Meeting John Barrowman is something of a confusing experience. As he strides into the lobby of the Soho Hotel in London - a clutch of expensive-looking shopping bags in one hand, the other proffered for a firm handshake - his words of greeting have a distinct American twang. Seconds later, walking towards the drawing room, he's inexplicably switched to a Scottish brogue. And when the waitress comes to take his drinks order, it's back to American.

It's all a little disconcerting. Would the real John Barrowman please stand up?

"It's hard to explain, " he says, holding up his hands and grinning. "A lot of people think I'm putting on one or the other, but I'm not. As soon as I heard your accent, boom, I was back into Scottish."

Although he was born in Glasgow, the actor - who hit the radar in the UK as the swashbuckling Captain Jack Harkness in the recent series of Doctor Who - grew up in America.

His father was relocated there by his employer, the construction firm Caterpillar, and the family made the 3,700-mile move to Aurora, Illinois, when Barrowman was eight.

He returned to British shores 15 years ago, and turned up on the nation's screens copresenting the now defunct Live and Kicking, alongside Emma Forbes and Andi Peters.

"One thing I have to make clear is that I'm not trying to hide my Scottish accent, " he says. "A lot of people think that's the case, but it's simply not true. I'm proud of it. It's not a conscious decision to switch between the two accents - it just happens. If an American was to come into the room, I'd automatically speak with an American accent. And with my partner Scott, I can't speak to him in a Scottish accent. He knows me as John the American. So, when he comes with me to visit my family, he finds it really strange to hear me talk with a Scottish accent because that's not how he knows me."

But while these days Barrowman might use it to his advantage in his acting career, it used to have a more practical use - and was a much more conscious thing. "Growing up in Illinois, I used to get bullied a lot for being Scottish, " he says. "Other kids would shout things like, 'You wear a dress, ' and they thought we lived in mud huts. Most of all, though, they made fun of the accent. And no-one likes to get picked on or bullied for being different, especially not at eight years old. So I thought, 'Screw you. I'm going to beat you at your own game.' I just wanted to blend in, and that's why I taught myself how to speak with an American accent." And, having cleared that up, he leans back into the couch with a satisfied smile - and speaks in a Scottish accent for the rest of the interview.

There is no doubt John Barrowman is a handsome man; dashing, even. ("A better-looking Tom Cruise combined with the guy from Superman" is how the photographer describes him. ) He exudes all the characteristics of the classic all-American hero: the strong jawline, the broad shoulders, even the Clark Gable-esque shiny black hair. And this is a busy time for the 38-year-old actor. He has several projects in the pipeline, including a film, a play, and potentially future episodes of Doctor Who (but more about that later). From a personal perspective, however, there is something much more pertinent topping his wish list: babies.

Barrowman has been with his partner Scott Gill, an architect, for 14 years. Both of them, he says, want to have children (although Barrowman admits "I'm more keen than Scott is"), and have discussed adoption and surrogacy as potential options. A friend has offered to be a surrogate mother for the couple.

"I'm best friends with her mother, and the woman herself has known me like a brother since she was five, " says Barrowman. "We've spent many days and vacations together." Yet he is deliberately sketchy on the details. She's 28, American and a dental hygienist, and is married with one-year-old twins. Her husband has also given the green light to the plan. "She's said that when we're ready, just send her an e-mail, " says Barrowman.

While he won't rule out adoption, it's clear he views surrogacy as the more appealing option. "I'd very much like to have a child of my own, " he says. "Scott and I have talked about it and said that if we decide to use a surrogate mother, we would mix the sperm so we wouldn't actually know whose the child was and it would still be part of both of us."

The only thing his friend has asked for in return, he says, is that he would take care of her mortgage while she was off work. "I said of course I would."

He and 42-year-old Gill, whom he describes as "looking like an Armani model", met when Barrowman was in a play at the Chichester Festival Theatre, shortly before his Live and Kicking debut. A mutual friend had coaxed Gill to the play by telling him that Barrowman was naked for the first seven minutes. "I always joke that he saw what he getting from the outset, " the actor says. And it was love at first sight . . . well, almost.

"Scott came into the dressing room while I was getting dressed, " says Barrowman. "I was bending over to pull my pants up, so the first thing he saw was my bare bum. Then I turned around and saw him. At that very instant, in my head, I said, 'That's him. That's the one.' And he says he was thinking the exact same thing."

Barrowman is open and relaxed when talking about his sexuality. "I've known I was gay since the age of eight or nine, " he says.

"Back then, though, it was more a feeling that there was something different about me than perhaps specifically knowing what that was.

But what's the big deal? I'm 38, I work in musical theatre and I live with another guy. It's the 21st century: we're all human beings and individuals. If someone has a problem with it - well, they can go and piss off. I don't want to be around them."

That said, he was 22 before he came out to his parents, making a special trip to Illinois to break the news. "I don't want to say they were shocked - my mother turned to me and said she knew, and I think perhaps my dad knew too - but I think every parent is a little surprised. My dad said, 'I don't really understand it right now, but give me a little while to learn more about what you're telling me and I will.' He also said, 'It's absolutely fine with me, though, because what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom is your own business, just like what your mother and I do. We don't tell you about it.'" Barrowman pauses, his eyes earnest. While he wears his heart on his sleeve, he also points out that, personally, he doesn't feel the need for deliberately public displays of sexuality.

He is an ardent supporter of the Gay Pride movement and everything it stands for, but explains: "My parents have always brought us up to believe that sex and sexuality are something to be proud of, and you don't have to flaunt it if you don't want to. People don't walk around with a banner saying they're straight, so why should I walk around with one saying I'm gay? I understand there are people who want to and need to make that statement, and I appreciate that, but don't come down on me because I'm not one of them."

Gay marriage is another topic guaranteed to raise his hackles. "OK, this is where I get political, " he says. "People keep asking me if I'm going to do it. The answer is no. I was brought up in a family which believed there was a God who created us. I believe that God created me this way for a reason and he's not a god who hates, dislikes or is against the way I live my life.

"That said, there is organised religion that says gay men and women are wrong, bad, evil - whatever you want to call it. So why would I want a 'marriage' from a belief system that hates me?"

Bizarrely, Barrowman reportedly told an American magazine that he frequently used his dulcet Scottish tones to attract the ladies.

Was that something he said before he publicly came out? He smiles. "I didn't do it to throw people off track, " he says. "Those who know me have always known. The magazine clearly wasn't interested in my relationship with my partner. I made the comment because it's something my brother does; I said it was good for picking up the ladies and drinking for free.

It was said off-the-cuff, really."

Barrowman remains close to his family, and is keen to talk about them. While he is based in the west end of London, his parents, Marion and John, still live in America, splitting their time between Orlando in Florida and Brookfield in Wisconsin. Barrowman owns a property in Brookfield, and his parents camp out there during the hurricane season. His siblings - Carole, 47, an author and professor of English, and Andrew, 43, an executive for a gas company - have also remained in the US.

Between them they have five children, aged between two and 18.

"When I go to Florida for Christmas I always take my nieces and nephews out on excursions, " says Barrowman happily. "I become like a big kid again. We go on all the big rides at the theme parks or I stick them in go-karts where their feet can't quite reach the pedals. I think that if you can continue to have the child at heart you may grow old physically but you will stay young mentally."

Though he proved a big hit in Doctor Who, Barrowman's Captain Jack will not appear in the fervently awaited Christmas special, starring Billie Piper alongside David Tennant as the new Doctor. Yet he hardly seems brokenhearted, and is full of assurances that he will return to the show in the future - hinting it could be sooner rather than later. "I will be coming back, " he says. "But no date has been set. That's the official answer." He gives an exaggerated wink before collapsing in laughter.

Either way, there's little doubt his role in Doctor Who has been a career high so far. "It was an absolute dream come true, " he says. "I believe everyone should have a goal and a dream. That was one of mine. As a child I used to dream of appearing in Doctor Who, but I never thought it would happen. I was cast at the beginning, at the same time as Billie [Piper] and Chris [Eccleston], but I had to keep my mouth shut for nine months. I couldn't tell anyone other than close family. My niece was shopping with me in Covent Garden when I got the call to say I had the part. I screamed the place down: I was jumping around everywhere. This woman came up to ask what was happening. I had to say, 'I cannae tell you.'" Captain Jack is a somewhat sexually ambiguous character, billed as an archetypal "51st-century man". From a personal standpoint, Barrowman is a man comfortable in his own skin, equally

happy as a pin-up for teenage girls and gay men alike. "I'm happy to be a people's fantasy - men and women, " he says. "I've been getting letters from married couples, and at the end of it the husband will put a little PS saying something like, 'My wife and I have talked about it, and if there's anyone who could turn me it would be Captain Jack.'" Barrowman is now gearing up for his role in the stage production of A Few Good Men in the West End, where he will star opposite the American actor Rob Lowe. "If you've seen the movie, I'm the Kevin Bacon part and Rob Lowe is the Tom Cruise part, " he says.

"There's no sex scene, though." And he looks wistful and gives a mock sigh.

This December he'll play Prince Charming in a London performance of Cinderella, alongside Richard Wilson and Susan Hampshire. It will be his first foray into the world of pantomime, so how would he answer the critics who'd say it was a step down from musical theatre? He pulls a face and flicks a double V-sign. "I want to do it, and that's the most important thing, " he says. "I'm going to have fun and it's going to be damn good.

Besides - and I'm going to be honest here - the offer was just too good to refuse. I'm a businessman like everyone else."

His new Hollywood venture - the movie musical The Producers, co-starring Matthew Broderick and Uma Thurman - will also be released in December. A remake of the 1968 Mel Brooks classic, it's the tale of a theatrical get-rich-quick scheme that culminates in the production of a musical called Springtime for Hitler. Barrowman, who plays a member of the Hitler Youth, bleached his hair blond and donned piercing blue contact lenses for the part. Come to think of it, his dark hair is still showing a few blond streaks. A souvenir from the part, perhaps? He shakes his head. "No, this is my summer look, " he says.

Still, the appearance of his character - the polar opposite of his natural appearance, not unlike looking at a photographic negative - raised a few eyebrows when he had an online chat with his family during filming. "I went on camera to my family with blond hair, blue eyes - and a Nazi uniform, " he says. "My dad shouted, 'It's the Hitler youth!' while my niece was like, 'You look creepy, Uncle John.'

Strange: I looked at myself in the mirror and liked it. I thought it was quite sexy."

This isn't Barrowman's first attempt at Hollywood stardom. But while last year's Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely - in which he played one of Porter's gay lovers - garnered modest box-office success, other big-screen offerings haven't been quite so well received. Method, which also starred Elizabeth Hurley, went straight to video, while his debut movie, Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, also bombed. However, he remains philosophical about it: "We all have to start somewhere, " he says. "Do I have a copy at home? Yes. Although it is a completely rubbish film."

Barrowman's first acting experience was a high-school play, but that was enough to spark an enduring passion. He studied musical theatre at the US International University in San Diego, California; and, after graduating, picked up work on Broadway and a key role in the short-lived US television series Central Park West. But it wasn't until he headed back across the pond that he got what he credits as his "big break", starring opposite Elaine Paige in the 1989 stage production of Anything Goes in London. He also tried his hand at television presenting: besides Live and Kicking, he fronted the BBC's Electric Circus and a weekday magazine show called 5's Company, for channel five.

Yet musical theatre remains Barrowman's first love. He boasts a plethora of big-name credits, including Sunset Boulevard, Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera. Just don't get him started on the trend for mixing soap stars and West End productions.

"Don't get me wrong, " he says, "I understand why soap stars are put into musicals. What I don't understand is when they put someone from a soap into a musical when they can't sing.

Why give someone a job they cannot do? I know it puts bums on seats, but people are paying a hell of a lot of money. They don't want to come and see a musical where people can't sing."

Professionally, Barrowman has no shortage of ambition. On his current wish list are landing a part in a new musical by either Andrew Lloyd Webber or Sir Cameron Mackintosh, starring in an action film, and trying his hand at a television sitcom. He's already released his own album - John Barrowman Swings Cole Porter - as a loose tie-in to De-Lovely, and floats the idea of a making a pop album next. "My kind of pop wouldn't be teenybopper pop, though, " he says. "My music would be aimed more at the 20-plus age group.

I couldn't do the boy band-type thing. I'm thinking more like Celine Dion, George Michael, Sting."

He's also keen, it seems, to play a part in inspiring the next generation. In America, he and his musical director friend Beverley Holt run regular workshops, with the aim of "teaching kids to strive for their dreams". He'd love to bring the project to Scotland, and thinks it would work particularly well in Glasgow. "Not everyone is going to be in the entertainment business, but we try to teach life skills through theatre skills, " he explains. "It helps make children more motivated, as well as more accepting of other people's culture, race, creed, whatever. They don't necessarily have to be children from deprived areas who don't have the best opportunities in life. It's aimed at kids from a broad walk of life. What's great is when you mix children from different backgrounds. They see that they all have the same problems, no matter what kind of background they're from." He has no time for

self-deprecating behaviour or the so-called Scottish cringe: "I simply don't understand it.

If you've achieved something, relish it. You should be proud of that."

And confidence is something Barrowman is certainly not short of. One newspaper claimed he is wont to stand in front of the mirror repeating the mantra: "I'm going to be a film star." He rolls his eyes. "That's a bit of a misquote, " he says. "The real story is that, as a kid, when I went to the bathroom I would sit on the toilet and pretend I was being interviewed by the talk-show host Johnny Carson.

I would look in the mirror and interview myself - I would be Johnny and myself while having a shit. I did it right up until I was about 16 or 17." He pauses. "Actually, to this day, I still sometimes stand in front of the mirror and talk to myself. But it's not Johnny Carson any more: it's Jonathan Ross.

"I'm a big kid, really. My mental age? I feel I'm somewhere between 18 and 22. Some people would probably say more like ten."

Whatever life throws his way, it's abundantly apparent he doesn't do regret. He's in the entertainment business for the long haul. "I still get a thrill out of this, " he says. "I love what I do. I'm having a great time in life. I get a thrill every time I do something new."

* A Few Good Men is at the Theatre Royal, London, from August 18. Doctor Who, the complete first series box set is out November 21. The Producers is released in December.