Russell T Davies, creator ofTorchwood, says that having a
star who cannot die is far too tempting, creatively speaking. Rather than just hint at Jack’s condition, Davies revels in it, devising new and ever more grisly ways for people to try and kill him and ever more inventive ways to bring him back.
And, with Torchwood: Children of Earth, he has the perfect vehicle in which to do it. In the five-night miniseries, starting the evening of July 20 and ending July 24 on BBC America, children across the globe freeze and begin speaking in unison and in English, “We are coming.” Needless to say, parents are frantic. Soon, the world begins to realize that this message is meant for Britain, while the British home office soon targets the members of Torchwood for elimination.
What’s beautiful about what is, in essence, a miniseries, is that you need not have watched the previous two seasons to follow it. And along with a storyline reminiscent of both Contact and Village of the Damned, it also provides plenty of insight into Jack’s nature, including his complicated romantic relationship with team member Ianto Jones. This is Davies’ most daring and action-packed Torchwood to date.
I got a chance to interview John Barrowman, who plays Capt. Jack, about his character and the series, and what playing the first gay superhero on television means to him.
What got you off the stage and onto the set of Torchwood
John Barrowman: I’ve always been actively seeking to do something in television and I did children’s TV while I was on stage. A lot of people don’t think that musical theater actors are very good actors or performers and I’ve always rubbished that. If you look at people like John Travolta or Susan Sarandon or other major players in Hollywood, most of them have started out in musical theater. To try to break that mold, I was always proud of my background. But how I got to Torchwood was, my manager got a phone call from the BBC casting director saying they were looking for a matinee idol kind of guy to play this “rogue time agent” character. Within 15 minutes of my meeting, when they saw the tape, they said, “That’s him. We can’t go any further. That’s Capt. Jack.” I will always do theater. When I have space and time (pardon the pun), I will go back to the theater. And I still do concerts around the UK, I just don’t get to perform live except four or five times a year.
It must be wonderful to be so multi-talented.
It’s kind of you to say that, but I just look at myself as someone who knows what his craft is. I know what I can do and I made it my career. I’ve been given a gift. Some people are put on this planet to fight for causes, others to raise families, others to be policemen or firemen. I’ve been put on this planet to entertain people.
You can tell when actors are having fun, and it seems that Torchwood must be great fun.
(laughs) You are absolutely correct. All of the cast, we have a blast. We not only work together, we socialize together. Burt had a baby while we were filming. Gareth had his girlfriend, and he was like the younger brother we all had. Eve and Burn, their relationship developed. My partner and I have a civil partnership. Naoko, we were always looking for a boyfriend for. So we were all like a family unit. And it was great, because when you spend nine months together intensely, you bond.
One thing I love about Jack is that unlike all the other immortals on television, he’s so upbeat. How does he keep that attitude when others like him are so miserable, dour and unhappy?
In the first show, Jack was not comfortable with being immortal. He didn’t know what happened to him. You have to watch a couple of episodes of Dr. Who: Series 3 when he goes back and finds the doctor and resolves his angst. So he’s realized he is there not for himself; he is there for the good of the planet and the people and society. He’s there to help and give his knowledge of what he’s learned over the centuries, because he has lived in many different times. He just finds the humor in stuff, and also he’s a bit naughty, so that makes him happy.
I like the fact that the characters show so much emotion. You often don’t see that in shows where action heroes keep a stiff upper lip, as if you have to be stoic in order to save the world.
That may be why people have warmed to Jack so much. We discussed this with Russell and Julie and the other producers and I said he can’t not show that he doesn’t care about these people. He has to show his loss and his emotional distress, but he does have to move on quickly from it. You have it, you get over it and you move on. Russell said to me, “That’s perfect, play it that way and we’ll see how it works,” because they were concerned it would get too emotional. But when you see it on film, it absolutely works. The public can relate to it.
In the first episode of the second season you have a scene with James Marsters that is so incredibly surprising and delightful. Was it in homage to the Buffy series?
When I read it, it was described as being like a scene from a spaghetti Western. It struck me as brilliant. This is what the audience will not expect. You expect the fight but they kiss first then they beat the crap out of each other. It shows the love/hate relationship they’ve had and that they’ve had a really colorful past. You get every bit of that within the first minutes of that kiss, the fight sequence, and they start circling each other and saying you’re losing your hair. You’re putting on a little weight. It’s perfect.
Fans of Torchwood who attend sci-fi conventions, sport buttons that say “that kiss” but I think they are referring to the one between you and the young soldier in season one.
In that episode, I go back in time and meet the actual Capt. Jack, the one whose name I stole. That one got a lot response from people. When we filmed it, I said to the supporting artists all around me in the crowd, “When this happens, we don’t look at it as being something shocking or weird or gross because all of the people in this dance hall, most of them in the story, are going to fight tomorrow and possibly will die. So any kind of emotion or love that is shown between two people, everybody understand it and … they will really appreciate it.”
One thing I didn’t know when we were filming it, the gentleman who was playing the role, his brother years ago had committed suicide because he was gay. And he said to me afterwards, he was in tears and I thought he was getting upset at something else that I was doing. And he said, “John, I just want you to know that I am so proud to be doing this with you because if this program had been on when my brother was around, maybe he would have had the confidence to not be unsure of himself and to not have taken his life because he would have had a positive role model.” And that’s why he took the role. And that kind of response we got from so many, many people because it was handled in a romantic sort of way.
You said some people change the world and some people are performers. But because of your character, and what he does for the world and how he does it, you have got to be a hero for young gay boys everywhere.
I’m pleased you said that because things happen and things move on in my life and career and I do realize that I have a certain amount of responsibility and also the position I’ve been put in and the person I’ve become and the character I play, I have become someone who has the ability to help change things. And I recognize that, and I do as much as I possibly can because if I can help any man or woman who is coming out or is struggling with their sexuality because the society around them is telling them that they are evil bad and wrong, I will do everything in my damnedest power to help save that person rather than the person taking their life or feeling they are a lesser human being than anybody else. (Laughs). So I guess that comes with the territory.
Season 3 has just 5 episodes; what was the reason for that?
In Britain we are moving the series from BBC2 to the main channel BBC1. And when you move a series from B2 to B1, there’s no point in doing an entire series because people who are BBC1 watchers will not know who the characters are. So what we have to do is start with a new story but do it in a way that people who have not seen Torchwood prior can still follow along. … When we come back with Season 4, which has not been confirmed yet, but is already being talked about, we will be going back to the 13 episodes. It’s not the end.
People are saying it’s because of my busy schedule, but it has absolutely nothing to do with my schedule because Torchwood on my list has priority No. 1 because it means so much to me. And we are now just waiting on contracts, we’ve already committed the time. I’m looking forward to Series 3 and beyond that to Series 4. Because I’m loving playing Capt. Jack and I will play him for as long as I can.
Photo credit: BBC
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