James Van Der Beek On Holiday Traditions And His Worst Thanksgiving Disaster - Exclusive Interview

Whether you know him from his more recent roles in "Pose," "What Would Diplo Do?" and "Bad Hair," or he'll forever be the title character from "Dawson's Creek" or Mox from "Biloxi Blues" to you, there's no doubt that James Van Der Beek has been a comforting presence on TV and movie screens for decades.

But while we may associate him with his achievements as an actor, writer, and producer, this devoted family man and father of six children is also a devoted humanitarian. To that end, he has joined forces with Libby's Vegetables to support Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit that delivers free food to senior citizens across America (via Instagram).

In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Van Der Beek talked about his personal connection to Meals on Wheels, how he celebrates Thanksgiving in his Texas home, his unique green bean casserole recipe, and the worst (and most relatable) Thanksgiving disaster he's ever experienced. We're sure you don't want to wait for this introduction to be over, so let's get on to our conversation with Van Der Beek.

Libby's and Meals on Wheels

What does it mean to you to work with Meals on Wheels?

This partnership with Libby's and Meals on Wheels is very personal for me because my grandfather volunteered for Meals on Wheels, and I remember the amount of pride that he took in fulfilling that role for seniors, delivering nutritious meals for their bod[ies] but also a social lift for their soul[s]. It brought him as much joy and purpose and benefit as it did for the people he delivered food to. So that's an organization that's made a big imprint on me since I was a kid. And Libby's was the one canned vegetable that you could get without any preservatives that they sold in the kind of grocery stores I grew up shopping in, so I've always appreciated them.

Speaking of Libby's and vegetables, Libby's is a big part of people's Thanksgiving side dishes. Are you the one who usually hosts Thanksgiving at your house?

Yes, I am.

Thanksgiving at the Van Der Beek house

Who does most of the cooking?

It depends on who we invite. I've done the turkey in the past. I've done the sides. Generally, our Thanksgiving is a mix of friends and family and Thanksgiving orphans, and we do a potluck. We love that idea. "Hey, come to our table. Bring something you like. Bring something you can make." Or in some people's cases, purchase on the way here. My father-in-law, if we get him out here, actually makes an amazing turkey, so I can outsource that to him with full confidence that we'll end up with an amazing bird.

It's a fun, eclectic mix of people. We do it, weather permitting, outdoors at this beautiful concrete table that we have. It's a really good, positive gathering. Somebody at some point will make a speech, talk about what they're grateful for, and then we'll encourage everybody else to speak their thanks aloud at the table because we're firm believer[s] that that kind of appreciation attracts more of what you want into your life. And it's always good to give thanks in a concrete way like that. Then there's a fire, again, weather permitting. We'll have a campfire with people gathered around, guitars, drums, and more sharing and celebration.

Sounds like a party!

Yeah, it is. It really is.

What would you say is the most unique dish on your Thanksgiving table?

That depends on who we invite. It's probably not going to come from me, I'll be honest. We'll provide the standard fare, but people get really creative with Jell-O. I feel like there's always some kind of Jell-O with cream or something that ends up on the table.

The Jell-O salads come out for Thanksgiving.

Yeah. Jell-O salads, Jell-O with beets — there's always something.

Thanksgiving leftover sandwich tips and moving to Texas

What's your favorite way to eat Thanksgiving leftovers?

Ooh. Sandwich. You make a sandwich with some bread and get it all out. You get the stuffing; you get the turkey; you get the mashed potatoes; you toast the bread just a little bit. That's for sure my favorite.

Cranberry sauce or no cranberry sauce on the sandwich?

Oh, you have to. Even if it's canned, that's fine. I will totally take canned cranberry sauce on my post-Thanksgiving dinner sandwich.

You moved to Texas a couple of years ago. Do you think Texans do Thanksgiving differently?

I don't know. I've only had one Thanksgiving here, but it's been great. I will say the state has been incredibly welcoming, and I've appreciated every single person who's seen me in the grocery store and said, "Hey, welcome to Texas." It means a lot to me and my family.

James Van Der Beek's worst Thanksgiving disaster

Have you ever fallen victim to a Thanksgiving disaster?

Yeah, in LA, actually. It was the one year I decided, "I'm going to make everything." It was my brother coming over; he just had a baby, so he and his wife weren't cooking. And my sister-in-law was coming over, and I think they just had a baby too. For whatever reason, I had taken it upon myself to do all the cooking, and my father-in-law wasn't there that year, so I was trying to keep track of all the different cook times and prep times.

I got up super early to make sure the turkey was thawed and get it in the oven in time. And at some point in the midst of all the chaos, a fire extinguisher was knocked off of its holder in our pantry and started going off. So there was fire retardant spraying all over the pantry. Then we had to pick it up and carry a spraying fire extinguisher outside. The cleanup on that pantry — every single thing had to be removed and vacuumed and swept, in the midst of cooking.

Were you still able to eat dinner after that?

We did manage to get a dinner on the table. We did somehow manage to get something on the table, but I don't know how much I was able to enjoy it. I just remember all the chaos. It was like a bad sitcom. It's like, "Really? Of all the days, this is the day, this is the time for that thing to fall off the wall and go off."

What do you think is the key to a stress-free Thanksgiving, while we're talking about disasters?

One word: potluck. ... Spread responsibility. Don't try to do it all, because you're going to try to do it perfectly for everyone. Just make it a free-for-all potluck.

Green bean casserole and an on-set actor's Thanksgiving in Canada

What makes your green bean casserole recipe special?

It was from our friend Marissa, who is a beautiful human who helps with the kids and is a friend of ours. She had this recipe, and if you ask my kids what makes it special, they'll say it's the love that's put into it, but what I love about it is that it's simple to make. It's made in one pan and it's so flavorful. It tastes like home. You feel warm inside when you eat it — total comfort food classic.

Has your acting career ever made you have to spend Thanksgiving away from family?

Yes, it has. I was in Canada at the time, and the caterers actually were very, very sweet and did a full-on American Thanksgiving at the catering truck for the job that I was on, for the poor, lonely Americans. I was very touched by that.

Did the whole cast and crew gather together for Thanksgiving dinner?

We ate at whatever location we were at with the plastic tablecloths and the folding chairs under some tent with a propane heater blasting in the corner. It was turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and all the staples, and maybe even a green bean casserole. I can't remember exactly. ... I appreciated it.

Now through December 31, 2022, if you like, share, or comment on James Van Der Beek's Instagram post, Libby's will donate a coupon redeemable for a can of vegetables to Meals on Wheels America. Libby's will also donate a coupon if you post a photo of any green bean casserole on its Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #LibbysGivesThanks before December 31.

This interview has been edited for clarity.