In the first of a three-part series on CBR TV, comic writer Mark Waid interviews “Torchwood” star John Barrowman at the 2012 Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, where the two discuss not the hit BBC televisions series, but their shared geek interest, namely action figures ,and Stan Lee.
Barrowman and Waid reminisce over the Mego figures of childhood past, with the actor revealing a particular fondness for the original Micronauts line and his ongoing search for the figures, the Captain Jack “Torchwood” figure and Barrowman’s experience meeting Stan Lee after voicing The Stranger for Marvel’s “Super Hero Squad.”
CBR presents the complete interview and transcript below.
Mark Waid: Hi, I’m Mark Waid. I’m here for Comic Book Resources at C2E2 and I’m here with John Barrowman.
John Barrowman: Hi. [Laughs]
[Laughs] It’s good to meet you, John. How’s it been so far for you?
It’s been really good. I just did a panel and when I arrived this morning, I didn’t think there’d be many people there. I always think that — I think that’s what keeps people grounded if you’re not really aware of the popularity. I do know there’s a popularity out there but I didn’t expect to fill the whole room and we did. I love those kind of things. I’m a geek myself and I collect action figures in my living room — in fact, it’s been moved to the house in Palm Springs — I have a this high [Indicates about shoulder height] Iron Man statue and his chestplate and his eyes light up.
I’ve got loads of different action figures. I mean, too many. My partner Scott says too many!
Is that something you’ve had ever since you were a kid?
I’ve always loved action figures and I have to be honest, I have everything from the most current Captain America style of doll, the 12-inch, and I go back to — the name has just jumped out of my head — but remember those six inch ones they used to have of Thor and Captain America and they were in the nylon outfits and Batman and Robin?
Yeah, the Mego ones.
The Mego ones! That’s correct. I have everything from those to the other ones. I also collect Barbies and Kens that are related to TV shows because they usually do them in dual packs. They’ve done everything from “Phantom of the Opera” to “Star Trek” so I have all that kind of stuff and they’re all in a closet.
That’s great! Well, I…
[Leans into microphone] Soon to come out! [Laughs]
[Laughs] So what was it like for you the very first time you saw your own face on an action figure, then?
I was part of the whole process, so I helped design — I denied them a lot of their choices.
For instance, they came and brought me an action figure that looked like a generic person and I said to them, “If people are going to buy the action figure if it’s a Captain Jack action figure, they want it to look like John Barrowman because John Barrowman is Captain Jack.” So I went through all the mold process with them and got it done. I started out just as a head, which is ironic because Jack ends up as a head as the Face of Bo. So, I didn’t like a lot of stuff and eventually when we got the right one, I was totally chuffed and when I saw the first doll — it was “The Empty Child” configuration with the RAF outfit on — that was the first one, I loved it. Then we went from that to another, we did another mold for the “Torchwood” Captain Jack and also the “Doctor Who” Jack, the next incarnation with the coat and I absolutely loved that one.
That one’s great.
I love that one. There’s also a fifteen-inch Tonner doll — they’re a doll company, they’re fantastic.
They’ve done a really good likeness of you.
They — and I was part of the choice for that also.
I was in cahoots with them to get it done, and funny enough because that doll has sold really, really well for them. I think it’s a fantastic doll. They then took my — see, this is where — I love it because I have all of these dolls — but also the incarnation after the Tonner Captain Jack when I did “La Cage aux Folles”, they took all the Jack clothes off of him and they made him into a Zaza and they sent me a Zaza doll, which was amazing. For me, when I get those dolls — I was really, really speechless when I got the first action figure.
That’s amazing. What do you think 10-year-old John Barrowman would think about that?
10-year-old John Barrowman — well, first of all, he wouldn’t know it’s going to happen yet — but me looking back, if I knew when I was 10 years old that that was going to all happen, I probably would have — I mean, I’d probably wet myself. I would have been so excited.
This is what you wanted to do, right?
This is exactly what I wanted to do as a kid. When I was 8 or 9 years old, even younger, I dreamt and I used to — I was one of those kids who would lock himself — not lock himself — but go up to his room and play with his action figures and create this whole fantasy world. Some people think, “Oh, kids should be doing more outside,” well, I played with the stuff outside too but you know what? That’s great to have that imagination and that’s why when I see kids doing the same thing with other stuff that I’ve been involved in — I’m sure we’ll talk about it, but the book “Hollow Earth” that my sister and I have written — kids who draw, drawing is a great thing. Drawing is a way of putting your imagination on a piece of paper. So, the ten year old, nine year old John Barrowman would have been thrilled to know that the things that he was doing that other kids were kind of picking on him for that I’ve made a life and career out of it.
I feel the same way. I grew up loving comics, wanting to be in comics, loving Superman, loving those superheroes and I would take my Mego figures and I would make my own little accessories because they didn’t come with them. I carved up a bunch of colored erasers to look like Kryptonite. I was doing all that stuff because it was that theater of the imagination.
Do you remember Micronauts?
I loved Micronauts. I want to buy Micronauts, but I can’t find them.
I’m sure that someone right now is on Twitter, going “Micronauts!”
Let me know! Let me know, seriously because I’ve looked on eBay and they always take you to a more modern incarnation.
No, you don’t want that! You want the original Micronauts.
I want the original Micronauts with the little white heads, with the glowing heads.
Comic Book Resources, contact us. We’ll get the word to him. But it’s what you do. That becomes your little theater of the imagination and then you become — you end up becoming successful with it.
The thing that I try to tell young people — and it’s nice that there’s young people sitting here.
Oh yeah! My entourage is here, by the way.
If you do something — find something in life that you really enjoy doing and are passionate about and if you can make that your career, that’s fantastic. Not everybody is lucky that we will have our dreams come true, but even if they don’t — because there’s a lot of things that I wanted or wanted to do that haven’t happened — but the fact that you still continue to want to look and dream about stuff and also think that I would love to achieve that, that’s what keeps you going as an individual human being. If you can put that into your work life and you can have that passion about it, no matter what you do — I mean, I’ve been known to — and I don’t mean this in any condescending way whatsoever — but the guys who clean our street in London, I say “Thank you” to them because they do a really good job. Everybody’s job is important no matter what you do and so I really despise and hate and dislike — I shouldn’t say hate — I dislike when people look down on people for the jobs that they do.
[Nods] That’s ridiculous. Find the thing in your life that you like doing, it doesn’t matter — the measure of success is not the paycheck, the measure of success is not the fame, the measure of the success is whether or not you get out of bed in the morning and you want to go to work. Have you ever met Stan Lee?
Stan is — you know that Stan is like that all the time. I’ve known Stan for a long time, he’s like that all the time.
I voiced a superhero, an animation, and Stan Lee came in that afternoon after I’d voiced mine and he walked in the room and literally, I just got the little quivers and I had my picture taken with him. He’s the creator of a lot of heroes that I’ve grown up and loved. But yeah, you’re absolutely right. A lot of people might be watching this and saying, “Well it’s easy for him to say because he’s famous and he does this” but I have to tell you honestly, I never sought fame.
Fame came to me because of the work that I was doing and the work that I really wanted to do. I would have been happy to have been performing in the West End for the rest of my life and career but all of a sudden this show came about with this character in Doctor Who called Captain Jack and that changed everything, but that’s it.
But you didn’t lose sight of your dreams, you didn’t lose sight of what made you happy.
Oh yeah, and I still have dreams now! In fact, there’s things that I’m pursuing and things that I’m able to do because of Captain Jack and that’s why I say to people that I’m truly grateful for them loving the character and also putting me in the position where I am because it has allowed me to live the life that I have always dreamt about and I am really, really grateful. That’s why I try to give back as much as possible. Sometimes too much! [Laughs]
Stay tuned for Part Two of Mark Waid’s interview with John Barrowman here on CBR TV.