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Colin Salmon directs new film to launch our Million Minutes campaign

Hollywood actor Colin Salmon emotionally explains his personal connection to the story for our special #1MillionMinutes film, Bob's Back!

Tell us about your new short film, which will launch this year's 1 Million Minutes campaign? 

The film is based on my aunty Myrtle and my uncle’s allotment, my love of gardening, things I’ve seen and been through over the last year and lockdown.

The importance of flowers, for example, but more importantly, it was about the fellowship of the allotment really, because in respect of the character in the piece - the allotment belongs to Myrtle. Bob helps her out with it, but obviously he is recently widowed and he has to make a decision as to whether he’s going to keep the allotment or move on, because he doesn’t feel he’s much of a gardener. 

But actually, it’s not about that, it’s about the fact that he’s got this group of people. He’s had a long term relationship with this group of people and Myrtle’s given so much of her own time to them, that of course they are going to give back to Bob. 

And it’s called ‘Bob’s Back’ because it’s about having his back as much as anything else. 

Where did the idea come from?

I visualised three different scenarios - of which the final choice was one of them - all drawn from life experiences, so that was quite nice and interesting. I didn’t get much time to think about it, which was good in a way, because that meant you had to go with the simplest story. And this is the story of Bob. 

It’s who we are - we are the gardeners - we love to put our hands in the soil and I think the symbolism of that is really important. I know personally how much joy I got from it last year, leaning into the grief of Covid. There’s something about literally putting your hands into the Earth. The words “humility” and “humble” literally come from the latin word “humilis”. To know that’s where you are and where you’re going. Getting your hands in the soil of life is really important. 

It’s also about social mobility, because social mobility is also about social interaction. If you love your garden or you love your plants, you’ll have something to talk about whether you have a stately home or a window box. It's one of the things that’s a very important point of reference. 

It was wonderful working with the Good Morning Britain team because they all brought their expertise. 

What’s your experience of loneliness?

Back in the day, when I was younger, perhaps I was isolated because of mental health worries.  My mother died when I was 24, when I was in London. Just that journey home to the house and looking at people on the train and wondering how on Earth they could be laughing in that moment? And that’s sort of like our Bob character in a way - those lonely walks, for example. I hear people say on the street, “Cheer up love, it may never happen.” There’s no kindness in saying that. The kindness is allowing people the space to be authentic and be themselves, and if they’re going through something we just need to give them space. Just stay sentient to the world and there’s always a reason for something, it’s always complex. We don’t have to always grin and bear it - stop it. We just have to be sensitive to each other. 

I think over the past couple of years, I do think people have realised, because Covid has affected every family in one way, shape or form. And that feels a bit like unity through grief in a way. You start realising that you’ve had it really lucky, but that we need to be a bit more careful with each other. So for me, that’s being kind - be careful. 

What advice would you give to any viewers at home who might be feeling lonely?

I think it can vary for everybody and so I don’t think there’s necessarily any general advice, but to talk to someone is key. Talk to your GP, distinct nurse, because it’s important. Isolation can sometimes affect judgement, diet - you don’t even realise what’s happening because you’re slightly lost.

I think communication is key too. So Bob coming back to the allotment is a big step, he was nervous about it but by doing so, and just by gently including himself, he opens himself up to being connected again. That’s who we are as human beings, we want to be connected and our minds can play tricks on us, but ultimately it’s good and really important to talk to people. 

You can be honest too. I was struggling in my early twenties, I would go to the National Gallery - the free museums where you didn’t have to pay - to go and just to be in those environments, and you just find yourself there and you’re around other people who are maybe doing similar things. 

So if you can, get out. There’s neighbours, family and friends. And we can just keep our eyes and ears to the ground a bit, just be aware of each other. Don’t be too quick to judge, because I think when you’re being too quick to judge, I think when you might find yourself in that position, you will be too quick to judge yourself. 

Just be cool, relax a bit and be kind to yourself, don’t put yourself under too much pressure. I think there’s so much blame and shame in our world and we’ve got to stop it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of and there’s no blame, sometimes none of this makes sense which is one of the things I’ve had to come to terms with. We’re going to try to learn to manage it, otherwise you’re going to go crazy as you’re looking for a reason. Sometimes there’s no reason, it’s just chaos. Just let it go. 

Do you prefer being in front or behind the camera?

People have wanted me to direct for a long time. Dame Judi Dench gave me a box set of Hitchcock’s many years ago, but I mean to do it - and I mean this with the deepest of respects for the craft of Directing - it’s a total commitment of time. You are the Captain of a ship, as you’re responsible for everyone. So with four children and a personal life, I know I didn’t have the time to do it, but this was the right project. 

Everyone thinks they’re going to do a Scorsese, but this is me to a tee - I believe in this. It’s timeless and important to me, and it’s a lovely thing to start on. I’ve enjoyed it very much and I would love to do more of them. Short form is lovely and so I’m surprised. This is a poem really and they’re not easy to do, but doable if you really care about each aspect. 

One of the things I learnt is that if you have quality in every moment and every moment is authentic, then it’s a lot easier to cut it together as you’re not cutting around stuff, and I’m really grateful to all the different departments - the photography, the lighting, the sound. You can feel the love on the screen, I hope. 

Have you ever volunteered?

There’s many ways of volunteering, isn’t there? If a neighbour needs their shopping picking up or you’re popping to the shop and you get something for them. Or you get home and your neighbour’s bin lids are on the floor and they’re not at home, you just pick them up - it only takes a minute. There’s a minute, there’s a minute and there’s a minute. And there’s a kid round the corner whose bike got punctured and he doesn’t have a dad or knows someone who can fix it… So I think there are many ways you can volunteer - you can do it within your world, you can go and join someone else’s world. I’ve been a governor at a school, I’ve done the local community panto, I do Carnival. I volunteer all the time. 

What people don’t tell you is that you get so much out of it yourself. You learn stuff, the pressure of not getting paid for something is quite liberating. And one thing we all have is time - make time.  That’s another thing I liked about the 1 Million Minutes project, this isn’t about you, money isn’t going into your pocket - money isn’t the only currency.

You had Covid earlier this year, how are you feeling now?

I had Covid at the beginning of the year. I haven't got long Covid, but I lost a lot of fitness which was scary. Life is a blessing, so I’m grateful. 

What's next for you?

There’s a Netflix show that I’m going to be working on. I’ve been Executive Producing a documentary called Black and Northern Irish so we’re just putting the finishing touches to that, which will be finished at the end of the year - so that’s really exciting. The producing side of that has been joyful, it’s been interesting to see how some people want the badge and they don’t want to do the work, and some people do the work and they don’t even know about badges. So that’s been interesting to differentiate between those who do it and those who talk it. 

I’m staying close to home and there’s a few more projects in the pipeline. As always, I’m being very active and proactive. I’m up to all sorts all the time. I’m also involved in cricket as well and I’d like to help sort that out, as I love the game.  

Who should play the next Bond?

Good question! I quite like Henry Cavill - there’s something about him I like. I never really thought about it before, but there’s a quietness about him I like. And then O.T. Fagbenle, he’s really, really good. 

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