Chasing aliens and investigating weird and wonderful life forms for a living may be a tiring business, but the bags viewers will see under Torchwood medic Owen Harper’s eyes are most definitely not the work of the show’s make-up artists, reports Jane Dudley. Halfway through filming BBC Three’s new sci-fi thriller, actor Burn Gorman’s wife, Sarah, gave birth to their first child, Max, leaving Burn with sleepless nights aplenty.
“We’re through the worst now though,” laughs Burn. “There were a few times when I thought, I’m going to fall asleep. You’ll notice that in episodes three and four I’ve got bags under my eyes that look like satchels! Some nights we’ve been working 13 or 14 hours but you just get the energy to wake up for your children. He’s the best thing that’s happened to us, he’s such a little cutie,” adds the doting dad.
Being up all hours may make Owen’s job seem like child’s play, but it’s serious work being Torchwood’s medic: “Owen has got the best job in the world. He is a quick-witted lad who is a trained doctor who worked in Cardiff A&E. One day, he was headhunted by a 21st-century alien crime-fighting team as a medic. How do you say no to that? You get a gun, you get to drive fast cars and you get to chase aliens. Owen is living the dream, without a doubt.”
Helping him live that dream is Torchwood’s dynamic leader, Captain Jack (played by John Barrowman), who inspires his team and offers knowledge and advice whenever he can. “Owen has a great amount of admiration for Captain Jack, who is, without doubt, the boss. In a sense, in this strange world that Owen has been brought into, he looks up to Jack as a beacon of guidance. If you can imagine some of the stuff he is seeing … it would blow your mind. But with Jack … he’s somebody who you just know tells the truth, no messing about. So Owen looks up to Jack as a mentor, if not as an uncle figure.”
Owen’s role, as well as being Torchwood’s doctor, is to assess alien technology to see if it can be used by the team: “He has to keep an eye on alien life forms, whether that be plants, the aliens that come in to Torchwood or are held at Torchwood in one way or another. Owen investigates what these alien life forms, and the technology they bring with them, can add to our life in the 21st century.”
It sounds like the stuff of boyhood dreams and for sci-fi fan Burn it’s the icing on the cake in a career that has seen his success build from a small part in Coronation Street in 1998, when he was fresh out of drama school, to a role in the crime thriller movie Layer Cake in 2004 and then the part of bumbling legal clerk Guppy in BBC One’s riveting adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House last year. Burn will also soon be seen as slimy reporter Larry in the film Penelope, a “modern fairy tale” starring Christina Ricci and Reese Witherspoon. “I’m obsessed by sci-fi,” says Burn. “The only time I’ve ever been star struck was when I met the actor who played [Star Wars’] Boba Fett,” he laughs.
“But I wouldn’t have wanted to be in a normal sci-fi show unless it was something unusual, and Torchwood is extraordinary. It is one of the most ambitious, exciting television series I’ve ever been involved in. The marriage of science fiction and crime drama based on Earth I don’t think has ever been done before. The set will blow your mind. It’s like the Bat Cave times 100, it’s just extraordinary.
“It’s not every day you shoot an alien after breakfast, get snogged by a huge Welshman before lunch and resuscitate Blake from Blake’s 7 before dinner! It’s literally the job of a lifetime.”
Burn has also thoroughly enjoyed spending time in Cardiff, where Torchwood is filmed, and he says it has turned into a real family affair. “I brought my wife here and my son was born in Cardiff. I wouldn’t have wanted him born anywhere else. I love the fact that he’s a Celt. We’ve loved it here, the people, the countryside, the surfing, the restaurants, the atmosphere � we don’t want to leave.”
He also reveals that his love of Wales goes back a lot further than filming for Torchwood: “I’ve always held Wales very close to my heart after I had my first snog in Bala at the age of eight,” laughs the 32-year-old actor.
The way things have been going in Torchwood, it seems that Burn could add another few to his list of snogs in Wales, as, on top of all the crime-busting and alien chasing, Owen is also involved in some of the drama’s more raunchy scenes, not that Burn is letting on who is the object of Owen’s affections: “He’s a 21st-century bloke with lots of demons to get out of his system, so he tries his luck.
“Without being too specific there’s a lot of snogging that goes on! In Owen’s job, every day could be his last, it’s like a war-time mentality. And you know what happened in the war! People didn’t know if they’d still be here the next day, so if you’ve got the opportunity to get it on with someone, you’re going to do it. Owen takes those chances.
“He’s also a sensible lad, he’s not an idiot. If he likes someone, he’s going to go for it. But, unfortunately, he’s not averse to breaking the rules in terms of making advances on people who have long-term partners. He’s just living for the moment.”
Beneath the roguish exterior, though, Burn thinks Owen is a lonely man. “Owen never talks about his family � you suspect that there are skeletons in the closet and that this job allows him, in many ways, to vent his frustration and anger. There is a certain loneliness that emanates from Captain Jack but also from Owen. Really, you’re on your own.”
Burn, however, is thanking his lucky stars for having the opportunity to play such a character and has nothing but praise for the team behind Torchwood. “You’ve got the visionary, forward-thinking and creative execs like Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter and you’ve got the Bafta Award-winning genius Russell T Davies. The cast have been amazing, too. But all you can hope for in this job is to work with driven, motivated people on fantastic scripts and I have had that in abundance.
“And also to have the link with the fantastic and legendary legacy of Doctor Who and the most committed, passionate fans in the world � it all makes for a pretty amazing experience to be involved in.”
Torchwood airs Sundays on BBC Three and is repeated Wednesdays on BBC Two