Barrowman: Starz ordered edgy 'Torchwood'

By KAREN BUTLER  |  Sept. 9, 2011 at 3:29 PM
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NEW YORK, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Scottish-born actor John Barrowman says he was delighted when he heard America's Starz network would be joining as a creative partner on his sexy science-fiction series "Torchwood," which had previously aired on the BBC.

"I thought it was fantastic, I have to tell you. All the worry [about Americans becoming involved in a popular U.K. series] came from other people. It was not a worry from me at all," Barrowman, who was raised in Illinois from the time he was 8, told UPI in a recent phone interview.

Barrowman said he knew all was OK because series creator Russell T. Davies and executive producer Julie Gardner were involved in the latest run of episodes.

"It was still going to have the core of what 'Torchwood' was and it wasn't going to be watered down at all. And if it was watered down, I probably wouldn't have been involved in it," he said.

"But we were so grateful and so lucky to get picked up by the Starz network, who, to be honest with you, put the money up there and we were able to make 'Torchwood' again," the 44-year-old actor emphasized. "And that's why we're back. Because of Starz. They said: 'We don't want you to be watered down. We want you to be even more edgy and darker.' It's actually edgier and darker than it ever has been and that's because they said: 'Go for it. Do what you do best.'"

Produced by BBC Worldwide Productions, BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Worldwide, the 10-episode "Torchwood: Miracle Day" series premiered first on the pay cable network Starz in the United States July 8, then started airing later in the month on the BBC in the United Kingdom.

"Miracle Day" follows paranormal investigators from the top-secret government agency Torchwood as they try to figure out why people have stopped dying around the world. Barrowman plays Torchwood's dashing, mysteriously immortal leader Capt. Jack Harkness.

Set in Cardiff, Wales, "Torchwood" initially ran for two seasons, then was followed by the miniseries "Torchwood: Children of Earth." The three incarnations aired on the BBC and BBC America.

"Miracle Day" is the first installment to take place largely in the United States and to make its debut on Starz. Co-starring "Torchwood" alumni Eve Myles and Kai Owen, "Miracle Day" also features Mekhi Phifer, Bill Pullman, Alexa Havins, Arlene Tur and Lauren Ambrose. Its finale is to air on Starz Friday night and on the BBC next Thursday.

For Barrowman, the storyline for the latest entry in the franchise was irresistible.

"It sounds like such a wonderful thing when you present it -- no one can die. But we still feel pain. We aren't able to feed everybody," he noted.

"The population climbs and then you realize: 'Holy cow, this is not good. This is not going to be the way people think it's going to turn out,'" the actor explained. "And that is evident from the moment the show starts. As soon as this event happens, it goes really wrong, very quickly."

Barrowman went on to say he loved the plot twist in which the usually unkillable Capt. Jack is struck mortal just as everyone else on the planet becomes immortal.

"Everything is flipped on its head and we don't know why this has happened and Jack finds out in the first episode [he is mortal,]" the star said. "What was great for me to be able to play is Jack, being the hero, could always step in front of a bullet. He could always take the explosion. He could stop the car with his body, knowing he would always come back. All of a sudden, he still has to be a hero, but he can die. ... It was a lot of fun to play. ... What was really interesting for me is I had to play Jack before when he was immortal, but I had to give him some kind of vulnerability and empathy and that was difficult when you know that somebody can't die. So, all of a sudden, having a character who can come into harm's way, he can die, to all of a sudden then go: 'Actually, I can show his vulnerable side now. I can show some fear.' It opened up this kind of cornucopia, this Pandora's box full of different things."

Barrowman said one of the elements that most appealed to him is that Capt. Jack, who has had various sexual partners throughout the series, is seen actually falling in love in "Miracle Day."

"It's romance," he said. "It's the first time you're going to see -- if I can say so because I haven't seen a lot of American television, obviously, being in the U.K. -- but I think it'll be the first time you will see a romance between two men actually played out in front of you on television. So, for me, as a gay man, that's very exciting. All of a sudden, I'm showing, probably, hopefully, other young men and women who are struggling with coming out with their sexuality ... that I'm showing them there is a romance there and it can be romantic, just like everybody else."

So, what was it like working with his new American co-stars on "Miracle Day" and without longtime co-workers whose characters were killed off in "Children of the Earth?"

"[Changing the cast] keeps it fresh and exciting," Barrowman reasoned. "And it keeps us a drama, which dramas need to change and we need to do things that cause drama. If we didn't do that, we wouldn't be a drama. We would be dull and we'd probably be off the air. It's sad to see characters go. ... But I love the show and, I have to be honest, I don't have any problem moving forward and bringing in new cast members because it just means a new and a bigger and a longer life for the show."

When he's not attempting to save the world on the small-screen, Barrowman also writes novels and has a successful music career in real life. His "Torchwood" book and album "The Best of John Barrowman" are set for release this fall.

The popular stage actor has been a judge on the theatrical competition shows "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?," "Any Dream Will Do" and "I'd Do Anything," as well, and co-produces and hosts the talent show "Tonight's the Night."

And in his spare time, Barrowman said he would love to be a judge on a British version of the American vocal competition show "The Voice," too.

"'The Voice' is coming over here and I've already said to the BBC, 'If you get the contract to do the show, I'd like to be a judge,'" he said. "It's a real gift for me to have two different kinds of careers -- one is entertainment-based and the other is drama-based."

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