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BWW INTERVIEWS: Actor, Singer, TV Presenter John Barrowman

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Hello, John, and welcome to BWW:UK. You're a very busy man and we've got lots to talk about, so let's make a list first!

Yes, OK! In particular and most importantly is La Cage, and then while I'm in La Cage, I'm also releasing my second book, which is not an autobiography, it's more memoirs over the last three years, and also a reflection on letters and things that have been sent to me by people and the questions they've asked regarding the first book, regarding my opinions on stuff, so it's my insight into things. And then in November the DVD of my concert tour comes out, so that's something to
look forward to. I'll start recording my new album for release on Mothers' Day next year, and that begins recording while I'm still doing the show.

I talked to Daniel Boys a few weeks ago and he said what an amazing time he'd had on your tour, where he supported you. I take it you enjoyed it as well!

I loved doing the tour because it's a time for me to be able to go out on the road and connect with the people who are supporting me in all aspects, because my audience ranges from young kids to teenagers all the way through to nans, poppas and grandmas. So it's a way for me to connect. And I have fun because I let them into my life and my world even more, more so than anything you see on television. It's completely different than when I'm on a talk show. I have family pictures that come up, and I really give them a special night. I think. I hope!

You write your books with your sister, is that right?

What I actually do is I dictate the stories and tell all the facts. I basically do it all into an iPod, and then I send her the files. She then takes that voice and puts it into word form. For some reason she's able to do it, she captures my voice incredibly. She picks it up and gets my rhythm and everything right. Each book we've done, she's lived with me and Scott for three and a half months. She goes to all my meetings, all my rehearsals, all my shows - everything I do during that time, she lives that with me, so she understands how my life is. She's not a ghost writer. It's with my sister rather than being a ghost writer - she doesn't do it without me giving her any information.

That must be nice for you, because I imagine you can't get to see your family as much as you'd like.

Even though I'm so busy, I'm not unrealistic. I make time for my family. As I've said before, family is extremely important to me. In this current book, what I do is take the phrase "family values" back from all those conservative jerks, people who are looking at my life and other people I know as being wrong. I do have family values, they're just not exactly the same as everybody else's. That's what makes a family unique. I see my parents every three months, and they're coming back over for La Cage. They're coming over in November, I think it is. My best friend and her husband are coming over, my friends from the States, so I do get to see my close friends and myfamily quite often.

Your parents had a starring role in the documentary you did - they seem lovely!

My parents are great! In fact, we were just talking with a TV company about doing a TV show involving the entire Barrowman family.

Like the Osbournes?

Yeah! [realises what he's said, laughs] Well, hopefully not! Yeah. We said no. I like them having their anonymity.

Are you entirely relocated to London for the run in La Cage?

No, no, we have a house in London. We've never given up our house here, but we also have a house in Wales. It depends. Now, I'm here for most of the week so we go back for the weekend in Wales. When I'm filming Doctor Who or Torchwood, I'm in Wales so we come back here for the weekend.

And is your QVC addiction still going on?

Yes, it is! I don't know if it's so much a QVC addiction so much as I just love certain products on QVC. I'll rattle them off to you. I love Northern Nights bedding. LOVE that. I absolutely love Cooks' Essentials for the kitchen. I think that's absolutely brilliant. And also Joan Rivers jewellery, because I buy it for my mother. She thinks it's incredible. Also Butler and Wilson - listen, if you want really good jewellery and watches, do the Butler and Wilson on QVC. I've called in to QVC and been on the air, when they've been doing shows on products that I like. It's hysterical you say that. Actually, I'll show you this RIGHT NOW and you will LAUGH. [He gets up and begins trawling through his rehearsal bag and eventually produces a wallet, which he opens, and then brandishes a small plastic card.] Tell them what it is.

A purple QVC membership card, Mr J Barrowman!

Yep! Thank you very much! [laughs]

What else do you watch on TV apart from QVC?

I don't get to watch television as much I'd like. I watch it on iTunes or iPlayer after they've gone out. I love Desperate Housewives, I love Weeds, I love Dexter, I love movies - the one I watched most recently on the plane for the third time is Enchanted.

I LOVE that film.

It's brilliant, isn't it? I actually love that song, So Close, when they start dancing. That whole sequence is a lift from Beauty and the Beast, the animated sequence, and it's just brilliant and beautiful.

Let's chat about La Cage. When did you first start talking about it?

They spoke to me when the Cagelles were on Tonight's The Night [his Saturday night BBC television programme], which was March, April time last year. We were trying to find a slot where I could fit it in. We knew we had to do three months, it would be silly to do any less, and also not viable for the production company. I would like to do it longer, but I just can't. I'm loving the rehearsal process. I'm excited to see what it's going to be in another week. We've not got long left to rehearse. [mock gasp]

Have you seen it before?

I saw it with Graham [Graham Norton], and I saw it just the other evening, just to go in and watch it for blocking reasons, just to see the transitions between the different songs and different scenes. I don't go and watch shows in order to see how to do things, because I'm not that person. It will be completely different - Simon and I are younger men in comparison to what people are used to seeing in these roles, but that's not to say it can't be played by younger men. I'm in my early forties, so we will look at things a little bit differently than others have.

I was going to say the age thing has been brought up quite a lot...

Well, of course it has, but the age thing, it's like - can I be honest?

Of course!

I think people are looking for something to pick about, and I think it's a load of sh*t. Because I know Jerry Herman, and I know Jerry said when he wrote the songs and when they were working on it he had in mind someone in their mid-forties. Maybe not early forties, but mid-forties. It can be someone on the cusp of a change in their life. He also said the reason that older men played it when they first did it was because a lot of younger guys didn't want people to think they were gay.

Do you think some of the talk about the casting has been because it's YOU who's been cast in the role, like a big name?

I'm going to sound a little bit pompous here. I was a theatre name before I was a TV name. I have a huge track record in the West End. Why shouldn't I play a role like this? I am a West End leading man. That's how I started my career. I've never given it up. It's just that a show came along that took me on a different path.

The funny thing is that different demographics know you for different things. People my age have always remembered you from The Movie Game and Live And Kicking!

Yes, and you guys wouldn't have known that I did anything else. That was before this crossover thing happened, and that was something I wanted to change.

Yes - do you think there is perhaps a demographic that doesn't actually know about your theatre background and sees you as a television person?

Yes and no. One thing I have done in my television shows is that I've made sure people know I'm an entertainer. I've made sure they know that I can sing. I've made sure they know that my roots are in the West End. That's why I got involved in the judging shows. I think now most people know. If you'd have asked me five years ago when I started Doctor Who, for the TV audience who only knew me as Captain Jack on Doctor Who, that would have been the case. Now, I don't think so.

I'm just playing devil's advocate!

I know you are! And that's great, because that gives me a chance to speak out and answer truthfully the way I'd like to.

How are you getting on with the dresses? Are they lovely?

All my dresses are brand new. All my dresses are different. They're styled differently for a younger and a slimmer man. That's not to say that I don't have my muffin top, my love handles. I'll be 43 in March, and I am aware of it! Things have changed with me, so I can relate to strapping in my gut and my arse in a corset. The dresses look great, though. One thing I do have from my years of dancing is a good set of pins. [He stretches out his legs and points his toes.] And the high-heeled shoes - they look good. I'm just being totally honest with you - they look pretty damn good. [laughs]

You've sung I Am What I Am before.

I sing it in my own show, my concerts. It's become my signature song with my audience who know me from recordings and telly stuff. I've never sung it in the context of this show, which is  completely different to how I sing it in my concert. In my concert I sing it as a celebration of being who I am, whereas in this show it's a little more angry, it's a little more defiant. Funnily enough, we've only done it once, because I already know it. That's the one I probably need the least amount of work on vocally and word-wise. What we need to do it meet it up, add it to the scene, and see where that takes me emotionally. I'm really looking forward to it because it'll be nice to sing the song in a different manner, in a different context.

And how is your "son"?

Gabriel [Gabriel Vick] is calling me "mother" already, which is really bizarre - I could conceivably have a son that old. I could. We have an answer for all of it! We've got it all worked out. Let anybody come and say, "Meh meh meh meh." Let them say whatever they want. The bottom line is I'm not doing it for those people.

You've been involved in the BBC talent search shows since the very first one, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?. How did you get involved in that?

I was asked. I was auditioned. I talk about it in my book, I do a whole chapter on the judging shows, and answer a lot of questions, even to the point of discussing some things that happened off camera. I won't go into depth about that because I want people to read the book! I'm also honest and blunt about my opinions on people. I've loved doing those shows. I feel honoured that I was asked by the BBC to represent the West End as a leading man. I feel a lot of pride in that role because I have been asked to help choose a new leading lady or a new leading man to possibly have a career in the West End.

So when I'm looking at them, although certain people are looking for the financial gain and the aspect of looking at them just for that particular show, I'm looking at them for their career. I want to look beyond this one particular show. I'm there as a leading man; I want to make sure the leading lady has the gravitas and talent to carry them through this show and the next. In the theatre world we very rarely have one-hit wonders. Do you know what I mean? People like to build their careers. That's what I'm looking at when I see them. It's up to the person who wins then to continue that.

One of my favourite bits of I'd Do Anything was you and Denise Van Outen hugging each other when the results was announced - it was just such utter glee. It was real, genuine, investment in it.

It was, and again I talk about that final and where that glee came from. We had watched that particular person be slashed and demeaned by the rest of the judging panel in the final, and Denise and I chose not to do it. I chose not to do it for a reason. I'd done two other shows prior. I know how the audience is. I think I understood the audience well. I said to Denise, "Look, we give our comments. We are honest. We say who we like, we say who we don't like, and when we're asked at the end of the show, we do the same thing, we say it, and that's it, because the others are going to try to chomp in their bits and opinions. You know what I think will happen? The audience will think that's not very nice, and they'll do the right thing." And they did.

The British viewing public often does that with harsh judges on reality TV shows.

Yeah, but also, you know what? They liked Jessie [Jessie Buckley], but they liked Jodie [Jodie Prenger] more. They also saw that Jodie was a talent that was ready for that role. Honestly, and I'm being truthful, Jessie wasn't. Jessie didn't have the emotional depth that Jodie had shown the growth with. That's what you want to see in a performance. You want to see them start somewhere and grow to the end, to the 11 o'clock number.

Actually, Liza Minnelli said something similar in the programme, when she did her masterclass, saying that Jodie obviously had much more life experience than Sam and Jessie. Andrew Lloyd Webber's face there was a picture.

Yes! He was mortified! Because they all wanted Jessie! I can't even comment because I don't think she could have done it. I really don't. She could have sung it, but she couldn't have done it. But then she came in to do the role in A Little Night Music and was wonderful. It was right for her, and right for her age. She's a young ingénue, and that's what she should play.

Are there any more judging shows coming up? There was talk about The Wizard Of Oz.

Yeah, but I don't have an answer as to if it is or isn't going to happen. If it does, I'll be involved. I've already had a conversation with the BBC. I'd love for there to be another one.

The one thing in musical theatre that we're all waiting for is Love Never Dies. What can you tell me about that?

I recorded some of it before they decided to go in a different direction, and so did everybody else. It's lovely, it's a beautiful score, but I don't know what's happening - I wish I could tell you more.

So a three-month run here, your book, your DVD -

And pantomime!

Of course! Is it Robin Hood this year?

Yes, it's Robin Hood, in Cardiff, because I wanted to be near my own bed. I've been in Birmingham for the last two years. The first year was a massive success for them. The second year it was the biggest-selling pantomime in the history of the UK.

I spoke to Paul Elliott last week, and we talked about your panto then.

I love Paul! I don't know what he said about me, but I admire him as someone who's able to take something like a pantomime and make it open and genuine for children and adults alike. He's involved in other productions that are also doing well. Also, he's great to work with; he lets you have your ideas and if they work, he lets you use them; if they don't, he tells you. He's like me, he's really blunt, which is something I really appreciate about him.

He was saying it's nice to have a team that works so well together.

I'm proud to be in the position where he calls me up for casting approval and who I want in shows. When we did the first pantomime, the cast was so wonderful I said I want the same people back, as many as you can get. Anybody who's worked with me in a West End show knows that I treat them like a family for the period that I'm there. They are, you're spending upwards of five hours a day with them, from the moment you come into the theatre to the moment you leave. If you have a good time once, you're going to have a good time the second time, and there's loyalty there. People appreciate that loyalty to them. First year we had one cast, second year we had the same cast, third year we've got the same cast again.

After that, into 2010 - a musical episode of Torchwood, maybe?

Ha! I'd like to say yes, but it's not going to happen! There's going to be hopefully a series four of Torchwood. Frankly and bluntly I would say they'd be stupid not to. It's so massive everywhere. It's a great representative of British television around the world, and how further on we are in television than other countries. I've got another concert tour planned - the Albert Hall have already tentatively booked me for next year again; I had such a great time there, I'm pleased that they called me and asked me back. 2010 is actually almost booked up. We're now looking into 2011 and 2012. I've also got series three and four of Animals At Work which is a children's TV programme I do for CBeebies and Canadian Broadcasting, and I go over to Canada to do a show for CBC. Yeah, it's just all go!

John Barrowman appears in La Cage Aux Folles at The Playhouse Theatre from September 14.

 


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