Comic Con Africa 2023 is right around the corner and leading up to the event, we’re continuing our guest spotlight feature that spotlights some of the awesome local and international talents attending the show this year. We’ve already covered Ash Ketchum voice actress Veronica Taylor and C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels. This time, we’re taking a look at Captain Jack Harkness himself, John Barrowman, as well as his personal life and career.
John Scot Barrowman was born on 11 March 1967 in Mount Vernon, Glasgow, Scotland. He was the youngest of three children; his mother was a singer who worked in a record shop while his father was employed by a heavy machinery company. His older sister, Carole, later became a university professor. In 1975, his family relocated to the Illinois in the United States following his father’s company relocation.
While attending Joliet West High School, Barrowman fell in love with performing after being encouraged by his music tutor and his English teacher. In fact, his English teacher moved him into a program for gifted children and coached him for the school’s speech team, competing in various statewide competitions where he honed his craft reading scenes from plays. His classmates often mocked his native Scottish accent, so Barrowman learned how to speak with a General American accent too.
To give him the experience of manual labour, Barrowman’s father gave him a job shovelling coal for the power company, though he didn’t like it very much. However, his father was very supportive in whatever his son wanted to pursue, saying:
“If you want to do manual labour for the rest of your life, you’ll know that when you do it; it’s a choice. But if you don’t like it, you’ll understand the importance of educating yourself and–if you decide what you want to do–being good at your craft or your skill.”
Barrowman graduated from high school in 1985, obtaining a US citizenship while retaining his British citizenship. He attended the University of Iowa to study drama and music, moving to DePaul University to study voice for a semester, then transferring to the United States International University in 1988 where he studied performing arts. As part of a student exchange program, he returned to Britain in 1989 to study Shakespeare for six months.
Barrowman’s career began in London’s West End shortly after, performing in numerous theatre productions and plays including The Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast. Despite moving to television and screen acting, he still appeared in plenty of theatre productions throughout the 2000s. Barrowman also spent some time as a television presenter, first landing one of the hosting roles for the BBC Saturday morning variety show, Live & Kicking, and many more.
Barrowman’s transition into prime time drama was a relatively smooth one. He appeared in smaller roles in the early 2000s – he even auditioned for Will in the series Will & Grace but producers felt that he was “too straight” for the role (Barrowman is gay in real life) – before landing a breakthrough role in the 2010 season of Desperate Housewives. From there, his career skyrocketed after accepting roles in popular TV shows like Arrow, where he played Malcolm Merlyn, as well as other superhero shows like The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow.
However, Barrowman’s most famed role is arguably playing the pansexual time traveller Captain Jack Harkness on the series Doctor Who, where he was a recurring guest character. Barrowman’s role became so popular that he was given is own TV series – Torchwood, which followed a team of alien hunters. Barrowman was praised for his performance on the show and quickly became a household name in pop culture.
Barrowman also contributed to charity and activism throughout his career, namely with Stonewall, a gay rights organisation in the UK. “Some people are gay. Get over it!” said Barrowman in a popular quote that was featured on over 600 billboards.
John Barrowman will be attending Comic Con Africa this year for 3 days, from 23-25 September. Make sure you secure your tickets on Howler.