For many children growing up not that long ago, the fantastic worlds of science fiction and comic books served as an escape from the strict definitions of gender and sexual identity. Geeks and gays alike could daydream of a world that glorified intellect and self-expression, a place where a boy could be swept off to adventure by a handsome, dashing hero in a fast spaceship.
For a new generation of young people, Captain Jack Harkness is that hero. Introduced on the BBC’s long-running series, Doctor Who, Harkness, played by actor and singer John Barrowman, is the dashing American scoundrel who cannot die. Deemed “omnisexual,” he romantically pursued men and women equally.
Audiences weren’t fazed and soon Harkness was the lead character in a new spin-off, Torchwood, about a secret team of heroes who deal with a rift in the time/space continuum near Cardiff, Wales.
Many actors might avoid such a role for fear of typecasting, but Scottish-born Barrowman embraced the complexities of Jack Harness, because he himself is openly gay.
Barrowman, 44, recalled the first same-sex scene he played as Captain Jack: “To be honest with you, it flew by like it never happened. As the character developed and progressed—we called him ‘omnisexual’ in the ‘Doctor Who’ world—no one made a really big issue of it.”
Instead, fans embraced the character and the actor.
“The fans know who he is and it’s about time to have an openly gay man play a hero on television,” he explains. “I’m proud. I’m glad to be a voice for the gay and lesbian and transgender community.”
Reruns of both Doctor Who and Torchwood have long been staples on BBC America, but producers introduced Torchwood: Miracle Day, a new series aimed more at the American audience on the STARZ network this summer.
Barrowman predicts Jack will captivate new viewers and warns there will be plenty of “man on man hot sex,” too.
“There are a lot of different characters represented on American TV, more than any other nation, I think, but they’re pretty much stereotypes. People connect with [Jack and the Torchwood characters] because of the truth of who they are, the truth of their relationships, the way they go about living their lives. It will be refreshing for audiences,” says Barrowman, who joined his longtime partner in a British civil ceremony in 2006.
Barrowman, who immigrated with his family to Illinois as a child and completed college in Southern California, is a household name in the United Kingdom. He has served as a judge on the British series So You Think You Can Dance, and numerous performance competition shows; has feature films and West End musicals under his belt; and is releasing a new album, Best of Barrowman, and going on a concert tour.
“I didn’t come into this business to be famous, but it happened,” he says. As a judge of many reality talent competitions he advises hopefuls, “If you want to be famous overnight, you can try your luck and go on a reality show….but do you really want to be an entertainer? There is a difference. I was born and put on this planet to be an entertainer, but celebrity comes as a gift to the hard work that you do.”
But, for American audiences, he will always be Captain Jack and he’s committed to Torchwood for now.
“It’s my baby,” he concludes.
“Torchwood: Miracle Day”
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