservation has been merged with his father's and they're forced to dine with Dawson's film teacher on a date with Mitch. Dawson feels better as Jen shows up with his mother and he learns that Jen and Joey are conspiring to reunite his parents. All the same, an essay Dawson turns into a film assignment has him reveal to Joey that he's scared she'll leave him again — that she doesn't feel that he's it for her. Although she tells him he is, Dawson faces a terrible choice when he discovers that Joey's dad is dealing again. His parents support him through the situation, but Joey is distraught and lashes out at Dawson, breaking up with him and telling him she doesn't want to see him ever again. Dawson's heartbroken and faces his mother moving to Philadelphia as well, which prompts him to leave Capeside and intern at Gale's new job for the summer.



Dawson meets Eve

After a summer spent with his mom in Philadelphia, Dawson returns to Capeside still reeling from his split with Joey. On the bus ride home, he meets Eve, a mysterious, blonde femme fatale who Dawson is drawn to.[7] Eve convinces Dawson to go for a ride in his dad's boat and they wreck it, costing him $3,000 to repair the damage to the dock he crashed into. Pacey convinces Dawson to throw a stripper party at his parents' house to earn the money to pay for the repairs. Although they successfully gather enough money, Mitch catches everyone leaving the house and Dawson knows he's in trouble. In the meantime, Dawson finds Eve snooping around in Grams's house one night. He later discovers an old photograph of a blonde lady in the house-boat that Eve has been living in, which he takes. Doug informs Dawson that the boat belongs to an elderly couple. [[File:308dawsonhelen.png|alt=|left|thumb|199x199px|Dawson talks to Helen Lindley.

When Eve seeks out for the photo he insists that Eve tell the truth and she reveals that she was adopted and that the woman in the picture is her biological mother, for whom Eve is searching. While helping Grams at her house, Dawson notices the same woman in a picture sitting on a nightstand. He asks who the woman is and Grams reveals that it's her daughter, Helen, Jen's mother. When Jen's mother visits her mother and her daughter at Thanksgiving,[8] Dawson confronts Mrs. Lindley about her past, leading her to tell Jen the truth.

When Dawson, Pacey and Joey join Jack and his ex-girlfriend Kate at a party hosted by Matt Caufield, the entire group, except Joey, gets drunk. Dawson, fighting to have a life separate from Joey's, nearly kisses Kate. After Doug breaks up the party and the gang sits in jail, Dawson tells Joey that she cannot be his keeper and Jack confesses to Kate that he's gay.[9] Meanwhile, Mitch turns from friend to parent, as a result of having to bail his son out of jail, and enlists Dawson to help out at his mother's new restaurant. After meeting Nikki, a rival film-maker, Dawson realizes that he has let his desire to become a director overtake his life, and he decides to give it up for a period of time.


Dawson finds out about Joey and Pacey

He takes down all the posters in his room, and tries to cultivate other interests. During this tumultuous time, he realizes that the only thing in his life that has ever made sense is Joey, and determines to win her back. Little does he know, however, that Joey and Pacey have been growing closer and eventually embark on a secret romance. When he discovers their relationship,[10] Dawson reacts with anger, and cuts Pacey out of his life. He is more determined than ever to win Joey back. Joey and Dawson go together to the Prom, but when Dawson sees Joey sharing a dance with Pacey, he is enraged and demands Joey choose. Eventually he realizes that Joey wants to be with Pacey, and gives her his blessing. She leaves him on the pier, sobbing.[11]



Dawson takes up photography during his summer with Andie, Jen and Jack

After spending the summer recovering from heartache, in the company of Andie, Jen and Jack, Dawson is confronted with the idea of Pacey and Joey as a couple. After saving Pacey and Jen from a storm at sea,[12] Dawson is forced to white wash a fence for old-time film director A.I. Brooks, as punishment for putting a hole in his boat whom Dawson was forced to take to rescue Pacey and Jen during a storm at sea. Eventually, Mr. Brooks warms to Dawson and lets him film a documentary on him when he tells Dawson that he is dying of cancer. Dawson must make a life-or-death decision about Mr. Brooks when he's admitted to the hospital in a coma involving his terminal illness and has requested that Dawson be the one to take him off life support. Dawson chooses to let him go.[13]


Dawson and Gretchen

During this season, Dawson strikes up a romance with Gretchen, Pacey's 21-year-old sister, who has returned to Capeside to take a break from college, or so everyone thinks, but she later reveals that she is there to recuperate from a miscarriage that took place during her previous semester. During the Leery Christmas Party,[14] Dawson and Gretchen share a kiss, which ignites old feelings from his pre-teen years when he had a crush on her. After his sister Lily's birth in May 2001,[15] Dawson and Gretchen part ways and she returns to college, and he graduates from high school and heads off to USC to pursue his dream of becoming a film maker.



After graduating, he studied film at USC and he took an internship at a Hollywood film studio and saw that the business was different than he expected. On his first day at the film studio he clashed with the director, Todd Carr, and told him that he was lucky to be in the business but he was making bad movies, and was promptly was fired. He soon dropped out of film school and moved to Boston to be with his friends and to be with Joey. Before Dawson can even get his parents approval for moving to Boston his father Mitch Leery is tragically killed in a car accident. This changes everything for Dawson. At first he blames himself but then he goes on to blame Joey and that puts all romantic possibilities for them out of the picture.

Instead Dawson reunites with his old girlfriend, Jen Lindley. During their trip to the Hookset Film Festival in New Hampshire, Dawson loses his virginity to Jen. It is at this festival that Dawson wins first prize for his documentary about A.I. Brooks. There, Dawson meets Oliver Chirchick, an aspiring film director from Boston Bay College who fancies himself the best in the business. After being asked to read his script, Dawson agrees to direct Oliver's first major film. He casts Joey's bubbly roommate Audrey Liddell as the female lead, and Oliver casts himself as heartbreaker, Gage. After several flubbed lines and mistakes, Dawson concludes that Oliver is not the right person for the role. He then asks Jen to bring in her cheating ex-boyfriend, Charlie Todd, to play the part. Charlie agrees when Jen tells him that he gets "to make out with a really hot girl."

In the meantime, while Dawson and Oliver journey to New Jersey for a meeting with a film agent, the rest of the gang takes to the beaches of Florida for spring break; Dawson later discovers that Joey embarks on a spring fling with Charlie Todd. Following his heart, Dawson hijacks the car with Oliver and drives down to Florida to tell Joey that he loves her. To Dawson's disappointment, Pacey tells him that Joey is with Charlie. When their film is finished, Dawson learns that Oliver set up to have the film screened by cast, crew and friends. When Dawson finally agrees, he discovers that Oliver also invited a film critic, Amy Lloyd, who writes for The Boston Weekly. Dawson, not knowing who she is, stumbles upon Amy in the midst of a nasty break-up and tells her that she is a "sentimental drama queen with really crappy taste in movies." Angry, Amy leaves, unwilling to review the movie. In order to get her back to the auditorium, Dawson makes out with Amy at a local coffee shop. After a misunderstanding with Joey, Dawson heads to the airport to fly to L.A and runs into Todd Carr, the director that fired him. Todd tells him that he thought about what Dawson's speech, and if he was in Hollywood he should give him a call. Joey confronts him about the way things ended between them just days prior. The two kiss goodbye and Dawson departs for California.


Dawson has been working with Todd Carr over the summer and has not been in contact with Joey once. He returns home to surprise Joey for her birthday and they sleep together. The next morning Dawson receives a call from his girlfriend in L.A. eventually leading him and Joey to fight at her birthday party as she didn't know he had a girlfriend. Dawson returns to California.

He is working on a Horror movie film with Todd and is surprised to find out that the actress he hired is Natasha, his girlfriend he had dumped for Joey; she is less than pleased to see him. In the meantime, when Joey shows up to deliver food to the movie set at which Dawson works, Natasha, drunk and angry and figuring out that Joey is the one Dawson slept with, explodes on Joey and locks herself in her trailer, demanding that Dawson be fired. Todd begrudgingly fires Dawson as the two have become close in the business. Realizing she made a mistake, Natasha helps Dawson get his job back.

Dawson pays a visit to Audrey in rehab, earning her dish duty for the night, after stalking one-time film director Toni Stark. He returns to L.A. only to discover that Todd, his new mentor and friend, is in disagreements with the film company that is paying him to make the movie, "Wicked Dead". While Todd quickly decides to discard Natasha from the leading role when he is threatened by the producer, Dawson convinces him otherwise and Natasha keeps her job. In the Halloween episode Todd and Natasha plan an elaborate prank and convince Dawson that the studio is haunted and lead Dawson to believe that they are having a fling. Dawson catches Todd and Natasha kissing at the Halloween party and quits but soon realizes that he was set up. Shortly after, Dawson and Natasha start dating. After realizing they have tickets for the wrong night of a No Doubt Concert in Worcester, Natasha uses her "assets" to get herself and Dawson admittance into the venue. When this fails, Dawson shows off his newly-won $600, hoping someone will trade tickets with him. However, this only attracts an on-duty police officer who takes the duo to a nearby station. They are let go with a warning from the authorities.

Todd hires famous actor, Max Winter, to be in the film as a romantic interest for Natasha and they seem to have great chemistry on screen. Dawson is shattered when he accidentally overhears Natasha telling Max that she is single and Dawson is just a PA. Dawson asks for advice from Todd but he just tells him to sweep it under the rug, and that Natasha will end their relationship completely if he confronts her. Dawson brings Natasha and Todd to Capeside for Christmas. Knowing what she said to Max, Dawson questions Natasha's intentions, to which she becomes angry and says that she cheated on him and once filming was over, they would be too. Realizing that he's not in love with Natasha, they decide to break up. When he returns to Hollywood with Todd and they wrap the movie, it is revealed by the studio that they need to do reshoots. Todd gets offended, tell them off and leaves and Dawson is offered the job of reshooting. Dawson initially turns it down but Todd tells him that there's nothing wrong with benefiting from being in the right place at the right time, so Dawson accepts the job and is grateful to Todd.

Meanwhile, Dawson's relationship with Pacey is better than it has been since the triangle began in the third season. Trusting Pacey to make his film savings grow, Dawson puts all the money he earned into a stock Pacey recommends. However, the stock falls through and both Dawson and Pacey are left with nothing. As a result, the two, once again, vow to no longer be friends. Joey, who is always caught in the middle, tries her best to reunite her friends. Pacey gives Dawson all the money he'd collected (but not all that was owed). Dawson concedes that there may be hope for the two of them.

Dawson starts to film his own movie, which is based on his life. He is pleasantly surprised when Todd shows up and helps him with his movie. He has Audrey playing the role of Ms. Jacobs, Harley as Joey and her boyfriend Patrick as the girl-crazed 15-year-old Pacey, Dawson, with Joey's and Todd's help, begins filming his life story, adapted for the big screen.

May 2000[]

a May 2000 article on capesidehighschool.com written by dawson


The fact that it is already summer again is almost inconceivable to me. It seems like yesterday that my world collapsed when Joey told me she never wanted to speak to me again, and I took solace in the refuge of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where my mom was living at the time. Now as summer approaches again, I think of how much has changed.

Last summer I embarked upon a journey to broaden my media experiences. I felt that journalism was just a few short steps away from filmmaking, which at the time I was sure was my predestined path. Now I'm not sure of anything. I still love filmmaking… or would, I guess, if that were what I was doing. I still love Joey. I think I've realized that over the course of this year I've made some serious, fatal mistakes. But I'm trying to rectify them before it's too late. Maybe I have Joey back now…maybe I'll go back to filmmaking. But everything is so uncertain and I can't even tell what she wants anymore… And I shouldn't even be writing this because she's going to yell at me for dissecting our relationship in front of the entire world, as usual.

But back to summer. Last summer I met a whole new cast of characters who opened me up to a plethora of new experiences - some good and some bad. I nearly lost my virginity, but didn't. I nearly lost my cousin at a Tori Amos concert…but didn't. When it came down to it the summer wasn't altogether unlike my general existence… a series of near misses.

But the big city did open my eyes. It made me realize how much of my life had been one big "never quite happened" and my desire to change that consumed me. I became involved with a mystery girl…and to this day I still don't know exactly what to make of her. I took down my Spielberg pictures, I ended up in jail after a wild party. I thought I was discovering myself. But when I turned around I could still only see myself.

I have no earthly idea what I'm doing with myself this summer. See, the old Dawson would have applied for every marginally film-related internship in the New England vicinity, called the Boston and Providence Film commissions, and in my spare time would have written a script and started production. But the new Dawson didn't do a single thing this year and now he's paying for it. And it's fitting… my summer, my future with Joey, my career… all one big tabula rasa. A blank slate. And who knows what will end up filling it?


1998 The Sea Creature From The Deep Joey Potter
Pacey Witter
Jen Lindley
Dawson Leery Dawson Leery Joey Potter won
Junior Division
1998 Boston Film Festival
1999 Creek Daze Devon
Chris Wolfe
Abby Morgan
Dawson Leery Dawson Leery Jen Lindley
1999 Escape from Witch Island Joey Potter
Pacey Witter
Jen Lindley
Dawson Leery Dawson Leery Documentary
2000 A.I. Brooks Arthur Brooks Dawson Leery Dawson Leery Documentary
Hooksett Film Festival
2001 Audrey Liddell
Charlie Todd
Oliver Chirchick Dawson Leery
2002 Wicked Dead Natasha Kelly Todd Carr
Dawson Leery
Larry Newman Straight to cable.
2003 The Creek

Harley Hetson

Dawson Leery Dawson Leery Turned into a TV show on the WB.


Joey Potter
Main article: Dawson and Joey

Dawson and Joey meet when they're around 8 or so[16], and quickly develop a close bond, aided also by the unstable home life Joey experiences, which causes her to spend a lot of time in the Leery home. As teens they fall in love with each other, but Dawson is hesitant to admit his feelings to himself, fearing his most important friendship will disappear if he does and it doesn’t work out.[17] When faced with losing the chance to be with Joey, Dawson puts his fears aside and they two start dating.[18] Despite their deep love for one another, the timing never seems right for them.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27] When they reconnect in their mid-20s after a few years apart the love is as present as ever, but they do not reunite.[28]

Jen Lindley
Main article: Dawson and Jen

Jen and Dawson were the opposites attract, in many ways, and their relationship (post break-up) increasingly became one of opening up the other to the world from their differing perspectives. This bond ensured that Jen and Dawson, when spending time together, always inspired the other to move forward and evolve in life, which is essentially the foundation of an incredible strong romantic relationship. Though they never found their way together, the two always had a unique connection that never faltered.

Pacey Witter
Main article: Dawson and Pacey

Childhood best friends[29] and blood brothers to boot[30], Pacey also found solace in the cozy Leery home, far from his alcoholic, abusive father. Pacey and Dawson's friendship faced a lot of setbacks in their teen years, in most part due to their mutual love for Joey Potter, but also because Dawson in many ways expected Pacey to be less than him, especially when Dawson felt down about his life.[21] However, at pressured moments, Dawson would always reassert his affection for and pride in Pacey's character and potential[31][32][33].

Gretchen Witter
Main article: Dawson and Gretchen

Growing up, Dawson had a huge crush on Pacey’s older sister, Gretchen. So much so, he would write her love letters.[34] Dawson and Gretchen reconnect upon her return to Capeside from college[35] and quickly become confidantes[36]. Dawson’s crush is reignited after a kiss under the mistletoe[37] and they eventually develop mutual feelings and date during Dawson’s senior year. However, Dawson’s latent feelings for Joey and the fallout from the year before, and Gretchen feeling lost and uncertain about her future, ultimately results in their breakup.[38][39]


I reject reality
—Dawson to Jen[src]
The first time I sleep with someone, I don't want it to be just for any reason. I want it to be for every reason
—Dawson to Eve[src]


  • Creator Kevin Williamson based Dawson's character on himself growing up as an aspiring filmmaker and Steven Spielberg fan in North Carolina.
  • After Dawson's Creek was turned down by Fox, Williamson adopted a dog and named him Dawson. "I thought that would be my only memory of this script."[40]
  • The scene Dawson bursts in tears in "True Love" became the Internet meme known as "Dawson's Crying Face". Actor James van der Beek stated, “It’s hilarious to me that you can work for six years on a show... and it gets boiled down to three seconds. It’s a perfect way-of-the-internet”[41]
  • Actors Charlie Hunnam, Adrian Grenier, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Scott Speedman all auditioned for the role of Dawson.[42][43]
  • James Van der Beek has a cameo as Dawson in the horror parody Scary Movie. The appearance also features the series' theme song, "I Don't Want to Wait."
  • Van der Beek appears as himself in film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and is recognized as Dawson. Jay asks him, "what's up with Pacey stealing Joey away from you?"


Dawson Leery/Gallery


Dawson appears in every episode except for the following:

SEASON 5 (2/23)
Four Scary Stories
Downtown Crossing
SEASON 6 (4/24)
Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell
All The Right Moves


The day Dawson cried (VOX • MAY 2021)

Notes and references[]