July 21, 2003 12:00 PM

All of a sudden my time is my own,” James Van Der Beek said in April, as his WB series Dawson’s Creek was coming to an end after six seasons. “I can’t wait. I’m just going to follow my heart.”

The 26-year-old actor’s heart led him on a swift trajectory to the altar. On July 5 he married actress Heather McComb (Party of Five), 26, at Saddlerock Ranch, a 1,000-acre Malibu estate nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains. (Kelsey Grammer and Camille Donatacci got hitched there in 1997.) Beneath an arch of jasmine, honeysuckle and pale-lilac roses, the Armani-suited Van Der Beek and the Vera Wang-dressed McComb were declared husband and wife in front of 120 guests, including a Dawson’s Creek contingent headed by Michelle Williams and Meredith Monroe.

“It was a very intimate wedding in a beautiful setting,” says the event’s planner, Marianne Weiman-Nelson of Beverly Hills’s Special Occasions. “It was magical—the sun was setting when they said their vows.”

The star’s uncle Bill Van Der Beek, a recently ordained minister, presided over the ceremony. Best-man duties went to Van Der Beek’s younger brother, actor Jared, while McComb’s sister, actress Jennifer—who introduced the bride and groom following a turn on Van Der Beek’s show in 1998—served as maid of honor.

After the pair got engaged in February 2002, Van Der Beek, who lived in Wilmington, N.C., for most of the Dawson’s Creek run, let his L.A.-based fiancée have the ruling hand in such wedding details as the reception dinner of filet mignon and french fries, served beneath a white organza tent. But he did have a say in the all-important wedding cakes: Guests could choose between the bride’s preference, triple-berry, and his, toffee-fudge. “I try not to get in the way too much,” he told the Toronto Star last October. “I mean, honestly, do I care what the design is on the napkins? No.”

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