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Interview: John Barrowman Talks ARROW and Pam Anderson in DOCTOR WHO’s TARDIS

As a card-carrying Whovian, the prospect of chatting with Captain Jack Harkness himself — John Barrowman — was an exciting one over which it was worth slightly geeking out. (OK so maybe our geeking out was more than slight. How can you not love Captain Jack?!) And if you’re a fan of the Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Arrow star — and live within driving distance of Los Angeles, California — you, too, could have have the opportunity to chat him up. The actor will be hanging out in person at The Hollywood Show at the Westin LAX this weekend, April 11th – 13th, alongside a slew of other stars and celebrities. Ooh, so many fancy folk in one room!

Considering the fact that Barrowman seems to have nerd culture on lock these days, there was plenty to talk about. Over the course of 15 minutes, we bounced around from Arrow teases, the perception and rise of nerds in popular culture, and even what would happen if Jenna Elfman and Pamela Anderson were the Doctor’s companions (miscommunications are the truly conversational gifts sometimes, you guys) on the TARDIS:

Malcolm Merlyn

Nerdist.com: How’s it going? Things steady or a bit crazy for you these days?

John Barrowman: It’s crazy, but it’s good to be crazy. I’m filming Arrow up in Vancouver, so I’m commuting from our home in Palm Springs. My filming schedule changed last minute this week.

N: That wouldn’t be because of this week’s most recent episode of Arrow with Oliver’s sister finding out she’s your daughter, does it?

JB: Oh, my, God, oh, my God!

N: I know — spoiler alert! But is it safe to assume we’re going to see Malcolm Merlyn again before the season’s out?

JB: Let’s put it this way: I’m going up next week to film.

N: Ooh! That’s exciting. It must be really fun to play Malcolm since he’s such an unabashed villain.

JB: Oh, yeah. He’s great and I love him. In a way there’s a lot of similarities to Jack Harkness and Malcolm in the sense that he’s unapologetic about what he does and how he does it, except Jack was doing it for the good of everybody. Malcolm thinks he’s doing it for the good of everybody, but, really, he’s just killing people and being ruthless.

You know, people always ask me if I like playing the bad guy, but I don’t play him like a bad guy. I play him as kind of a hero that’s a bit troubled and he’s doing it in the wrong way, but, he really thinks in his heart of hearts [that he’s good]. I think that’s what helps me make him likeable. People say, “You know, I see why he’s doing it but, my God, it’s terrible. But I totally get it!”

N: Well it’s like they say: every villain is the hero of their own story.

JB: Of course he is! And that’s how I like to play Malcolm. And for fans to say that to me, it’s like, I’ve done it. I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve.

There’s a lot more villain-esque hero stuff to come [laughs]. And I can’t say any more or I’ll have to send a vice through the phone and zap you.

N: Duly noted. I will back away slowly.

JB: [laughs] Good!

N: It was interesting to see, though, the one time your character was truly afraid — at the mention of R’as al Ghul. Have the writers told you any of the history between the characters?

JB: I have been talked to and I have a theory and I can’t tell you anything except the fear in Malcolm’s face was a little bit of fear, but it was also a little bit of thrill because, holy shit, what can happen here? They’re going to be thrilled to see what happens.

N: Ooh, that’s super vague, but also exciting.

JB: [singing] Ahhhhh! That gets an ethereal “ahhhh!”

N: A choir of angels singing in anticipation.

JB: There you go, just not some angels that will come down and turn into cement.

N: Ain’t nobody got time for no weeping angels! Blink and you won’t miss them, unfortunately.

JB: [laughs] Exactly!

N: Coming from two pretty epic fandoms like Doctor Who and Arrow, you must have many varied experiences at conventions and stuff like this.

JB: It’s funny, because the Arrow fans are more men, Doctor Who are more teens and young people, and Torchwood fans are like, older women and some married men. I’ve got one of the most diverse fanbases I’ve come across. You get every demographic with me. You name it, I’ve got it. It’s something new for them — having some of the sci-fi genre people there [at The Hollywood Show].

N: Thanks to the increased popularity of sci-fi, no doubt.

JB: Yeah, I’ve watched the change in the last 5 years. I’ve watched it from being “The Nerddom” as I call it — and I was part of — to now. And I like to think that David [Tennant], myself, Christopher [Eccleston], and Billie [Piper], and all of us who were part of the first initial stint of Doctor Who, we were the ones who started to change all that. Firefly with Nathan [Fillion], Battlestar Galactica and all of that … I remember the first Battlestar! I was a real nerd back then.

But it has become more mainstream, and what I find really interesting when I go to do the conventions is how — even at places like Comic Con — you see newscasters talking about “all these weird people out wearing costumes, oh my god!” and I just want to say to them “You know what, fuck you! We bring a huge amount to your city and you’re sitting there making fun of us and having a poke at it, get your asses down there and see what it’s really about.” These geeks and nerds are out there having a fantastic time — you might even enjoy yourself. It drives me crazy!

N: Ah yes, nerd ire. It always seems those folks are the ones who can’t let go and live a little.

JB: I wanted to start shoving the TV like, “let’s make fun of you and your Botox face and your big hair and way too much make-up!” And that’s just the men that I’m talking about.

N: It’s so silly. Geeks are bringing home the bacon and owning the creative space right now!

JB: And, hell, yeah! It’s like I say, “Never apologize for being a geek because the assholes never apologize for being assholes.” Pop culture is being driven by us, and, you know, I think that’s why a lot of geeks empathize a lot with gay men and women because they were in the closet. And I was a double whammy as a gay geek: I was right in the back of that closet! It’s a big change and so it should be. Everybody should be represented in movies and TV.

N: I completely agree. Now, of course I have to ask — because I’m a huge Doctor Who fan…

JB: Yes! As I am.

N: I know! I would love to get your thoughts on the casting of Capaldi as Twelve.

JB: Well, I can’t comment on how he’s going to be because, like everybody, I haven’t yet seen him do it. Peter was on Torchwood, though — Children of Earth — and he is a wonderful actor and he’s committed to what he does. I think it’s very interesting, they way they’ve gone from Christopher to David and then Matt Smith — who was much younger — and now they’ve gone back to an older, Tom Baker-ish age Doctor, which I grew up with and so I think it’s interesting. I think it’ll be really good! He’s a fan of Doctor Who, and when you get people who are fans playing the roles it works. There’s no doubt that it works, so I have no fear that he’s going to be great.

N: It’s really a return to the old form.

JB: Yeah, everything’s gotta change. I remember when we started Doctor Who and people were saying — when we did the revamp — “Oh, my God, it’s not going to work, we’re never going to watch it! It’s not going to be like the last one,” and they still say that with every Doctor. But every time they’ve tuned in and they go on the journey with the Doctor. It’s not about who he is, it’s about his journey, his story, and his times in the TARDIS with the companions. That’s why people watch.

N: I imagine that Jack Harkness would have a lot of fun in the TARDIS with Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson, the two companions this season. That would be a hilarious dynamic.

JB: That would be very interesting, one talking about her boobs and the other talking about Scientology… Jenna’s a Scientologist, right?

N: …Is she? If so that’s news to me.

JB: Oh, no, I’m thinking of somebody else, sorry! I’m thinking of Jenna Elfman and Pamela Anderson.

N: What a TARDIS team that would be!

JB: Oh, my God, between the boobs and the Scientology — wouldn’t that be a total dynamic! Let’s have that!

N: Could you even imagine?

JB: The Doctor would be like “Scientology? What’s that?” “L. Rob Hubbard is your creator? No, no, I created L. Ron Hubbard!” Wicked.

N: L. Ron Hubbard meets the Doctor. I’m sure he’d have some things to say to him.

JB: Oh, yeah, the Doctor’s totally the Daddy.

N: [laughs] And on that note it’s time for me to let you go… Thanks so much for talking with me, John.

JB: It’s been perfect. We’re now at Costco and I’ve got to go buy a television.

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