John Barrowman, who plays Capt. Jack Harkness in the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood, is poised to become America's latest leading man (and People's next hottest hunk).
Never heard of him? You should've—years ago.
That's because this 40-year-old, musically gifted actor who was raised in the U.S. but born—and lives—in the U.K., was originally cast as Will in the sitcom Will & Grace. Trouble was, after casting him, the network told John he acted "too straight" to play a queer man, even though Barrowman himself was openly gay (the part went to Eric McCormack, who is straight).
"I don't like to dwell on that one, because I've moved on from that," says John from a home he shares with his partner of the past 16 years, Scott, in Cardiff, Wales. "That was their loss. Hopefully, American audiences like Torchwood and what I do. What I have, and BBC executives found out...is, audiences don't care what someone's sexuality is anymore, because you're watching people play a character. An actor's job is to play a character, not be themselves."
But merely being himself—think Monty Clift without the closeted homo baggage—is what makes him so perfect, not just as Captain Jack but as a role model for the 21st century. "It's time somebody was openly gay and prove that you can be a leading man," says John about the Hollywood types who told him to keep his yap shut about his sexuality. "The only role model I had growing up was Billy Crystal in Soap, and he wasn't even gay, for crissakes."
Torchwood, which premiered on BBC America on Sept. 8, has been compared to a "Welsh X-Files" and revolves around the exploits of a covert investigative team that uses alien technology to solve crimes—"both alien and human." It's not just good, it's great, and might be the breakout show of the year in the U.S., like it has been in the U.K.—though it features gooey gore, a lesbo who kills with her vagina, and a lead who is, at the very least, an omnisexual whore.
"The best quality of Capt. Jack is he cares about everyone no matter who they are," John says about a character that has not only taught him compassion but revealed to him his own impatience ("Scott's been telling me that for years, and I never believed him"). "The worst is, he will shoot you in the head if it's for the greater good." It's that dichotomy that has proven to be the genius of this show created by Russell T. Davies (of the new Doctor Who series and Queer as Folk).
And as for fame? Although he's a relative unknown here, he can't go to the market in Cardiff without getting mobbed by a fan base made up primarily of women and young boys.
"I was doing a signing of my action figure. I think it was after one of my shows," says John. "There was a line of people and this little boy came up and his father said, 'Do you want Capt. Jack's autograph?' and he said, 'Yeah, I don't care if he likes boys, Daddy—he's my hero.'"
And now he's my hero, too.