When attending Comic-Con International in San Diego, you will encounter all sorts of panels with titles that seem somewhat ambiguous or generic. That said, the name for actor John Barrowman’s panel was somehow all-encompassing and surprisingly apt: Anything Goes with John Barrowman! This was clear to all present when the actor (“Arrow,” “Torchwood”) bounced out on the stage, dancing and wiggling his rear for the crowd. His enthusiasm was almost palpable.
“I am so glad I am still able to do these panels by myself because I love the fact that we can just come into a big room, shut all of the doors, and be ourselves and not give a hoo-ha-diddly-doo-da what goes on out there,” said the actor and panel moderator/topic.
Barrowman explained that his goal for this panel was to have fun with his fans. With that, he opened things up to questions from the audience. The first person to approach the microphone on the floor addressed recent events in “Arrow,” where Barrowman plays Malcolm Merlyn and asked, “Should we call you Mr. Barrowman, or do you prefer us to address you as Ra’s al Ghul?”
This brought a smile to the actor’s face and he asked the cameraman for the panel to zoom in on his hand. There, on the actor’s middle finger, was a Demon’s Head ring. “That’s to show you that I am really Ra’s al Ghul.”
Barrowman’s character, Malcolm Merlyn, received the title of Ra’s al Ghul at the end of the most recent “Arrow” season. “You see, when I was told that this was going to happen, I asked the production team if they could make me one of the Demon’s Head rings. Of course, they said, ‘Why?‘ And I said, ‘So if I’m in the supermarket and there’s a long line, someone will open a new one!'”
He laughed, as did the fans, but it turned out that Barrowman did use the ring for this purpose. After receiving it, he went grocery shopping at Albertsons. When he got to the check-out, the actor saw the cashier was someone that knew who Barrowman was. There was a long line, so Barrowman decided to have some fun. He began acting enraged to everyone present about the length of the line to get the worker’s attention. When the cashier finally looked over at him, Barrowman directed his ring at the cashier and yelled, “Do you not know who I am?!”
Barrowman giggled and said that a little old lady in front of him turned around at this and said, “Sorry, honey, I don’t.”
And then the cashier — who had finally seen Barrowman and the ring — told her, “Well, you better bow, because that’s Ra’s al Ghul.”
The audience chuckled at Barrowman’s performance of this story. Next, a fan came forward wanting to know more about Merlyn’s intentions. She asked, “At first, it seemed like Malcolm Merlyn was evil, but then he started being fatherly. So when you watch him, you’re not sure which side of good and bad he’s going to fall on…”
“That’s the point,” Barrowman replied. “We want you to think, ‘Oh, he’s changing. He’s really good.’ And then a split second later go, ‘I hate him!’ So he goes back and forth, but I don’t think Malcolm will ever become soft…”
The actor paused as the audience laughed at this double entendre — the first of many he’d say throughout the panel. He gave the audience a sly smile and said, “Oh you dirty-birdies…” He then continued to answer the question. “Malcolm will never become soft or a pushover, but there are things he’s afraid of.”
The next request of Barrowman was to sing a pop song that his character Captain Jack would enjoy. He selected a tune and belted out a few bars, which received loud cheers from the audience. Afterwards, he apologized if he sounded at all hoarse, and explained that he went out the previous night with the cast of “Arrow.” He said that he and Stephen Amell took a long walk back to the hotel together, during which he laughed so hard “I about peed myself!”
“Stephen Amell is funnier than…an inappropriate word. He is so funny, and the more you laugh at him, the funnier he gets.” Barrowman then gave the audience a mischievous look. “I just wish it worked the same way that the more you complimented him on his body, the less clothes he’d wear.”
In addition to his TV roles, Barrowman has been in several movies, including the 2005 version of “The Producers.” Considering this film had many musical numbers, a fan wanted to know more about the experience of this production.
“It was a lot of fun filming that. I got to work very closely with Mel Brooks. And there was one day we were rehearsing on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge in a big gated area — probably about the size of this room. You see, we were all in costume in this fenced-in area waiting to get inside the studio, and we thought we might as well rehearse,” Barrowman laughed at the memory.
“So we were doing this big Busby Berkeley musical number shaped like a swastika out in this parking lot. But what nobody had told us is that we were in a Jewish area. Why the hell would you rehearse a movie like that in a Jewish area? The people in the neighborhood were starting to come up to the fence and were watching us — no smiles…nothing! And then Mel Brooks came out of the studio and yelled, ‘Jesus Christ! Everyone get in here! You’re going to get killed!'”
From his stories and attitude, it’s clear Barrowman has a good time when he’s working. He particularly seemed to enjoy talking about the fun he and his castmates have on the set of “Arrow.” He explained, “The show is so serious that we’ve got to have fun.”
He then told of a time they were filming a scene where he — as Merlyn — had to relay lots of details about a plan to go to the fictional city of Nanda Parbat. After this, actress Katie Cassidy was supposed to ask, “Where is Nanda Parbat?” Instead, she said, “Where is Amanda Poorbutt?” The next take wasn’t any better as she asked, “Where is Shanana Parfat? …Fernando Fardart?”
When Barrowman and the audience finished laughing at this, he volunteered one of his favorite outtakes from “Arrow.” They were filming a scene where Thea Queen was being carried to the previous Ra’s Al Ghul, and Oliver and Diggle were following while assassins surrounded them. As this was taking place, Oliver had to give a bit of dialogue “and we were all standing there, waiting and waiting. Well, I’m sorry — if I have to fart, I have to fart. I don’t care how much dialogue you have to say…
“So I’m standing there, and you hear a little ‘pppfffft.’ And David [Ramsey] looks over, and I acknowledge that it was me. Stephen is still doing the dialogue at this point, but I whisper, ‘It doesn’t smell.’ Then Diggle nods, while still playing things straight. And just before we were about to cut, Stephen — who obviously heard all of this — turns around and goes, ‘Fart in my mouth and prove it.'”
The audience was roaring at this point, as was Barrowman, who had to wipe tears from his eyes. As the laughter died down, a member of the audience approached the microphone and asked if there was a chance we’d ever see Captain Jack again.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I’m contracted to ‘Arrow,’ but when they were doing the 50th anniversary for Dr. Who, the ‘Arrow’ producers all said I would be able to take part if I was asked because they are big fans of the Who-vian world, but it didn’t happen. So I’ve kind of stopped thinking about it, because if it does happen — great! And if it doesn’t, then I’ve had an amazing journey on the Tardis and it changed my life.
“In playing Captain Jack, I was able to be one of the first omnisexual characters on television. Also, I got to be one of the first heroes on television that was played by an openly gay man.”
The crowd cheered and applauded at this declaration. The next question the actor received was from a young female, and moved the panel back into a more playful direction. “Of the two doctors you travelled with — Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant — which one was the better kisser?”
From the hoots and hollers of the crowd, it seemed that many people wanted to know. Barrowman playfully asked the girl at the microphone if she was older than 18. Once she acknowledged this, the actor said, “David Tennant was the best!”
For the final question of the panel, a fan wanted to know about any memorable experiences that stood out for the actor from his time playing Captain Jack. The actor took a deep breath and smiled: “The thing that stands out, even to this day, is people coming up to me and telling me how much the character and the writing of the character means to them and how it changed their lives — how it helped them to be who they are, and not be afraid to speak up or stand up.
“The fact is, Jack stood up for himself. Jack stood for what he believed in, and that’s what I firmly believe everyone should do. No one ever has the right to put you down — you get to stand up and be who you are, and be proud of it, and don’t give a shit what anybody else says.”
This statement received the loudest cheering and applause of the entire panel. And with that, he offered one final declaration: “I’m a geek! I’m a nerd! Be proud of it, and we rule the world!”
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