I’m a journalist who enjoys a challenge. When I’m tasked with an interview, I throw myself into the research. If I haven’t seen some of the actor’s most recent works, I watch them. If I know they’ve done other interviews before, I watch those. All of this so I can craft the perfect questions for our tête-à-tête. Sometimes I’m stuck. I’ll spend several minutes just staring at a blank screen or empty piece of paper trying to visualize what questions I’ll ask. Even one question would welcome serenity during those times. I had one of these moments when I was asked to interview Colin Salmon, one of the U.K.’s most prestigious actors.
“Ask him why they’re called moo-shrooms, Daddy.” You see, my 5-year old is a huge fan of Minecraft and Colin’s career spans back to when I myself had just turned five, so I was having of those moments when I was drawing a blank. What do you ask someone who’s heard it all? In one of my moments of weakness, I asked my little man for advice.
As it turns out, kids say the darnedest things. No, I didn’t ask Colin about Minecraft (Sorry, buddy.) but mini-me did renew my spirit and inspire me to keep on keeping on. What do I ask someone who’s heard it all? Nothing. Just sit down and chat. His career is legendary and he himself is phenomenal, but Colin Salmon, at his core, is still just like you and me. He’s still just someone looking to change our world for the better. For me, that happened one question at a time.
Here’s our interview:
Colin, thank you very much for the interview. I’m a huge fan and you’ve such a storied career that it’s an absolute honor to be talking with you.
Thank you. This is my pleasure. I haven’t done one for a while.I think that’s the biggest lesson of all though, to just keep doing it.
Absolutely. Now, to start things off, I mentioned your breadth of experience and epic career. What we’d like to understand is how you choose your roles? When you sit down and look at a script what makes you say, “I want this character.”
I sort of like doing new things, and I’ve done things like Hex and Resident Evil, and they weren’t necessarily part of any game plan. They were just things that really appealed to me, because I’d never seen them before. I do like to be trying to break new ground if possible. (Laughs) It isn’t always the wise economic choice, but I think at the end of the day I just love bold people. New writing is often done by bold people. That’s part of my punk background I think.
And what about after you’ve gotten the role? Obviously you’re a family man with Fiona, your kids. Where do you draw that inspiration from? Is it from your family? Does it come naturally? Is there a particular place your inspiration comes from or do you draw from different sources?
Yeah, it’s interesting. For example, if I play a marine and I go do the work, I just want to make sure that I dignify the role for the marines who may be watching. If I play a teacher, again, I hope I dignify the role for the teachers that may be watching. I try to give it some kind of credibility, and a resonance for the people of that profession if it makes sense, because that’s sort of where we’re drawing from.
Obviously one tries to honor the writer and their vision as much as one can, and the director, of course, who see the bigger picture – that vision. It sort of almost sounds pretentious, but you are a color on a palette, so you can’t be a luminous palette color when you’re sort of working on a classic oil. You have to trust the team, and just do the best you possibly can really.
So allow me to delve more into these roles of you don’t mind. We’re getting to see a few more from you right now: Sands from “Limitless” obviously which I’ll touch more on in a bit, but a more recent one for some audiences (myself included) is a parody of yourself on Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None”. With “Master of None”, what was it like to step into your own shoes?
I don’t think … I didn’t know quite what was going to happen, and I know they didn’t. I bless them for the role, first and foremost, and I think Harris Wittels was key in that, He’s a genius writer. God rest his soul and all respect to him.
I mean, I’ve done a few comedic things – Little Miss Jocelyn and stuff. I have a feeling that they may have spotted that side of my character, and bless them for that, because I do like surreal comedy. I love it. Always have. I knew Aziz’s work because I used to watch his stand-up, and I loved it. It came totally out of left field, and I do like to laugh, actually. I’m a bit of a toe rag. I like comedy. I like the serious comedy. I like situational. I like, like I said earlier, surrealist comedy. I guess you could tell in that I take my comedy incredibly seriously. (Laughs).
Absolutely, and can we expect to see more of you, or is that it for CarMan?
Let’s see what the future holds. I hope that Aziz and Alan, and the team … I mean, the response has been incredible for the whole series, and congratulations to them for that. I think this is groundbreaking millennial stuff. Looking at things in a completely different way, and it gives us a lot of hope for the intellect and intelligence of the up and coming generation. Yeah, I’ll be back baying for blood any moment. If they make the call, I’m there, because I think that’s progressive stuff.
Fingers crossed that we’ll see more on-screen one day. Moving onto my next question here, it actually comes from a fan of yours by the name of Omar. For 24: Live Another Day you filmed in London. So being from the UK, the question Omar asks is what was it like to be filming in London, being from the UK, but using an American accent during filming as General Coburn?
Totally, totally surreal. The hardest thing of all, of course, was that the crew … I knew a lot of the crew, because they were from Bond and I hadn’t seen them for a while, so between takes they were like, “Oh hey Colin,” but you know, in broad Cockney accents, and I’m like, “Jesus, I’m trying to stay in this American accent here.” That was pulling at the heartstrings a bit, but great to work on that show. It’s a seminal piece.
Yeah, it was surreal playing General Coburn twenty minutes from my front door. It was just very surreal, but highly enjoyable. Got to meet the American ambassador, and we were having great fun causing disruption in London. It was a great shoot, actually.
With that talk of disruption in London, you have a few movies coming out, one of which is “London Has Fallen”. I know they haven’t revealed who your character is, so can you talk about any of that?
In “London Has Fallen,” I play London’s commissioner of police. I play London, which is cool. I play my own voice, but I mean, my god, have we caused chaos in London! Oh my, I think it’s caused … It’s what we say in England is, “Put the cat amongst the pigeons.” I don’t think Trafalgar Square will ever be the same again. Yeah, that’s going to be an interesting one. I can’t wait to see it, actually. I went through my ADR, and were all a little bit chastened with the response, because London falls, and London doesn’t like falling. Let’s just say that.
Sounds thrilling. I can’t wait to see it! And you’ve other films coming as well: Criminal and Double Play.
Criminal, yeah! Yeah, that’s an interesting piece. Got to work with the wonderful Kevin Costner, and in that I play a prison governor, and yeah, that’s a really interesting piece. It’s science fiction, psycho-fiction. I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s a clever piece, beautifully done. I think Kevin’s been making some interesting choices, so that’s good to see.
Then Double Play? Yeah, I play a returned Caribbean doctor to the island of Curacao, who avenges his father’s death, but looks for answers for his father’s death many years before. Which is a wonderful piece, and to work with Ernest Dickerson, who obviously, is known for “She’s Gotta Have It”, “Do The Right Thing”, and “Malcolm X”. It was a great honor and pleasure, actually. We hit it off.
Lou Gossett Jr., one of my actual all time favorite actors. I do a lot of my things with him. We got to spend time, heard some amazing stories, I’m reading his book as we speak. Yeah, it’s been a very nourishing time actually. Very diverse, and I’ve got to be honest I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to be so diverse, and to be allowed to be so diverse.
And I know many of us feel blessed to be able to see all these great things coming from you. Shifting focus to Limitless, the past few episodes have been considerably light on Sands appearances despite having some pretty big reveals with Brian telling his father about NZT and everything. Can you tell us if these foreshadow a showdown with Senator Morra’s main man?
Sands comes back in a big way, yes. He comes back into Brian’s world quite in a strong way. It’s been interesting, because I think it’s what you perceive to be bad. Jake and I love working together, it’s been fantastic fun. Obviously there’s a lightness of being in the piece, but I think when Sands is around it tends to darken a bit.
I think it’s a ground-breaking piece, because I call it pharma-fiction. It’s like pharmaceutical fiction where there’s elements of truth. Morally and spiritually would be a good way to put it. I was a massive fan of Breaking Bad. I was interested to see how the public responded to the character, and to the storyline. It was interesting to see, having worked with Anna Gunn, to see how she took so much flak for actually being against her husband doing all of that. There’s this woman with a young baby, a disabled son, who’s husband was making crystal meth, and the public thought she was the villain. You go, “Interesting. Very interesting.” How twisted people can be, and in a good way, that’s drama at it’s best. I think when you look at Greek drama people often say to me, “You a goody or a baddie?” I just say, “Well, I’m a good guy that does bad things.” Or, “I’m a bad guy that does good things.” It’s really not that simple.
I love the new dramas in television, because it’s touching on that beautiful moment where people are realizing it’s not as simple as that. Humanity and principles, it’s really depends on the way which you conduct … you pick your heroes, because people are quite complex.
Sands has been an interesting one, because people have gone, “Wow, he’s so this, and he’s so that.” It’s almost like he’s so aware of what he’s up against. Sometimes when you’re a soldier, and I think he is, he is in that show, he has that background. For him it’s really quite straightforward, this is where he’s got to go and then he doesn’t let anything get in his way, including Brian Finch. I know Brian is going to learn some things, let’s just say that. The lightness you’re seeing him develop as a young man, and I love that as well with the old flame that he has to have that. He questions himself, whether it’s him or the drug that’s attracted. I think people who battle with demons and things that’s often one of the major debates they have when they’re trying to decide if they should drink or not. Is it me, or is it … of course it’s you, you just have to get your balance.
It’s a lovely piece. Again, I was thrilled to do it, because I feel it was asking interesting questions. Which I like to do.
It really is a wonderful piece. And like you said, it’s such a light drama, but then that’s going on there. Something a bit darker. I have only a couple questions left for you. You’re an actor, you’ve played the drums in a punk band. You are an acclaimed Jazz musician going so far as to perform your own concert thing in 2008’s “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.” What are some of the other hidden talents of Colin? Has Fiona got you painting yet?
No she … funny enough that’s the one place I do have a bit of a block. Putting marks on paper. I’ve started to enjoy photography, if I’m honest. That, strangely, may seem … that started with my phone. I was always a bit shy about taking photos, and now I’ve sort of … I take pictures a lot. I’d like to explore that more, because obviously for my film-making company photographs are key anyway. Let me see, what else? I’ve started playing steel pan…
I remember you playing in Carnival last year. Notting Hill?
That’s it, yeah. That’s the second year I’ve performed. This year for the first time I’ve played in Carnival. Last year I just played … This year I had the time, and made the time to learn it. That was quite humbling, and very frightening to start a new instrument. It’s good for the brain.
What other things? Cage Cricket. I’m up to trying to bring the sport to New York and we’re getting some traction in there with interesting people. That’s something you can look online for. We’ve taken something classically English that’s been totally influenced by American basketball. We’ve combined the two and then created something dynamic, fast, and incredibly potent. It’s a self-governing game, so people have to be the referee and scorer. it’s a great problem behaving scenario. I’m only out to change the world man, you know, hey. As we all should be I think.
Definitely. With that, Cage Cricket and changing the world, you said in 2013, and this is something that inspired me, because I am a father as well. In 2013 you did a TedTalks “The Patience of Democracy.” You talked about showing patience with your kids, especially in a technological age. It’s definitely wonderful that, you’re out there with Cage Cricket and Carnival and you’re telling parents, “Hey, get more involved with your children.” I have that problem sometimes. t’s one of those things that, from one parent to another, is appreciated. That’s how I see the world changing. Our kids, but it starts with us.
I thank you, man. Thank you.
Now, the final question I have for you, is your chance to make yet another splash when it comes to changing the world. What are you hoping are some things that your fans, your followers, or people in general watching any of your performances whether it’s music, acting, stage, and so on, learn from your experiences? Learn from you personally, or even just learn from this interview?
Oh wow, good question. No that’s a very good question. What do I want them to learn? I suppose one of the things I try to do, as an untrained actor I try to start out, learn the background of the story. No matter where the character ends up, that could be any of us depending on the role we play, and the way things go. The way the dice is rolled. If anything, you mentioned the patience of democracy, but I think it’s just that. I try to play characters who listen. I try to play natural mentalities who are intelligent, but not in a sort of just a literary or intellectual way, just hungry way. That thing I said, listening, ingesting the information, whatever you do with that is up to you.
If I’d like to say anything to my followers really it is, you already know the answer to the questions. That’s what I want you to know. That’s what I would say. Just trust yourself. Do things from a position of love, and have patience, because everybody’s trying to do their own … especially with kids actually, they’re trying to do the right thing, even if they did it wrong. They’re not set out to lose the football match or get it wrong. They attempt it with an open heart, and we just have to be patient with each other, and the children especially. That isn’t necessarily what’s in my characters, but I go 100% always and I love my fellow actors, I do that, I genuinely think they’re an amazing group. It’s sort of easy to slag them off, because it’s easy. I’ve met amazing people on this journey.
And I say to all of you, read a poem everyday. That’s it. Sorry to be such a long-bodied answer.
No, not at all, it’s amazing! That’s why I ask the question. Everybody gives their own unique answer and add their own unique take to it. Words of wisdom from one nerd to another.
I’ve got to be honest. I’m thrilled to be talking to the nerds. We rule! This is the bottom line, and I say this because I’m a nerd. At some point, somewhere down the line, we are going to be on our own in our room doing our work. I say to the kids that want to hang out, cool get it, but at some point when you really want to change the world, or change your world, you’re going to be on your own in your room doing prep. You’re going to be in a room studying. You’re going to be in a room. You’re going to be nerdy because you have to. Nerds rule.
I’ve been a nerd all my life. Anybody, Shakespeare was a nerd. Anybody who did anything is a nerd, so we rule. I’m proud to be a 6’4” jock nerd. Which people were confused about when I was a kid. They always thought I was a jock. We’ve got jock nerds too. (Laughs).