Van Der Beek was born in Cheshire, Connecticut, the son of Melinda (née Weber), a former dancer and gymnastics teacher, and James William Van Der Beek, a cellular phone company executive and former professional baseball pitcher of Dutch ethnicity.
At the age of 15, he asked his mother to take him into New York City to get an agent and try his hand in professional acting. He made his professional debut off-Broadway at age 16 in 1993 in the New York premiere of Edward Albee's play Finding the Sun with the Signature Theatre Company. He played the role of "Fergus". Both he and the production, which was also directed by Albee, received positive reviews. A decade later, in 2003, he appeared again off-Broadway, briefly, in the play Rain Dance.
Aged 17, while still in high school, he performed in the musical Shenandoah at the Goodspeed Opera House, and made his feature film debut in a bit role as a bully in Angus (1995) and shot a small role in the independent film I Love You, I Love You Not (1996).
He attended Drew University, on an academic scholarship, where he participated in an all-male a cappella group, but dropped out to pursue acting. He performed at the Vineyard Theater in New York in Nicky Silver's play, My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine, and he played a supporting role in the independent film Cash Crop, which was originally shot in spring of 1997 and originally titled Harvest until released in 2001.
In early 1997, Van Der Beek auditioned for three television pilots. One of them was for the fledgling WB Network show Dawson's Creek. Van Der Beek won the title role of Dawson Leery, and the show's 1998 debut was a success that helped to establish the network and its cast. The series ran for six seasons and was syndicated worldwide. In 1999, he starred in the teen football drama Varsity Blues, which held the number 1 spot at the U.S. box office for its first two weeks. He won an MTV Movie Award for his role.
Around this time he was selected one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World", and he appeared in several other films, including Texas Rangers, Scary Movie, and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, playing himself playing Jay in the movie within the movie opposite Jason Biggs as Silent Bob.
In 2002, he played Sean Bateman (younger brother of American Psycho protagonist Patrick Bateman) in the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' The Rules of Attraction, written and directed by Roger Avary. The film was an initial box office failure, but found a cult following on DVD.
In 2006, he appeared on the Direct-to-DVD thriller The Plague, which was produced by Clive Barker and was panned by critics. After Dawson's Creek ended in 2003, he returned to off-Broadway, in Lanford Wilson's Rain Dance. He completed an unproduced screenplay titled Winning. Since then, he made a few appearances on television, including a role on Ugly Betty. In 2007, he guest-starred in a two-part episode of the series Criminal Minds, playing a serial killer with dissociative identity disorder called Tobias Hankel who kidnaps and drugs one of the main characters Spencer Reid. In 2008, he made a guest appearance on How I Met Your Mother, in which he played Simon, one of Robin Scherbatsky's early boyfriends, multiple times.
In 2008, he began a recurring role on One Tree Hill as a film maker who was largely the satirical opposite of Dawson Leery. He appeared in an episode of the fifth season of Medium. In 2009, he portrayed real life kidnapper Anthony Steven "Tony Zappa" Wright in the Lifetime network television movie Taken In Broad Daylight.
In 2009, he won Best Actor at the 8th Annual San Diego Film Festival for his portrayal of FBI agent Jake Kelly working in Taiwan in the political thriller Formosa Betrayed, which also won Best Picture. The film was distributed theatrically in the United States starting February 26, 2010.
On January 5, 2010, TVGuide.com confirmed that Van Der Beek had been cast in a major recurring role on the television series Mercy. He played Dr. Joe Briggs, the new womanizing ICU chief who harbors a dark secret. He starred alongside Rhona Mitra, Josh Lucas, and Jon Hamm in the Anders Anderson thriller film Stolen.
In 2011, he portrayed Kesha's nemesis in her music video for "Blow".
He portrayed a fictionalized version of himself on the television series, Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23. The show debuted to critical praise, with Van Der Beek earning particularly good notices for his comic timing and brave sendup of his own image. The show was cancelled after two seasons but remains popular on Netflix and on Logo TV which picked it up in syndication. He played the character Simon in Season 9's "Bedtime Stories" episode of How I Met Your Mother which aired in November 2013. On January 31, 2014, he appeared on The Talk. March 4, 2015, he began his role as Senior Field Agent Elijah Mundo in the newest installment on CSI: Cyber. Van Der Beek is due to appear in British comedy Carters Get Rich on Sky One, beginning in March 2017. Van Der Beek is also the co-creator and star of What Would Diplo Do?, in which he portrays producer and DJ Diplo.
On July 5, 2003, Van Der Beek married actress Heather McComb. They separated in April 2009, and on November 20, 2009, Van Der Beek filed for divorce. The divorce was finalized on March 31, 2010 and enforced on June 3, 2010.
Van Der Beek and business consultant Kimberly Brook married on August 1, 2010, in a small ceremony at the Kabbalah Center near Dizengoff Plaza in Tel Aviv, Israel. The couple have four children together.MTV Movie Awards
Teen Choice Awards
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
San Diego Film Festival