James Van Der Beek Van Der Beek was born in Cheshire, Connecticut to James Van Der Beek (a cellular phone company account manager and former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers) and Melinda (a gymnastics studio owner and former Broadway dancer); he has a brother, Jared (born 1979) and a sister, Juliana (born 1981). Van Der Beek attended Cheshire Academy (a private school), where he played football, although he suffered a concussion which prevented him from continuing his interest in the game. He was identified as being dyslexic during his childhood, but became an honors student in his school.
He began acting at age 13, playing Danny Zuko in his school's performance of Grease. Van Der Beek began auditioning in New York City at age 16 and appeared in the off-Broadway play Finding the Sun, as well as in the play Shenandoah in 1994. Later, he was given a scholarship to attend Drew University, where he was an English major and participated in an all-male a cappella group, 36 Madison Avenue .