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John Barrowman walked on stage at Fan Expo Canada to a screaming audience, grabbed the head of moderator Ajay Fry and kissed him on the lips. The Torchwood star then yelled for fans to cheer louder, a request they happily obliged.
“That was fucking awesome,” he said as he sat down. “I apologize now for swearing, but I am what I am. You should just get over it.”
Barrowman, best known for playing Captain Jack Harkness Doctor Who and its spinoff Torchwood, is a force of id. He does what he wants, when he wants, and laughs frequently. His question-and-answer session was loud and lurid, as he discussed his upcoming role on The CW superhero drama Arrow, the creation of Captain Jack and his experiences as a gay actor in television.
He had to be cagey about Arrow, based on DC Comics’ Green Arrow, as the pilot was being screened at the same time as his panel. However, he could discuss the basic elements of his characters.
“More is going to be revealed about him, but he’ll be pivotal to the program,” he said. His character is called “The Well-Dressed Man,” although his role in the story is unknown. “I’m glad I’m going into another kind of realm of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s time to create another cool character.”
Based on the applause, the crowd already adored him for playing Captain Jack, and moderator Cynthia Loyst wondered, “How much of John is in Jack?”
Barrowman raised an eyebrow and asked, “Do you want to rephrase that?” He took the question anyway.
“I’m really proud that Russell [T. Davies], Steven Moffat, Jane Espenson and anyone involved in the writing for Captain Jack got to know me first, and then they put my personality into Jack. So there’s a lot of John in Jack, and a lot of Jack in John,” he said, grinning. “The only thing I don’t do is go around the street shooting people in the head.”
Barrowman delighted in double entendre, even as the questions move from ones his roles to his sexual orientation. He disagreed with a comment that science fiction is the sole bastion of gay characters, believing that mainstream roles have become more diverse in the past few years. Once again, he thanked the Torchwood and Doctor Who writers for making him “a hero and not a flouncing queen.”
Yet, being a gay actor is more complicated than playing a gay character. Barrowman recounted the time upper management sent a producer, who was also gay, to advise him to be less public about his sexual orientation. He consulted his long-term partner, who stepped aside and told Barrowman that the choice was his to make.
“Well, I’m not going to ask [him] to hide, and go to a function and pretend to have a girl in my arms just because some people aren’t comfortable with it. That’s not my problem,” Barrowman said, adding that the management team didn’t like his choice. “You know what? That’s their bad. If they want to write me out of a show because of that, then I don’t care. I don’t want to be in a show with people like that.”
Even when he discussed his sexuality, talk never stayed serious for too long. Barrowman laughed as he tried to explain an adventure he had the night before. He and his partner had decided to call for a taxi, and midway through the ride, the driver figured out his passenger was somehow famous. Barrowman clarified that he was on Torchwood.
The driver nodded, then said, “I’ve heard of that one. Didn’t they take that off the air because that guy was gay?”
“No, no, we don’t know if it’s coming back yet or not, so it’s still up in the air,” Barrowman recalled saying. “But you know, they didn’t off the air because that guy was gay, because I am that guy.”
The driver quickly tried to take back the remark, just as the car leaped down the street.
“His foot slipped off the brake, onto the accelerator. We nearly hit the car in front of us,” he said. His face was a bright red. “Anyway, I love Canada. … Did I tip him? No. I took some gum off my pants and put it on the seat.”