- „All the mysteries of the universe, all the answers to life's questions can be found in a Spielberg film”
- —Dawson Leery[src]
Dawson Leery is the main protagonist of the series. He is a big fan of Stephen Spielberg and wants to become a director himself. Dawson is the oldest child of Gail Leery and Mitch Leery. He became at older brother at 18 when his parents had Lilly in 2001. Dawson's best friends are Joey Potter and Pacey Witter. He later becomes best friends with Jen Lindley, Jack McPhee and Andie McPhee.
Dawson believes in good old fashioned values of romance. He also believes that all answers to any life problems can be found in a Stephen Spielberg film. He's a very keen film maker and enters a film at the Boston Film Festival, along with his friends, Joey and Pacey. Later in the season, Dawson casts Jen to be in his film. Dawson and Joey have known each other for years, and often Joey would climb into Dawson's bedroom window and they would often hang around together for hours. When Jen Lindley arrives in Capeside, Dawson is immediately smitten and they start dating.
Later in the season, Jen dumps Dawson, telling him that she needs time by herself. Near the end of the season, Pacey asks Dawson's permission to ask Joey out, but Dawson responds jealously. Joey then enters a beauty contest, and then Dawson realizes how beautiful Joey is. Dawson also goes with Joey to visit her father is prison. While Joey gets offered a chance to go to France, Dawson realizes he can no longer hold back his feelings for Joey, and the season ends with Dawson and Joey kissing in front of his bedroom window.
While Dawson and Joey's relationship starts off well, new-comers Jack McPhee and his sister, Andie McPhee, befriend them. Jack starts to realize that he has feelings for Joey and he ends up kissing her. The kiss confuses Joey. Joey then decides to dump Dawson, but then she quickly finds that she ends up dating Jack. This sends Dawson back in the arms of Jen. Dawson then makes a movie based on Joey and how he feels about her. Later in the season, Jack reveals to Joey that he is gay and Joey seeks consolation from Dawson. On his 16th birthday, Dawson goes to a club with Pacey and Andie, only for him and Andie to get drunk.Near the end of the season, Dawson and Joey get back together, but heir relationship is short-lived as Joey's father, Mike Potter, is released from prison and Dawson catches him dealing drugs again. He deliberates on whether to tell Joey and, in the end, Dawson informs her and she takes the loss of her father out on him, saying she will never forgive him for his part.
After a summer spent with his mom in Philadelphia, Dawson returns to Capeside still reeling from his split with Joey. On the bus ride home, he meets Eve, a mysterious, blonde femme fatale who Dawson is drawn to. Eve convinces Dawson to go for a ride in his dad's boat and they wreck it, costing him $3,000 to repair the damage to the dock he crashed into. Pacey convinces Dawson to throw a stripper party at his parents' house to earn the money to pay for the repairs. Although they successfully gather enough money, Mitch catches everyone leaving the house and Dawson knows he's in trouble.
In the meantime, Dawson finds Eve snooping around in Grams's house one night. He later discovers an old photograph of a blonde lady in the house-boat that Eve has been living in, which he takes. Doug informs Dawson that the boat belongs to an elderly couple. When Eve seeks out for the photo he insists that Eve tell the truth and she reveals that she was adopted and that the woman in the picture is her biological mother and that she is searching for her. While helping Grams at her house, Dawson notices the same woman in a picture sitting on a nightstand. He asks who the woman is and Grams reveals that it's her daughter, Helen, Jen's mother. When Jen's mother visits her mother and her daughter at Thanksgiving, Dawson confronts Mrs. Lindley about her past, leading her to tell Jen the truth.
When Dawson, Pacey and Joey join Jack and his ex-girlfriend Kate at a party hosted by Matt Caufield, the entire group, except Joey, gets drunk. Dawson, fighting to have a life separate from Joey's, nearly kisses Kate. After Doug breaks up the party and the gang sits in jail, Dawson tells Joey that she cannot be his keeper and Jack confesses to Kate that he's gay. Meanwhile, Mitch turns from friend to parent, as a result of having to bail his son out of jail, and enlists Dawson to help out at his mother's new restaurant.After meeting Nikki, a rival film-maker, Dawson realizes that he has let his desire to become a director overtake his life, and he decides to give it up for a period of time. He takes down all the posters in his room, and tries to cultivate other interests. During this tumultuous time, he realizes that the only thing in his life that has ever made sense is Joey, and determines to win her back. Little does he know, however, that Joey and Pacey have been growing closer and eventually embark on a secret romance. When he discovers their relationship, Dawson reacts with anger, and cuts Pacey out of his life. He is more determined than ever to win Joey back. Joey and Dawson go together to the Prom, but when Dawson sees Joey sharing a dance with Pacey, he is enraged and demands Joey choose. Eventually he realizes that Joey wants to be with Pacey, and gives her his blessing. She leaves him on the pier, sobbing.
After spending the summer recovering from heartache, in the company of Andie, Jen and Jack, Dawson is confronted with the idea of Pacey and Joey as a couple. After saving Pacey and Jen from a storm at sea, Dawson is forced to white wash a fence for old-time film director A.I. Brooks, as punishment for putting a hole in his boat whom Dawson was forced to take to rescue Pacey and Jen during a storm at sea. Eventually, Mr. Brooks warms to Dawson and lets him film a documentary on him when he tells Dawson that he is dying of cancer. Dawson must make a life-or-death decision about Mr. Brooks when he's admitted to the hospital in a coma involving his terminal illness and has requested that Dawson be the one to take him off life support. Dawson chooses to let him go.
During this season, Dawson strikes up a romance with Gretchen, Pacey's 21-year-old sister, who has returned to Capeside to take a break from college, or so everyone thinks, but she later reveals that she is there to recuperate from a miscarriage that took place during her previous semester. During the Leery Christmas Party, Dawson and Gretchen share a kiss, which ignites old feelings from his pre-teen years when he had a crush on her. After his sister Lily's birth in May 2001, Dawson and Gretchen part ways and she returns to college, and he graduates from high school and heads off to USC to pursue his dream of becoming a film maker.
After graduating, he studied film at USC and he took an internship at a Hollywood film studio and saw that the business was different than he expected. On his first day at the film studio he clashed with the director, Todd Carr, and told him that he was lucky to be in the business but he was making bad movies, and was promptly was fired. He soon dropped out of film school and moved to Boston to be with his friends and to be with Joey. Before Dawson can even get his parents approval for moving to Boston his father Mitch Leery is tragically killed in a car accident. This changes everything for Dawson. At first he blames himself but then he goes on to blame Joey and that puts all romantic possibilities for them out of the picture.
Instead Dawson reunites with his old girlfriend, Jen Lindley. During their trip to the Hookset Film Festival in New Hampshire, Dawson loses his virginity to Jen. It is at this festival that Dawson wins first prize for his documentary about A.I. Brooks. There, Dawson meets Oliver Churchkirk, an aspiring film director from Boston Bay College who fancies himself the best in the business. After being asked to read his script, Dawson agrees to direct Oliver's first major film. He casts Joey's bubbly roommate Audrey Liddell as the female lead, and Oliver casts himself as heartbreaker, Gage. After several flubbed lines and mistakes, Dawson concludes that Oliver is not the right person for the role. He then asks Jen to bring in her cheating ex-boyfriend, Charlie Todd, to play the part. Charlie agrees when Jen tells him that he gets "to make out with a really hot girl."
In the meantime, while Dawson and Oliver journey to New Jersey for a meeting with a film agent, the rest of the gang takes to the beaches of Florida for spring break; Dawson later discovers that Joey embarks on a spring fling with Charlie Todd. Following his heart, Dawson hijacks the car with Oliver and drives down to Florida to tell Joey that he loves her. To Dawson's disappointment, Pacey tells him that Joey is with Charlie. When their film is finished, Dawson learns that Oliver set up to have the film screened by cast, crew and friends. When Dawson finally agrees, he discovers that Oliver also invited a film critic, Amy Lloyd, who writes for The Boston Weekly. Dawson, not knowing who she is, stumbles upon Amy in the midst of a nasty break-up and tells her that she is a "sentimental drama queen with really crappy taste in movies." Angry, Amy leaves, unwilling to review the movie. In order to get her back to the auditorium, Dawson makes out with Amy at a local coffee shop. After a misunderstanding with Joey, Dawson heads to the airport to fly to L.A and runs into Todd Carr, the director that fired him. Todd tells him that he thought about what Dawson's speech, and if he was in Hollywood he should give him a call. Joey confronts him about the way things ended between them just days prior. The two kiss goodbye and Dawson departs for California.
Dawson has been working with Todd Carr over the summer and has not been in contact with Joey once. He returns home to surprise Joey for her birthday and they sleep together. The next morning Dawson receives a call from his girlfriend in L.A. eventually leading him and Joey to fight at her birthday party as she didn't know he had a girlfriend. Dawson returns to California. He is working on a Horror movie film with Todd and is surprised to find out that the actress he hired is Natasha, his girlfriend he had dumped for Joey; she is less than pleased to see him. In the meantime, when Joey shows up to deliver food to the movie set at which Dawson works, Natasha, drunk and angry and figuring out that Joey is the one Dawson slept with, explodes on Joey and locks herself in her trailer, demanding that Dawson be fired. Todd begrudgingly fires Dawson as the two have become close in the business. Realizing she made a mistake, Natasha helps Dawson get his job back. Dawson pays a visit to Audrey in rehab, earning her dish duty for the night, after stalking one-time film director Toni Stark. He returns to L.A. only to discover that Todd, his new mentor and friend, is in disagreements with the film company that is paying him to make the movie, "Wicked Dead". While Todd quickly decides to discard Natasha from the leading role when he is threatened by the producer, Dawson convinces him otherwise and Natasha keeps her job. In the Halloween episode Todd and Natasha plan an elaborate prank and convince Dawson that the studio is haunted and lead Dawson to believe that they are having a fling. Dawson catches Todd and Natasha kissing at the Halloween party and quits but soon realizes that he was set up. Shortley after, Dawson and Natasha start dating. After realizing they have tickets for the wrong night of a No Doubt Concert in Worcester, Natasha uses her "assets" to get herself and Dawson admittance into the venue. When this fails, Dawson shows off his newly-won $600, hoping someone will trade tickets with him. However, this only attracts an on-duty police officer who takes the duo to a nearby station. They are let go with a warning from the authorities. Todd hires famous actor, Max Winter, to be in the film as a romantic interest for Natasha and they seem to have great chemistry on screen. Dawson is shattered when he accidentally overhears Natasha telling Max that she is single and Dawson is just a PA. Dawson asks for advice from Todd but he just tells him to sweep it under the rug, and that Natasha will end their relationship completely if he confronts her. Dawson brings Natasha and Todd to Capeside for Christmas. Knowing what she said to Max, Dawson questions Natasha's intentions, to which she becomes angry and says that she cheated on him and once filming was over, they would be too. Realizing that he's not in love with Natasha, they decide to break up. When he returns to Hollywood with Todd and they wrap the movie, it is revealed by the studio that they need to do reshoots. Todd gets offended, tell them off and leaves and Dawson is offered the job of reshooting. Dawson initially turns it down but Todd tells him that theres nothing wrong with benefiting from being in the right place at the right time, so Dawson accepts the job and is grateful to Todd Meanwhile, Dawson's relationship with Pacey is better than it has been since the triangle began in the third season. Trusting Pacey to make his film savings grow, Dawson puts all the money he earned into a stock Pacey recommends. However, the stock falls through and both Dawson and Pacey are left with nothing. As a result, the two, once again, vow to no longer be friends. Joey, who is always caught in the middle, tries her best to reunite her friends. Pacey gives Dawson all the money he'd collected (but not all that was owed). Dawson concedes that there may be hope for the two of them. Dawson starts to film his own movie, which is based on his life. He is pleasantly surprised when Todd shows up and helps him with his movie. He has Audrey playing the role of Ms. Jacobs, Harley as Joey and her boyfriend Patrick as the girl-crazed 15-year-old Pacey, Dawson, with Joey's and Todd's help, begins filming his lifestory, adapted for the big screen.
Dawson is the executive producer and chief writer of the television program The Creek, a self-referential coming-of-age teen drama based on his adolescence in Capeside. While a young blonde boy portrays Dawson himself under the name "Colby", his two best friends appear as the neurotic "Sam" and heartbreaker "Petey." Returning to Capeside for his mother's wedding, Dawson learns that Jen is dying. Dawson helps Jen leave a video message for her young daughter Amy, and he and Joey reconcile their past agreeing that they are meant to be best friends and nothing more. However, on the series finale episode, Kevin Williamson discussed the original ending of Dawson's Creek, stating the pairing was meant to be Joey and Dawson, but the two showed to be better as friends. The series ends with Dawson in his office who receives a call from Pacey and Joey, congratulating him on the season finale episode of The Creek. Dawson tells them that he's going to meet with somebody tomorrow, whom Pacey and Joey are able to guess is Steven Spielberg, Dawson's idol.
- The character based on him in Creek Daze, his film about his and Joey's break-up, is named Wade – his middle name.