One day John Barrowman may come to resent the kids waiting outside his door for a photo with their hero, Capt. Jack Harkness of the new sci-fi sizzler Torchwood (premiering Saturday, Sept. 8, at 9 pm/ET, BBC America). But not yet.
"I wanted to be an actor," he says, sitting on the couch of his apartment overlooking the bay in Cardiff, Wales, where Torchwood is shot. "Celebrity has come with that, and I'm absolutely loving it. I love signing autographs!"
If anyone spotted Barrowman in America right now, he'd be as likely to get a catcall as an autograph request — he's probably best known for playing a spoiled rich guy in Darren Star's short-lived Central Park West. But if Torchwood has the same impact in the U.S. that it's had overseas, he may find himself signing autographs from Wales to Wisconsin.
Viewers first met Captain Jack, a time-traveling con artist from the 51st century, in a five-episode arc on Doctor Who. He proved so popular that creator Russell T. Davies mixed up the letters of Doctor Who's title to give him his own spin-off. Now reformed, Jack heads up Torchwood, an outside-the-law team of crimefighters who protect the world from alien invasions. That may sound like any other sci-fi series, but Torchwood is a far edgier proposition. Though it works as a plot-driven romp with all manner of eye-popping creatures (from evil fairies to sexy fembots), it also deals with adult themes. And with the character of Captain Jack, Torchwood can lay claim to the 21st century's first bisexual action hero.
"He's got something for everyone," Barrowman says. "Women think he's sexy, some young people find his bisexuality is something they can relate to, and kids just want someone who's cool. One little boy at an autograph signing said, 'I don't care if he likes boys — he's still my hero.'"
Barrowman, 40, is openly gay (he and his partner, British architect Scott Gill, were joined in a civil commitment ceremony last year). He's outspoken about prejudice in the industry and ironically was passed over for the part of Will in Will & Grace because the producers felt he was "too straight." "I know a lot of gay leading men in Hollywood," he says. "I'm not one for outing people — they might have personal issues they need to overcome — but if they are not speaking up because they're afraid it's going to affect their careers, that pisses me off. Take the risk! I took that risk and the public rewarded me. I still play straight leading characters in theater, TV and film, so it doesn't matter."
Born in Scotland, Barrowman moved to Illinois with his family when he was 8. He went back to the U.K. as a college student to study Shakespeare but soon found himself at an open-call audition. It led to a part in Anything Goes on London's West End, and he never looked back. He's a seasoned stage star who's appeared in everything from Phantom of the Opera to Sunset Boulevard. But it was his part in Doctor Who in 2005 that led to Torchwood and all that's followed.
"I'd do Torchwood for the next five years if they asked," he says happily. "I wake up every morning, I shoot aliens, I save the world, and I get to be sexy and cheeky at the same time. A young boy is living his dream as a man."
Check out Doctor Who clips to see where Captain Jack came from in our Online Video Guide.
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