“You’re being paid to have fun and to laugh and be daft and stupid.” John Barrowman talks to Northern Soul
As you might expect, chatting with John Barrowman is a cheeky and gossipy encounter. His tales are peppered with one-liners about threesomes with The Krankies and being the best ‘Dick’ in the business.
With his larger-than-life personality, what is sometimes overlooked is his astonishing CV. Barrowman has enjoyed theatre success in shows including Sunset Boulevard and La Cage aux Folles, telly hits with Torchwood and Arrow, and prime-time status with Tonight’s the Night and game show Pressure Pad. He also writes sci-fi novels for young adults, records chart albums and performs concert tours. He makes Clare Balding seem like an underachiever. If anyone has earned the title ‘Mr Entertainment’, it’s Barrowman.
“I enjoy working,” he says with characteristic enthusiasm. “I also never single out a favourite genre to work in, so I don’t get pigeon-holed. It is the entertainment business after all and you have to be diverse and stretch yourself be it writing books, steering TV shows, recording albums, panto or whatever. That’s what the business is, and I have to be able to adapt. Now for instance, after years of playing the young ingénue, I’m playing the Dad.”
Glasgow-born Barrowman has embraced the move to a different age bracket both on and off screen. He reached the big 5-0 earlier this year but if there were any potential icebergs en route, he wasn’t aware of them.
“I sailed past it. My husband might disagree with me, but if there were icebergs, I just smashed them up and put them in a fucking drink. It is what it is, although without trying to sound egotistical, I don’t think I look 50. I’ve gone into meetings recently for things such as the role of Blake in the new version of Dynasty, and been told I still look too young to play that character. I just take that as a compliment.”
Next for Barrowman is his annual foray into the world of panto. This year he’s starring in Dick Whittington at Manchester’s Opera House alongside The Krankies. This is the seventh year they’ve worked together and it’s clearly a combination he enjoys.
“Everybody told us it would be a mismatch,” he admits. “But we’ve gelled, had a great time and become a brand. It’s something we didn’t expect but now we’re one of the best threesomes in the country.”
He continues: “No matter how tired we are or feel, what turns it on for us is walking on stage and feeling that wave of joy from the audience. You’re being paid to have fun and to laugh and be daft and stupid. It’s the most amazing thing and there’s no way you can’t have fun. I guarantee audiences will get a great night of entertainment and leave that theatre laughing and feeling like they’ve had their money’s worth. Over the years, the kids that used to come to the show are now bringing their own kids and that to me is the best critique.”
As soon as the last ‘oh no it’s not’ is uttered, Barrowman will be diving into 2018 with another range of projects.
“I’m doing a concert in Melbourne and, after finishing five years on the TV series Arrow, I’ve got pilot season coming up in the States for new TV shows,” he reveals. “My sister Carole and I, along with Erika Lewis, are writing a brand new Celtic Scottish-based comic book called Cured for Legendary Comics, and we’re also looking to make an animated movie of our novels for young adults. I’ve also started a company [Entertainment 13] in the States representing actors appearing at sci-fi conventions around the world.”
Barrowman’s often outrageous personality is well known from regular guest spots on TV shows such as Celebrity Juice and Loose Women. During our chat, he’s as upbeat and cheerful as you’d expect, but he’s keen to ensure that his natural exuberance doesn’t spill into – or restrict – the parts he is offered.
“I don’t always play big character roles. People assume musical theatre is automatically going to be over the top but it’s not. My part in Sunset Boulevard being a good example. People sometimes forget I’m an actor because they also know the personal side of me from being OTT on shows like Celebrity Juice. It’s the easy option to only think of me in that way rather than looking at my résumé.
“I don’t live my life or run my career thinking ‘I wish I’d done this or I’d like to do that’ though because that doesn’t move things forward. I’m quite content with the way my career is progressing, and I plan to always adapt and change.”
Barrowman is one of a small number of actors who have always been out and proud in an industry that usually prefers its stars to stay firmly in the closet. Does he think his success has inspired other actors to be more open about their sexuality?
“There were some of us who took the risk early on to be open about being gay,” he says. “If it affected us in some ways then c’est la vie, but there was no way I could have lied about who I was. I think things have changed over the years and it’s much easier now to be openly gay in the industry.
“When Greg Berlanti and the CW Network cast a show, they don’t care who people sleep with in their private life. It’s all about whether you can do the role and the job. There are still actors who have to be in the closet and it’s not my job to out them. I always say, if there’s a personal reason why you’re not coming out then that’s your prerogative, but if you’re not doing it because you think you’re going to lose a job or your career is going to change, then you’re fucking stupid. It’s detrimental to everybody else so you are best to come out.”
Hollywood is currently in the grip of a sexual misconduct scandal involving some of its key players. “The story will run for a while,” Barrowman believes. “But I’m not sure how big it’s going to get.
“Situations where women are being asked to take their clothes off, or perform oral sex to get a role or to keep a job, are very troubling. It’s completely out of line for that to have happened. Hopefully people have a voice now and feel more empowered to come out about it.”
Dick Whittington is at Manchester Opera House from December 9, 2017 to January 7, 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.
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