Stephen M. Silverman
September 09, 2002 01:00 AM

The heartthrob of “Dawson’s Creek,” James Van Der Beek, is spreading his wings.

The actor’s good-boy image as Dawson Leery on the WB show is about to be shattered by his role as a character called Sean Bateman in the movie “The Rules of Attraction,” based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis and opening Oct. 11. The New York Times describes Bateman as a “beer-guzzling, cocaine-snorting sexual predator.” (The WB, like PEOPLE, is part of AOL Time Warner.)

“When James was first suggested for the role,” said the movie’s writer-director, Roger Avary (whose writing credits include “Pulp Fiction”), “my first reaction was ‘Dawson?’ But within 10 seconds of meeting him, after he took his glasses off, I realized that beneath the innocence and clean-cut charisma, James has the capacity for iciness and willing intensity.”

Van Der Beek, 25, reportedly has studied the careers of George Clooney, Bruce Willis and Robin Williams, who have all successfully leapt from TV to the big screen, and his 1999 movie “Varsity Blues” not only did well at the box office but showed that there was more to the actor than just Dawson.

“I realize everything I’ve been able to do professionally has been the result of being on ‘Dawson’s,” Van Der Beek told The Times, “but it would be nice to work with great movie directors and maybe even play a grown-up.”

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