Interview: John Barrowman
Jan 14 2008 by Katie Campling, Huddersfield Daily Examiner
I LOVE playing Captain Jack, it’s like slipping back into an old pair of shoes, says John Barrowman, who has been bringing the time traveller to life since 2005.
I met up with him after a screening of the first episode of Torchwood’s new run, which starts on BBC Two on Wednesday.
Despite the fact he’s seen the series opener three times already, there are no signs he’s fed up with watching the show just yet.
For those unfamiliar with the sci-fi drama, Torchwood is a spin-off from the revamped Doctor Who. Lead character Captain Jack first appeared in Doctor Who, but proved so popular with audiences of all ages, he was granted his own series.
He’s a Time Agent from the 51st century, but shares many characteristics with the swashbuckling heroes of yesteryear. Suave, roguish and cunning, he wouldn’t look out of place as a Second World War flying ace, going head-to-head with the Luftwaffe.
Torchwood, an anagram of Doctor Who, is much more adult-oriented than its Saturday teatime sister-show. Grown-ups warmed to the programme very quickly, but children were drawn to watch as well, although some of the themes and dialogue were probably unsuitable.
To combat this problem, the show’s producers have decided to re-edit the action-packed episodes for a pre-watershed version all the family can enjoy, while leaving all the juicy bits in for the adults to savour once the little ones have gone to bed.
The most striking difference between this second series of Torchwood and the first, therefore, is the increased amount of innuendo. It hasn’t turned into Carry On Torchwood, don’t worry, but there are plenty of tongue-in-cheek moments to be had – something John is more than happy with.
“The innuendo was in the script prior to us deciding to have a pre-watershed version. The innuendo was always there and it’s a little better because of it.
“It takes a smarter audience to understand that kind of humour, and if they don’t get it, no problem – it just goes over their heads and boom, we move on.
He adds: “Jack is different now. He’s come back having resolved all his issues with The Doctor, and he’s much more like the guy we initially met some time ago.
“There’s more action in this series too, it’s faster-paced, very quick. That’s what people can expect. It’s much more exciting but more character-based than something that’s based on CGI and special effects.”
Many critics have likened John’s performance in Torchwood to those of Tom Cruise, and while facially at least, he does resemble the Mission: Impossible star, Barrowman stands way over six feet tall. Dressed today in a black suit and shirt, he looks more like the Milk Tray man than anything else.
He definitely shares more than a few character traits with his on-screen alter ego, however. Above all, John is great company; friendly, open and extremely talkative – as anyone who has seen one of his numerous appearances on TV chat shows will already know.
“The Captain’s sarcasm, I certainly share that,” offers John. “That’s the thing about a television character compared to theatre characters. In theatre, you play the character, whereas on television you use a bit of your own personality in order to make it warm and accessible to the audience.
“There is a lot of Captain Jack in me, although there is a lot of him that I’m nothing like. For example, I’m not a hero. I don’t have eternal life either,” he says, laughing, before adding: “And I’m not omnisexual like Jack. I’m gay.”
While John is enthusiastic about Torchwood, it seems filming this second series wasn’t as smooth as it might have been.
“To be honest, it was like going to hell and back,” he says, matter-of-factly. “It was disorganised and chaotic. That’s not to say people didn’t work very hard, because the production team, camera crew, wardrobe, everyone worked extremely hard and really battened down the hatches, but for some reason midway, it just went awry.
“At some points we were doing four episodes at once, which is why it was chaotic. For me, I don’t think about it in those terms though, of it being smoother or easier to make than the first series. I just become engulfed in whatever project that I’m working on.”
As you may know, John isn’t just famous for being an actor on Torchwood. A star of numerous stage musicals, presenter of TV shows and a successful solo recording artist, the Glasgow-born entertainer is a real, excuse the pun, Jack of all trades.
During the seven-month shoot for Torchwood, he found time to record his latest album, and virtually hours after shooting finished, he raced up to Scotland to film a new BBC prime-time show The Kids Are All Right.
“It’s all about good scheduling and planning,” he says of how he crams so much into his average day.
“I did my album over two weekends while filming Torchwood, so that’s not too long. I also have a biography coming out this year. I was a judge on How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and we’re working on a new format of that which will air in the spring, too. I don’t know what’s on the horizon after that.
“But kids love Captain Jack, so who knows if he’ll return to Doctor Who? That’s always on the cards.
“My heart lies right in the middle of the entertainment business and everything I do is about entertaining people. I was put on this planet to entertain people and that’s what I’m going to do, whether that’s drama, musical theatre, presenting or doing magazine shows.
“I’m not going to let anyone ask me which one I prefer and I’ll never say. I love all of them.”