John Barrowman is open to stateside stardom

Times Staff Writer

John Barrowman might already be familiar to fans of the British sci-fi series “Dr. Who” as the dashing Capt. Jack, a 51st century American trapped in 2007. Now Jack has moved up to lead his own band of alien crime solvers, and Barrowman has moved with him as the star of “Torchwood,” which premiered last Saturday on BBC America.

As such, Barrowman, who was born in Scotland and partly raised in the U.S., has the only American-accented lead role on the BBC; he is also one of the rare leading men on television who is openly gay.

Since moving to London to pursue a career onstage, Barrowman, 40, has had a long career in London musical theater and some children’s shows on television. When “Torchwood” launched in Britain last year, he became an instant, bona fide celebrity, an experience he said he wouldn’t mind duplicating in the U.S. “My parents don’t get to see my success on a daily basis,” said Barrowman. “I think my mother would secretly like that to happen here.”

But, despite their current love affair with the Brits, U.S. audiences aren’t a sure thing. They responded mildly to the relaunched sci-fi series “Doctor Who,” which airs on both the Sci Fi Channel and BBC America in the U.S. and is now filming its fourth season in Britain.


“Torchwood,” an anagram of “Doctor Who,” follows the exploits of an international team, led by Capt. Jack, as it hunts evil aliens living in the sewers in Wales. The show resembles American dramas in format and pacing and, to judge by its reputation for frequent shagging, is clearly designed for adults. Capt. Jack, particularly, is “omnisexual,” meaning, Barrowman said, “Capt. Jack doesn’t discriminate. He’ll shag anything with a ZIP Code.”

Energetic, slick and dressed in a narrow Italian shirt, Barrowman looked like a European cross between Tom Cruise and Mark Harmon. He said he didn’t mind the business goal of publicizing the show for television writers at the summer press tour for the Television Critics Assn. in Beverly Hills. “I see myself as a performer-artist, but I also see myself as a business. My brand is John Barrowman. Leading man would be it in a nutshell.”

Television, he said, is likely to increase his theatrical box office at home. He is also a recording artist with a four-album deal with Sony. The first album is due before the end of the year. His sister is writing his biography, to be published in March.

Barrowman and his partner of 16 years, Scott Gill, an architect, have homes in London and Wisconsin and are building another in Florida.


Barrowman has appeared in U.S. television previously (“Titans,” “Central Park West”), and he said he’d love to return and work here. But he doesn’t think seriously about relocating because, he said, his civil partnership with Gill wouldn’t be recognized.

In general, he said Britain has a much more accepting view of sexuality than the U.S. In Hollywood, he said, openly gay actors are much more limited in which roles they can play and are thus more guarded about their personal lives.

“What you do on your job should not reflect on how your life is lived,” he said. Part of the problem is that stereotypes are perpetuated by the media, he said. He said he is often labeled “gay actor John Barrowman.” “I’m an actor who happens to be gay. You don’t write heterosexual actor Brad Pitt.”

What’s more, Barrowman said that while “the entertainment industry in the U.S. is run by a lot of gay men and women,” he called many of them “homophobic” and “closeted.”


“I would just like to see other men and women be themselves and not have to hide.”