Interview: ‘Arrow”s John Barrowman on what it’s like to ‘Sing Your Face Off’

“Sing Your Face Off” may seem like a whacked idea for a celebrity-centric reality TV show. Why would anyone want to watch C-list celebrities dress up as music icons (sometimes of the opposite sex) then sing and perform, hoping to avoid elimination? Well, it turns out America has just been slow to get on the crazy train. “Your Face Sounds Familiar,” the name of the show in the U.K., has spawned versions in Portugal, Germany, Ukraine, Vietnam and a whole mess of other places. How could we not? 

Personally, I suspected this brand of loony tunage sounded right up my alley, and I've been looking forward to the show's debut (on Sat. May 31 at 9:00 p.m. on ABC) since visiting the set months ago. Even though most of the cast (which includes Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach, Toronto Raptor Landry Fields, Disney Channel teen China Anne McClain and soap star Lisa Rinna) referred to the show with some variation of the descriptor “batshit crazy,” everyone already seemed to be having a grand old time playing dress up. Still, I was most interested in talking to someone who may not be donning a wig at all — “Torchwood” and “Arrow” star John Barrowman, who hosts. While this show is miles away from Captain Jack Harkness or Malcolm Merlyn, it's not a leap for Barrowman, who has plenty of experience with musical theater. Here's what Barrowman had to say about the show, how he defines success, and whether he'd get into a dress for “Sing Your Face Off.”

You have such a background in singing and dance, but we really haven't seen you do it on television here in the States. 

I've done loads of stuff in the States in the past, but none of the [shows] ever got picked up for more than six months or a year. The work that I've done is mostly in the U.K. and in Europe, and a lot of it is niche stuff over here in the States, which I think is great because it's allowed me still to be normal [laugh]. But I don't think that will ever change for me, because I will always be who I am, what I am and how I am. I'm going to really change, I'm not going to become a hermit, I'm not going to go hide behind a wall. So yeah, I'm venturing into things over here now, so it's all good. While still doing stuff in the U.K. I'm still doing a big TV show for the BBC and I go back in July and I film 25 episodes. 

Which is…?
Can't tell you. I'm not supposed to talk about it because it hasn't been launched yet, but it's a big new show for them. I don't think it's been announced yet. Gavin? Has my show for the Beeb been announced yet?

Seems like it's all happening for you right now, or is that just me?
That's just you. And it's interesting, it's true because that's all you're hearing about in this side of the world. But it's been happening for me in my world for the last 25 years.

You're working constantly, it seems. 
I don't judge success… my success is not based on what I'm doing or where I'm doing it. My success is based on if I'm working. But I understand what you mean. This seems to be the year when a lot of things are happening on this side of the pond. Which I totally get. I guess it is.

When you saw the Spanish version of this show, did you think this could be awesome or it could be batshit crazy?
Both of those excite me. Because if you combine awesome with batshit crazy, you get a fantastic television show, because it has elements of everything. We're not so much batshit crazy. We're fun and more entertainment based. A lot of stuff I've done in the past has been entertainment-based TV shows in the UK, although I do drama and scripted stuff also. I'm one of those people who, I like to work. I enjoy my work and I enjoy the variety of my work, and you're approached by a network like ABC and you're approached by a company like Endemol, and they say we'd like you to host this and we'd like you to  see you, you kind of go, hmmm, what should I do? You go in and you sit down. I also like the premise of the show. It's fun. Everybody, we all have a great time. One of the things I do when I choose my work, I always make sure I'm going to enjoy it. And if I feel I won't have fun or have a good time, I won't do it. Doesn't matter how much  money they pay me, I won't do it.

A lot of people think I'll take anything, but I'm very picky and choosy about what I do, and it's all based around that aspect of, when I read it, will I have fun doing it, and will they allow me to be myself, and that's why I've said great to this, because I knew I'd have a good time.

You're juggling a lot of stuff right now, like “Arrow,” the book series you co-author with your sister, all your U.K. jobs. Any chance you're going back to “Scandal” even for a minute? 
I don't know. I can't tell you anything. I'm back on “Arrow.” I have a good team around me; they consist of enough people I can count on my hand or less. I don't have an entourage. I have my business partner and really good friend Gavin who's also my manager, he sorts out scheduling [he says “sheduling” like a proper Brit], He's also my agent in the U.K., but I have an agent here. They work together, and I have a publicist, first time I've hired a publicist, and that's it, done. That's really all the people, then I have my assistant and my partner Scott, and that's just it. It's literally down to the nitty gritty. Because when I'm done with you, I literally, on my schedule, I check out of my hotel, then come back here for a camera block, do the camera block, do the dress rehearsal, do the show at night, drive back to Palm Springs, day off tomorrow with my parents… no, tomorrow's not a day off, I do a voice over in Palm Springs for the show I do for Learning Channel and Discovery Channel and BBC 3, then I have a complete day off on Saturday, then Sunday back here to start rehearsals again. It is all mapped out.

At some point does it become a hellish grind?
Nope. I don't look at it as a hellish grind, because the fact is this is what I  have wanted to do all of my life, and I am not one of those people who gets up in the morning and says, ugh, gotta go to work. No. Not at all. And the day I do that, that's the day I stop. And if that day ever comes, I'll be fine, because I've got two other companies on the side that will look after me.

When are you writing those books, like “Hollow Earth”?
Well, I don't do the physical writing. My sister is the one who does that. She and I come up with the story lines, the character building, the plot lines, we discuss the structure of what we want to do, we tell the stories, we tell them together, and she takes that bunch of information away, and she puts it into word form. So she does the hard work. We do the creative stuff together. She literally sits at the typewriter in a closet. 

That sounds more doable.
That's a true collaboration. That's what a collaboration is.

Do you have the anonymity to live a normal life, or do you have obsessive fans?
Yeah, but that's part of this game. That's part of the entertainment industry, I think, and also I'm very open with my fans and they allow me to do things. I still go to the grocery store, I still go the liquor store, I still do everything everybody else does, pump my own gas, all of that stuff, so I don't change that kind of stuff. And if I have a stalker, I have a stalker. They're not nuts. They're not bad. Fortunately my stalkers are nice stalkers and they buy me things. I friggin love it. A box of chocolates on my doorstep. I'm not saying that I'll eat them, but the thought is there! That's the nice thing about it.

Gibson isn't giving anything away.
What's the Gibber giving away?

So, could non-competitors like, oh, the host, also sing and dance?
I have no idea what you're talking about. I have no idea. 

Alright, but are you open to it?
I'm a gay man. I'm open to anything! (laughs) Of course I'm open to it. 

Because everyone's dressing up in character, any chance Debbie Gibson is going to be Tiffany?
If she was Tiffany, I'd pay to see that! But I have no idea. Lots of things have been discussed. Whether or not they happen, that's another story. I don't want to tease you and say it is gonna happen, but we are all open to stuff. We're like a big family getting together once a week, and having, it's like playing charades and having a sing along at the same time and dress up. It's like a family night out. And that's exactly what we're open to if something comes along like that. I can't tell you who they're coming up as. But you're gonna die. I'm hosting the show, and I'm dying laughing at times. We're not laughing at them, we're laughing with them because of the situation that they're in and  how amazing they look. There's a lot of gender-crossing going on.

Has to happen to everyone, right?
Yes it does, and it's happening sometimes more than once for some people.

More “Torchwood” movies?
No idea. No idea. Its one of those things the BBC never said it's canceled, so they could bring it back in five years in one year and ten years. But I've always said that if they bring Torchwood back I will be ready to play Captain Jack if they want me.

They will. 

Are you going to watch “Sing Your Face Off”?