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John Barrowman stars in BBC America's 'Torchwood'

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

A week ago, actor John Barrowman had a chair broken over his back, endured body punches and was dragged across a bar through broken "candy" glass, face down. For him, that's all in a day's work.

Barrowman is starring in BBC America's new sci-fi action series, "Torchwood," premiering Sept. 8. Barrowman plays Capt. Jack Harkness, the character he embodied in the "Dr. Who" series.

In "Torchwood," Harkness leads a team of investigators who use alien technology to solve crimes - way outside the jurisdiction of earthbound law enforcement agencies.

"I run an awful lot in this show in boots," says Barrowman, in the patio of a hotel here. "When I'm running they always shoot it full length because they love to see the coat trailing out behind me. And the coat is so heavy that sometimes your feet get caught up in the back of it and it trips you. 'Cut!'"

Though he's spent most of his life in the theater, Barrowman is no stranger to physical labor. When he was a senior in high school his dad got him a job shoveling coal for a local power company in Illinois.

"My brother and sister and myself - my dad made us do manual labor because he said, 'If you want to do manual labor for the rest of your life you'll know that when you do it, it's a choice,' he said. 'But if you don't like it you'll understand the importance of educating yourself and being - if you decide what you want to do - being good at your craft or your skill.'"

Barrowman did the job for a full summer, hating every minute, until he used his considerable charm and logic to escape. "They started wanting me to do things. I looked at them and said, 'I don't know if you understand this, but my father is general manager of Caterpillar Tractor Co. and I know you'd not make a union man do this, so why are you making me do it as a student, which is completely illegal? They went, 'You're John Barrowman's son?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'Why don't we move you to the storeroom.'"

Of course, Barrowman didn't stay in the storeroom. He'd longed to perform ever since his mom put a wooden spoon in his hands and urged him to entertain party guests. He sang into the spoon as though it were a mic and has been singing ever since.

Though Barrowman sounds as American as the Fourth of July, he's really a Scot and spent his formative years there. But the family moved to the United States when he was 8 when his dad became the first non-American citizen to head an American corporation, Caterpillar.

"I feel like a Brit AND an American," he says. "I think we became more Scottish when we left Scotland. Our patriotism to Scotland became strong but I was naturalized as an American citizen in 1985 and very proud of that. But my home is the United Kingdom. I live in London with my partner. We have a life there. We have two dogs and we have a home in London and one in Cardiff. We also have a home in the Midwest in Wisconsin and we're building one in Florida. One thing my dad always said was: 'Invest in property.' And I've done that."

Barrowman has been with his partner, Scott Gill, for 16 years. Gill is an architect and both of them have had to be flexible with their conflicting work requirements. "I don't think I'd ever leave the U.K.," says Barrowman, who costarred in the short-lived TV series, "Titans."

"I'd do what a lot of British actors do, come and work here, then go back. Because the unfortunate thing, if I were to come over here and live full time, Scott couldn't come with me. He wouldn't be recognized as my partner here by the government and the states and all that stuff. Whereas in the U.K. we're partners and looked on - I don't say gay marriage because I don't personally agree with it - but we have the same rights as married couples which we wouldn't have over here. So we have to take all that under consideration. It's unfair for me to ask him to pack up and leave because he couldn't work over here, either."

Barrowman, 40, insists he's been extraordinarily lucky and never suffered a down time as an actor. "Every time something happens to me is part of my dream coming true," he says.

"I'd love to do a major part in a film; that would be a dream and a goal. It's not something I actively go out and seek because if it's going to happen, it will. Most of the jobs I've done in America have come from the work I've done in the U.K. I've always believed if you do good work, it creates work. I let the agent and the manager do the pushing and let them do the seeking. If a movie part comes up I audition, if it's here in the U.S. I'll come here. I'm flexible."

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In 1835 a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville sailed to America and showed us what we'd been too close to see. Now two more of the French persuasion are digging into our Yankee secrets.

Documentary filmmakers Denis Poncet and Jean-Xavier de Lestrade are offering "Sin City Law," a look at four criminal trials in Las Vegas, and our unique version of the criminal justice system. The eight-part series premieres on the Sundance Channel on Sept. 10.

So why are these Gauls so intrigued by what goes on so far from home? "The attraction comes from the mere fact that - and this is a compliment - this country is a great democracy because it allows us to do a lot of things that other countries do not allow us to do," says Poncet.

"And over the years Jean and I have been able to do films about the criminal system here and had tremendous access. And the more we are into this type of films - every place we go, because of what we've done - we have even more access.

"And again, it is to show that nobody is there to hide anything. In our country, even though we are a democracy, it is much more difficult. And we do films on justice in France and other countries, but not half as satisfying as this," he says.

"First of all, the other thing is I find that they (the films) say a lot about what the American system is all about. They say a lot about what we are. That's what I'm interested in. I think they're more than American films. They're on justice, on human beings."

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The funniest show coming to television this fall season is not "The Big Bang Theory" or "Chuck" or "Reaper" - though they are all crackups. No, the knock-down winner is an obscure little show from Canada called "Corner Gas," which arrives with a sneak-peak on Sept. 10 via Chicago's WGN. The show slips into its regular timeslot on Sept. 17 and has several airings (check local listings). This tale of small-towners in far-off Saskatchewan is filled with they type of colorful characters you probably grew up with. TV producers claim earnestly that their shows are "character driven," but you'd have to go back to "All in the Family" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" to make good on that promise. "Corner Gas" manages just that with a wry twinkle and a down-home simplicity.

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NBC is reviving "Friday Night Lights" this fall in spite of its shortfall in the ratings. Zach Gilford, who plays Matt Saracen, isn't worried that it's fourth down and 20 for the show. "I think we all feel that there's two kinds of people. There's the people that come up to you and are obsessed with the show and love every second and know every line you've said, to the people who are just like, 'I haven't - I just haven't seen an episode, but I've heard it's good.' The coolest was I was in Seattle a few weeks ago, and some guy from Zimbabwe went nuts. He was like, 'Do you work around here?'

"I was like, 'No. I work in Texas.' He's like, 'You're on "Friday Night Lights"!' and gave me a huge hug and was going off. He was like, 'I know I'm just from Zimbabwe' - he had this thick accent - 'but I know good TV, and you guys are awesome.'"

 

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