Joliet West alumni join cast of ‘Arrow’ TV series
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain email@example.com February 28, 2013 7:18PM
Joliet alumnus John Barrowman is back in the United States as Capt. Jack Harkness on the "Torchwood" on Starz. | Photo courtesy of Starz
Lynn Lichtenauer, director of alumni relations for the Joliet Township High School District, said actors John Barrowman and Janina Gavankar are just two of the district’s many graduates who have gone on to careers in the arts.
The district’s roster of stars — which includes graduates from Central, West and the closed East high schools — goes all the way back to 1926 graduate Katherine Dunham, who was known as “the mother of modern dance.”
Performing arts stars who graduated from Joliet Central and (the now closed) Joliet East include: Tony award winning actress Lynne Thigpen (1966), commercial jingle composer Jeff Boyle (1983) and Commodores lead singer and solo artist Lionel Richie (1967).
Joliet West’s list includes Skip Griparis, a jazz musician, comedian and actor; Charlie Adams, a drummer for Yanni; Andy Dick, an actor/comedian; Jeffrey Ray, an international opera singer; and Anthony Rapp, actor who originated the role of the narrator in the play Rent and played the same part in the movie version.
The district’s high schools are well known for their musicals, bands and choirs, which gave a lot of kids the boost they needed to make it in showbiz, Lichtenauer said.
“It’s quite a history of great performances and stars going on to great things in their careers,” she said.
Updated: April 2, 2013 6:01AM
For Janina Gavankar, it was “West Side Story.” For John Barrowman, it was “Hello Dolly.”
Both were bitten with the acting bug while performing in Joliet West High School plays.
Now the two graduates are experiencing a mini high school reunion in Vancouver, Canada. Both Gavankar and Barrowman, who have had successful acting careers in recent years, have been cast in the CW show “Arrow,” which is based on DC Comics’ Green Arrow.
Barrowman, a 1985 graduate, has the role of Malcolm Merlyn, the father of Tommy Merlyn, who is lead character Oliver Queen’s best friend. Barrowman has also portrayed Capt. Jack Harkness on “Dr. Who” and the spin-off “Torchwood.”
Gavankar, a 1998 Joliet West graduate, is joining the cast as Starling City police officer McKenna Hall. She also stars as shape shifter on the HBO series “True Blood.”
So far, the two West grads have filmed only one scene together.
“It’s pretty epic,” Gavankar said recently about working with someone from her hometown hundreds of miles away on a TV set in Canada.
The two have spent time reminiscing about Joliet and comparing where they lived in the city while attending high school. Gavankar said she loves working with Barrowman.
“He is truly a star,” she said. “He walks into a room and he’s larger than life and he is magnetic. ... He is everything that, when I was a kid, I hoped he would be.”
The two “Arrow” actors have met only once before, at a ComiCon convention in San Diego, Calif., in 2011 when both appeared on a panel for “Super Supernaturals.”
Barrowman was born in Scotland but moved to Joliet when his dad was named general manager for the Caterpillar Inc. plant here. Gavankar grew up in Joliet and is the daughter of Mohra and the late Peter Gavankar of Joliet.
Gavankar said she was aware of Barrowman’s acting achievements while she was in high school. He was one of only a few graduates who had gained national fame.
At that time, Gavankar said she wanted to be a musician and had no interest in an acting career. But in junior year she won the role of Maria in “West Side Story,” a part that changed her life when she felt “heart pangs,” while singing a song during rehearsals.
“It was a complete out-of-body experience and it changed me,” she said.
Barrowman was hooked on acting when he performed in his first musical, “Hello Dolly” at Joliet West, he told The Herald-News in 2004.
Gavankar said “Arrow” has been picked up for a second season and she’s looking forward to shooting more episodes. The problem will be squeezing the job into her busy schedule filming scenes for “True Blood” and another show, “The League,” where she portrays Shiva, the namesake of a coveted trophy in a fantasy football league.
Gavankar, who also recently produced and sings on the music video “Waiting for Godot,” said she loves her chosen profession and hopes other Joliet West graduates venture out to California to enter showbiz.
“I am still waiting for more kids to come out here,” she said. “They’re going to have a friend in me, that’s for sure.”