At this point in geek culture, John Barrowman is ubiquitous.
Not only is the former “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” star a go-to for fun-filled performances across the genre landscape — including his current gig as mysteriously resurrected villain Malcolm Merlyn on The CW’s “Arrow” — but the actor is also a fixture at countless conventions coast-to-coast and across the globe. This weekend, Barrowman appears at long-running autograph event The Hollywood Show at the Westin LAX in Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday joining such nostalgia-driven events as “Twilight Zone” and “Flash Gordon” cast reunions.
In advance of the appearance, CBR News caught up with the star to talk convention life, his own sci-fi heroes, the connection between musical theater and blockbuster superhero entertainment and how Merlyn’s life on “Arrow” is far from over.
CBR News: John, over the past few years I feel like you’ve really thrown yourself into the convention circuit and similar shows like this Hollywood Show this weekend. For someone who’s very much a working actor still, what’s the appeal of keeping such a big presence in that scene?
John Barrowman: It’s because when I was younger and was growing up, I was one of those people who never got a chance to go to those things but always wanted to. And back in those days, it was tough to be a geek or like sci-fi or any of that stuff. And so I had the double-edged sword of being gay in the closet and a geek in the closet. So for me, to be part of something that’s particularly a part of my job — which I absolutely adore every single day — and I’m almost celebrating what I do as much as the fans celebrate it — and I’m celebrating it with them as a fan, that’s why I embrace it. I just absolutely love it. So this week, my filming schedule changed and I realized I could do this show, and I said to my husband, “Scott, do you want to go?” And he said, “Let’s do it. We’ll have a blast.” And then off we go.
For me, the fans — and this sounds kind of sycophantic, but it’s not — they’re almost like a big extended family more than fans. Because they welcome me and let me do everything that I want to do, they let me be me and have fun with the characters I play. And the way they embrace these characters is totally awesome. I’m in a win-win situation, so why would I not embrace that?
When you first got on the circuit, did you then have your own autograph list of going, “I’ve never met George Takei or whomever before now, so I’ve got to get to this show and do it”?
Oh my God, yes! I’d never met George before all this, and that was big enough. But then George actually knew who I was, which I found incredible. William Shatner whom I grew up watching on the original “Star Trek” is a person I now banter with. The Shat! I call him “The Cap” on Twitter, and we go back and forth dissing each other and having a good laugh. There’s also all the people from “Star Wars,” and I was a Star Wars baby. So it’s truly amazing to me. And I watch the shows now like “Walking Dead” and “Battlestar Galactica” when it was on, so when I meet those people now I have a bit of a fangasm session.
I can’t really explain this in some ways because I see other people who are work colleagues — I say that, but they work on other shows — and they’re like, “Oh my God, I’ve got to go to another one of these fucking signings.” And you know what? Don’t do it then. If that’s your attitude, fuck off. That gives more of us room to have fun with the fans rather than you being a Negative Nora the whole time. So I’m totally for it and love it.
One of the things I feel must come up as you’ve interacted with so many others from the sci-fi and superhero realm is that you’ve got this great theatrical background — and musical theater in particular — that you had before acting on TV and film, and that’s something you share with a lot of actors in this space like Hugh Jackman and even going back to Christopher Reeve. Do you think those two styles of acting inform each other in some specific way?
Definitely. I go back to a conversation I had with Trevor Nunn who directed me in “Loves Labors Lost” and “Anything Goes!” in the West End and at the National Theater. I originally went over to the UK to study Shakespeare, and I didn’t get to do it. Then 13 or 14 years later, I was asked by Trevor to do that while we were doing “Anything Goes” for the second time, and I was very nervous about it because I hadn’t trained. He look at me and said, “My dear boy, what you need to understand right now is that most of the people who do musicals and go into science fiction are also very great at Shakespeare because science fiction, Shakespeare and musicals are all a heightened reality that is unbelievable, and you have to make it believable. If you can conquer that, you will be doing just fine.” So for everyone who used to run down musical theater people and say that they’re not actors — and I’m going to be really blunt here because I have the floor — I say “Fuck you” because we’re the better actors not only because we can interpret a heightened reality better than some, but also we don’t have to overanalyze it. There were many years where straight theater actors used to say that musical theater people were not good enough. Well, ha ha. Look who’s laughing now.
Wow, that seemed really spiteful, didn’t it? [Laughter] I don’t want to make it sound that way! The whole point I’m trying to make is that we’ve always been underestimated. Hugh Jackman is a great example. Even Ian McKellen who was a great Shakespearean actor in the UK, and he’s been great in the X-Men movies and also “The Hobbit.” So there’s definitely a connection there.
So obviously right now, you’re a part of the team on The CW’s “Arrow,” though you’ve just had the barest hint of a return this season. But the idea that Malcom Merlyn is Thea’s father is a huge element to this season, so can we be expecting you back soon?
Just keep watching! That’s all I can say, because I go up next week to finish my last round of filming for this season. But there is going to be a lot more of Merlyn.
In the meantime, I’ve got a show coming out on ABC called “Sing Your Face Off” which airs on May 31, so I’ll start making the rounds for that soon. Then I go back to London to film the second series for a show called “Pressure Pads” on the BBC. I also just finished my latest album which we should be launching in June worldwide, so people should watch out for that. And there are a bunch of things coming up. That’s just through June. I’m also going off to Australia to do some convention stuff after that, and then we start shooting “Arrow” again in July.
So it’s a nice, relaxed summer then.
[Laughs] To be honest, that for me is a very light schedule. Usually my schedule is a lot busier. But I have a great team around me who manages it all very well, and this week has been great because I had an unexpected week off from filming so I could do this show, and Scott and I are going to have a great time. It’s all managed to the precise pinpoint.
The Hollywood Show runs April 11-13th at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel.