John Barrowman interview: Torchwood, Miracle Day, Doctor Who, and more
Ahead of the UK premiere of Torchwood: Miracle Day, we’ve been nattering to Captain Jack Harkness himself, Mr John Barrowman…
We met up with John Barrowman twice in the build up to the UK premiere of Torchwood: Miracle Day, which the BBC starts screening this Thursday. Firstly, we caught up with him earlier in the year when the shoot came to Wales. And then, we met him again at the UK press launch, just a couple of weeks ago.
After setting the scene for the show itself, we got down to business...
Please note: mild spoilers for things that happen in the first episode lie ahead.
Jack's the one character who's very much seen the downside of immortality over the past few years. How does it affect him now that the whole world is dealing with that?
All I'll say is, and I'm going to try and put this in so many words without giving anything away, if something happens there has to be a reverse. Looking at humanity, if you think about it, it's got to be sorted out, because there's a lot of problems if humanity is immortal. There are a lot of problems that are going to stem from that. And that's what Jack, and the rest of the team, have to look at.
So, he's potentially in completely the opposite place to where we're used to seeing him? I think I've phrased that right!
You have phrased that absolutely correctly, and I'm just going to say that you might be right! [laughs]
Have you embraced the Hollywood life, what with much of the show shooting in the US?
Wherever I am, I will embrace the life and the lifestyle. I've lived in Hollywood before, and we've moved into the old neighbourhood in West Hollywood. I love California. I always said that one of my dreams was to have six months here and six months in the US. And it's finally happening! So, a dream has come true for me.
Russell T Davies has been saying that this is such a fast shoot, so for you, this must be trickier. What's your typical day on Torchwood?
It depends if you're filming. I probably have to get up at five in the morning, and we drive ourselves to work. Unlike the UK, when we get cars, we have to drive ourselves, and I love that. We pull into the lot, do hair and make-up, we usually film twelve hour days, but in the US, they film until they're finished. So, we might do sixteen hours.
When you go back home, you realise that your call has been pushed a little bit, so you're in at six or seven o'clock in the morning, and it's like that Monday to Friday. And to be honest, I've always had a packed schedule of things that I do.
But although it's fast-paced, it's not any faster than all the stuff I've done in the UK. So, it's not a big flip-change for me. I've also filmed two other series in America, Titans and Central Park West, so there's a work ethic in the schedule. And we're there to work anyway. We're not there to play.
It's a long schedule, but it's definitely bigger, and I think the audience will be pleased with it.
Does it feel a lot bigger? It's got a bigger budget.
I don't know what the budget is. But with the collaboration with BBC One, BBC Worldwide and Starz...
Do you notice the bigger budget?
Yeah! We were on Roscilly Beach in Wales, being chased by black stealth helicopters. It was just brilliant! Shooting real guns. Before, we'd have to CGI the gun flashes. Here, we were shooting bullets. Blanks, not real ones! It was just incredible.
Yes, there's more scope for special effects and explosions, and things like that. But, bring it on!
You said at one point that you were disappointed that Children Of Earth only got five episodes, and this time you've got ten.
I was speaking on a personal level. That aside, that was said before I knew that things were being done [for Miracle Day] to make it bigger and better, and [that they were trying to] find the American side for it. So, I didn't have any worry or qualms here.
I was bursting like a bottle of Champagne waiting to explode this time, because I knew it was going to happen, and when it did, that was just brilliant.
I'm one who will always speak my mind, and say what I feel!
Do you have a stuntman for all the new action sequences?
I do have a stuntman. I normally would do my own stunt driving, my own fight sequences, my own smaller stunts. In Wales, I'd do them myself.
They won't allow me anymore. I have a lot of restrictions on what I can and can't do. Not only stunt-wise. I've got two stuntmen doubling for me at the moment. But I also have it written into my contract that I can't do certain things in my own life.
Such as what?
Extreme sports. I can't go mountain bike riding, I can't go scuba diving, I can't snowboard, horseback ride. I can't play football. I can't play soccer. I can't water ski. Literally, I can't do a lot of things that would cause physical harm.
I think I'll have to take up golf!
With Children Of Earth, there was the government having to do terrible things, and Jack doing terrible things. Is it similar this time?
If it was the same as the last series, that wouldn't be a draw. Like any drama, we have to change things. That's why characters die, and that's why things happen. Torchwood, we're running from the government. So, yes, the government will be involved on both sides of the Atlantic. And we're more of a secretive organisation now!
What are your longer term hopes for Captain Jack? More Torchwood, more movies, a return to Doctor Who?
Oh, my God. Let's just get this series up and running! Those are my dreams!
With the Doctor Who question, I've spoken to Steven Moffat about it, and we were at an awards table or something, and I said it would be great if Matt Smith's Doctor and Jack crossed paths. He said it'd be fantastic. Steven helped create Captain Jack. He wrote the episode that Jack appeared in to begin with. So, you never know!
We caught up with John Barrowman again at the press launch for Torchwood: Miracle Day in the UK. After proclaiming that he'd read our questions for him off our sheet of paper, and then volunteering to hold our highly technical recording device, we got down to business...
Last time we saw Captain Jack in Torchwood, he was in a very dark place. And given what he had to do in Children Of Earth, and how that must affect the character, that strikes me as an interesting point to pick up from.
We don't, though. Jack has disappeared, and what's happened in the past has happened. And if it's something that's going to be looked at and discovered further, it'll be done later, probably. That's up to Russell and the team of writers.
But at the moment, we just pick up. It's happened, he's gone away, he's dealt with it. There's still an underlying tone. I don't want to spoil anything, but that comes out when you're introduced to characters such as Oswald Danes.
In episode seven, which is a really big, meaty episode for the character of Gwen and Jack, we get to tell each other how we really feel about each other, and look into Jack's past. And so, what's happened in Children Of Earth, and that decision that had to be made, you don't need to know what's happened when you start off with the series.
The similarities between Oswald and Jack, though, that plays as part of it. But that's all I want to tell you!
There's always been a darkness to Jack, even before Children Of Earth.
Jack is dark, yes.
So, is he actually a hero?
He is a hero. You have to do bad things in order to become a hero. You have to make sacrifices. This is how I see it, as the guy who plays the character. I see that what Jack does, nothing is wrong. But a lot of people do.
I have people come up to me in the street, saying, "Oh, my God. You killed your grandson. I hate you for that, but I still love you." And that's a dilemma.
Is it the difference between right and wrong, and logic and not logic, when you go back to the decision he had to make?
Yeah, that's correct. If you look at it this way, if you were asked to do that to any of your family members, and be in that position, you wouldn't do it. You just wouldn't. You'd let humanity die.
Television programmes wouldn't usually do it, either. They'd find a way out, and I loved that Children Of Earth didn't do that.
Torchwood, that's why we're so different from all the other sci-fi shows out there. Our sci-fi is based on more of a human story, and an element of science fiction that's- I don't mean this to sound wrong, but intellectual is the only word that comes forward. We're not all about spaceships and aliens. Do you know what I mean? We do have an element of it, but...
Well, science fiction at its core is surely an idea?
Correct. Science fiction with more of a message and an impact, and a global feel to it, as opposed to a specific audience.
You enjoyed the global nature of this one?
Loved it. Absolutely loved it. And when we say global, about episode nine, you'll understand why we call it global!
How do you go about indoctrinating your new co-stars into the Torchwood way, because you've got some cracking names working on the show.
I do. I like to think that I like to make people feel comfortable when they come on board. I like to make them feel part of a family, and I know Eve feels the same way. I like to think of myself as a good leader. I like to have to fun, and I like them to know that we have fun, but we get the work done. I like them to know that we have no attitude on our set. And there's no diva behaviour, and everyone comes on board with that.
I think we make them feel comfortable and welcome, and I love the fact that we've got the likes of Bill Pullman! He's the president of the United States! I said that to him one day on the set. I said, "I'm standing here with Bill Pullman."
I bet he's never heard this before!
No! I bet he hasn't either! And when I do it, he goes like that. [rolls eyes]
As an actor, can I ask you about constantly playing the mid-story of a character? Because Jack's unusual in the sense that we've seen a sense of where he's going to end up, in Doctor Who. So, you're dealing with an enormity of mid-story every time you play him? That there's a degree of the endgame for him that's already known?
You know, I have to be totally honest with you. I'm not that type of actor who thinks about that much. I kind of take what I'm given on the page, and do that, at any given time. I think that, if the truth is played for that moment, I know the history, and I know the future and I know the past. Therefore, playing the inbetween is actually not as difficult as you would think it is.
But what's really fun for me is when I know that certain lines are being given to me because of what's happened in the past. And I do that because, for the core fans, it'll give them what I call a fangasm! I know it, they know it, but everybody doesn't need to know it.
So, yes, it's really interesting. And it makes it a lot of fun. I don't dwell on it, though.
It strikes me that you're in the Jack Bauer role in Torchwood. And the problem that 24 hit was that he's indestructible, basically. I know with Miracle Day that it's being twisted the other way with your character.
How do you know I'm not indestructible in this?
You told me at a round table interview four months ago.
That's the interesting bit, isn't it? You have to convince people that you're still vulnerable. And you've got the plot device this time which helps you.
Your vulnerability can come from other aspects without being harmed. It can come from emotion. It can come from things that have happened in your past that are affecting you. And I think that's where it works with Jack. And I think that's why the audience grasps hold of it. They can see the pain in him. They can see the emotion, the happiness, the love, the respect.
I don't play him as a character. I put a lot of myself into him, so there's a lot of my own personality in him. And I think that's what works. There's not a yes or no, or a right or wrong answer. But that's how it works for me.
Because of the fact that Torchwood isn't a show that looks back now - I said to Russell T Davies that I thought it burned its bridges as it went along - it opens up all sorts of possibilities for it going forward. You've said in the past that this is the one you'd do forever?
Yes. I've always said that if I was forced to do it, I'd do it forever, but I'd put up a fight, because I still enjoy my entertainment stuff.
It's an interesting hybrid that you've got there, too.
Jack has changed my life. The show has changed my life. I appreciate the fans, where I am, because of people who support the show. Therefore, I enjoy playing Jack. And I love what Russell and the team do. I love what they do with the character.
Sometimes, Jack gets to sit back and allow others to do things, and that's enjoyable for me, also, because Jack's the leader of the pack. But sometimes it's nice to take that weight and put it on somebody else. And in fact, that's what happens a little bit in this one, because things can happen to him.
Do you enjoy, at the end of a Torchwood run, being able to walk away and do all the other stuff you do?
Oh, absolutely. I would have it no other way. I would go nuts if I had to do the one thing. I enjoy the variety that my career has afforded me so far, and I've worked very hard to establish myself in both aspects of it. I enjoy my recording, my concert tour, and ironically, when I went to the States to do Torchwood, nobody knew all the other stuff I do over here.
So, when they say, "What are you doing after this?" and I tell them, they go, "What?!" And I tell them this is a fraction of what I do. It's a big impacted fraction, but I love all the other stuff too.
I'm doing Tonight's The Night at the moment, I'm off to finish my new album, I've got my concert tour coming up, which I write and we co-produce. Then I've got pantomime. And if all goes well, after this, going back to do another Torchwood!
John Barrowman, thank you very much!
Read more about Torchwood: Miracle Day here.