James Van Der Beek, Debbie Macomber's Mrs. Miracle

Hallmark Channel's latest holiday offering, Debbie Macomber's Mrs. Miracle (Saturday at 8/7c) has a secret weapon. "I don't think everybody has Doris Roberts," says the film's leading man, James Van Der Beek. "She's our ace in the hole."

In the film, based on the Macomber novel of the same name, Van Der Beek plays Seth Webster, a recently widowed father of two in desperate search of a nanny — and the strength to move past his wife's death. Enter Roberts as Mrs. Emily Merkle, a nanny who not only works her magic on the laundry and dirty dishes, but also on Webster's love life.

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While Emmy winner Roberts plays the title role, Mrs. Miracle represents a return to form for Van Der Beek, who has branched out to play darker roles since the wholesome, introspective Dawson's Creek closed up shop.

"I've done so many dark characters," he says, bringing to mind the serial killer he played on Criminal Minds and the sleazy financier he played on The Forgotten earlier this month. "The idea of going into a safe, Christmas-y world where I played a father, which I hadn't done before, where I didn't kill anybody and I didn't have any severe mental disabilities ... it just appealed to me, to kind of go back and play a nice guy for a change."

But Van Der Beek makes it clear that his biggest motivation for doing Mrs. Miracle was the opportunity to work with Roberts. "She's one of those iconic actors and just such a force of nature," he says. "She's so good, and I thought this could be really fun."

See photos of James Van der Beek

Back when Dawson's ended in 2003, however, it was a much different story. "For a long time, I just said no to everything and then that wasn't so much fun," he says. "I was burnt out for awhile."

Van Der Beek credits a recent Dawson's Creek retrospective at the Paley Center for Media for helping him move past his old alter ego for good. "I was watching this little kid with really long hair in the pilot episode ... it didn't feel like me," Van Der Beek says. "It was interesting to kind of go back and revisit, but also put it to bed too. Now that it's out on DVD ... it almost felt like closing a chapter."

Next up: the Christmas spirit! "People just love this kind of movie," he says. "When it gets to that season, it's fun to just kind of curl up and enter a little fantasyland and forget about your day for an hour or two."