During Monday's Dancing With the Stars premiere, the former Dawson's Creek star and his pro partner, Emma Slater, closed out the night by wowing audiences with their romantic tango set to "Whatever It Takes" by Imagine Dragons. ET caught up with the dance duo just moments after the show wrapped, where they couldn't contain their excitement over their successful week one dance.
Receiving a total score of 21/30 from the judges, the highest of the night, James and Emma are now heading into week two of the competition as the clear frontrunners.
"It feels really good!" James exclaimed to ET's Keltie Knight. "Yeah, I'm surprised. I'm having a great time."
As for Emma, she's just excited to be paired with a partner who has the potential of winning her another mirrorball trophy. The talented dancer won season 24 of the show with former NFL pro Rashad Jennings.
"I can't wait, I see so much potential in him," Emma said of James. "It makes me really excited. But it's a lot of pressure, you know. A lot!"
"We just gotta enjoy it," she added. "We rehearse a lot and we rarely take breaks. We're so invested."
Longtime fans of DWTS always look forward to Jimmy Kimmel's predictions. Every season, the TV host bets on who he thinks is going to win, and his guesses have been pretty spot-on in the past. During the latest episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Jimmy (with help from Guillermo), announced James as his season 28 mirrorball pick.
"James Van Der Beek is the man to Van Der Beat," he joked. "And James, I don't want to put any extra pressure on you, but if you don't win this for me, you are going back up Dawson's Creek without a paddle."
ET also spoke with James last month in New York City (following DWTS' big cast reveal), where he explained how he actually manifested his new gig years ago.
In December 2012, the actor played a caricature version of himself on the comedy series Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23. During season two, he competed in a faux version of Dancing With the Stars against Dean Cain (also starring as himself), who was paired with former real-life pro Karina Smirnoff.
"Way back when I was doing Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, I pitched this storyline where the fake me went on the fake Dancing With the Stars. So it's kind of come up since then," James shared. "They offered again and I said, 'Oh man, wouldn't that be crazy?' And I was like, 'Crazy. I like crazy.'"
"I just love being on stage ... I love to dance, I love to move. It just seemed like the most fun thing I could possibly do," he continued. "I started out doing theater and I really miss that audience. So, I think I'm just going to let the crowd pull me through."