John Barrowman | Interview
John Barrowman is a gay guy playing bi. Must be the BBC.
When he was nine, John Barrowman’s family left Glasgow, Scotland, for Aurora, Illinois. The graduate of Joliet West High School, where he palled around with Andy Dick and Anthony Rapp, went on to perform in West End and Broadway musicals and on British TV. Created by Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who, Queer as Folk), the sci-fi BBC series Torchwood—an anagram of Doctor Who—stars Barrowman as the bisexual Captain Harkness, who heads a secret team investigating alien life. We called up Barrowman in Wales.
Time Out Chicago: Hey, John, how are you?
John Barrowman: Very good, thank you. [Off phone with a Scottish accent] It’s a wee bit strong, Dad. [Back on with an American accent] Sorry. My dad just handed me a vodka tonic, and it burnt my head off. [Laughs]
TOC: It must be cocktail hour in Wales.
John Barrowman: It is cocktail hour, and I’m sitting by the seaside, by my pool, looking out into the sunset. It’s wonderful.
TOC: Is your sister’s blog accurate? You recently tore all the ligaments in your ankle?
John Barrowman: Yes. In fact, I’m standing on the deck I fell off of. I was wearing a flip-flop, and I snapped my ankle.
TOC: Will you still be able to put on high heels for the West End production of La Cage aux Folles this fall?
John Barrowman: Nothing can injure me that badly that I can’t put on a pair of high heels. [Laughs] I was the one who taught my sister and my niece how to walk in high heels.
TOC: What was it like as a Scottish kid growing up in a Chicago suburb?
John Barrowman: At that time, they weren’t suburbs of Chicago; they were still towns on their own because Chicago hadn’t bled out that far. You still felt you were in the countryside. It was really great. The only thing that was different for me was I spoke with a Scottish accent and some kids bullied me a little bit. That’s why I learned how to speak with the American accent.
TOC: Were you out at Joliet West High?
John Barrowman: In those days, between 1980 and ’85, you just didn’t because you just didn’t, and you couldn’t because you didn’t have the support. I was never really in, but I never said I was gay. I went to dances and I went with girls. I ended up making sure they looked good. [Laughs] I didn’t have an angtsy growing-up. Whether I was out or in in high school for me was irrelevant.
TOC: So you taught those girls how to walk in high heels, in other words.
John Barrowman: Yeah, or telling them, “You shouldn’t wear that color. Wear that.” [Laughs]
TOC: Was Andy Dick just as crazy then?
John Barrowman: Andy has always been crazy. When he ran for homecoming king, it was, “Vote for a Dick.” It was brilliant.
TOC: Not doing this interview in person means you can’t indulge in what I hear is a bit of a habit of yours: exposing yourself in interviews.
John Barrowman: Uh, not in interviews, but that’s a side of John Barrowman that unfortunately I have to keep under guard now because people make issues out of it.
TOC: Can I ask about the stink around that with the BBC, what happened?
John Barrowman: No, you can’t. I’m gonna talk about it in my book [out in October], and it wasn’t a stink with the BBC actually, I’ll confirm that. It was a stink with The Daily Mail trying to get at the BBC for some ludicrous reason.
TOC: A main character and an actor who aren’t straight: Is the U.K. more open to seeing that on TV than the U.S.?
John Barrowman: It’s not even an issue over here. It’s about time we had a gay man playing a hero. What I do in my bedroom is just the same as what everybody else does; I just do it with a man.
TOC: Any encounters with closeted actors in Hollywood?
John Barrowman: If they are closeted, they don’t tell me they’re gay. But you can’t tell me all those famous actors are straight.
TOC: Has being out put up any roadblocks for you here in the U.S.?
John Barrowman: I’ve always worked in the States. If it did stand in my way, I would just say, “There’s no fucking way you can do this. Get over your hang-ups.”
TOC: You and your partner, Scott, had a civil-union ceremony. But you’ve said you don’t support the word marriage for a gay partnership.
John Barrowman: That word is associated with an organization of people that, every time gay men and women use it, it gets them angry and upset. I’m not having a civil partnership because I want that word but because I want the rights. So maybe it would help in California or anywhere else if we just abandoned that word and chose another word.
Torchwood’s third season premieres Monday 20 at 8pm on BBC America.