We all know the greatness that is Nick Frost, but what you might not be aware of is that the man best known for his work with his partners in crime Simon Pegg and director Nick Frost (the British series "Spaced," SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and last year's THE WORLD'S END) also has the bodily necessaries of a great dancer, as is evidenced in his latest film CUBAN FURY, in which he plays Bruce, a childhood salsa dancing prodigy who runs afoul of some bullies and leaves dancing behind him minutes before the national finals.
The film features a great deal of exotic dancing, all of which is performed by Frost himself, a point he decided was crucial before he agreed to do the film, whose idea he came up with. And while you think the laughs might come just from watching a somewhat large man dancing salsa, CUBAN FURY is actually far more heartfelt and fun than a 90-plus-minute site gag. This is a film about overcoming fear (Frost himself had a genuine fear of dancing in front of others, so much so that he nearly ruined his own wedding by refusing to dance), regaining self-confidence and allowing fear of rejecting to keep you from following your dreams and your heart. And he manages to do that with it feeling overly sappy or sentimental.
Over the past 15 years, Frost has grown into something of a great all-purpose character actor who can also tackle lead roles from time to time. Watch him in supporting work he did in KINKY BOOTS, PIRATE RADIO, ATTACK THE BLOCK and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN for proof. Or simply relish in him changing things up from his lovable slacker persona to something a bit more complex in THE WORLD'S END or even PAUL. He's even carved out a nice career as a voice actor in recent years (ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT, THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, and the upcoming THE BOXTROLLS.
He's also recently wrapped up production on the new Ken Scott-directed, Steve Conrad-written BUSINESS OR PLEASURE (set for release about a year), co-starring Vince Vaughn and Dave Franco; and those of us who have Sky TV, will see him next in the six-episode series "Mr. Sloane," co-starring Olivia Colman (who plays his sister in CUBAN FURY) and Peter Serafinowicz. Frost is also about the shoot a pilot for a new Fox comedy "Sober Companion" with Justin Long, marking Frost's entry into American series television. And as he did while doing press for THE WORLD'S END, he hints that he, Pegg and Wright will continue working together in films that will likely not resemble what we've seen to date. In other worlds, there are no signs of slowing down for Nick Frost. Just as an explanation of the opening of our discussion, this interview took place the day after a packed Q&A screening of CUBAN FURY that I moderated. Please enjoy my talk with Nick Frost…
Capone: Hello again, sir.
Nick Frost: How are you?
NF: You alright?
Capone: Yeah, yeah.
NF: That was fun last night.
Capone: It was great. People really enjoyed it.
NF: I like doing the Q&As. I liked those old ladies near the front that talk as if they’ve known you for ages.
Capone: That was so strange. That woman asked, “Where do you live?”
NF: “What part of London are you from?" Here's my address.
Capone: One thing I didn’t bring up last night was that I was amazed that Dick Pope was your DP on this. I know him from his work with Mike Leigh and Richard Linklater. I did notice last night that the film does have a look that is not necessarily the traditional comedic look. It’s not brightly lit and colorful all the time.
NF: Yes, except for the end.
Capone: I’m guessing he’s probably never filmed a dance sequence before. Why did you and [director] James Griffiths go with him?
NF: Well, for that reason. I got to work with both Popes last year--Dick and then Bill [who did THE WORLD'S END and is set to be DP on Wright's ANT-MAN film]--and that got quite confusing. For the first three months, I’d be calling Dick Bill, and vice versa. But he’s fantastic to just watch and his communication skills, with his gaffer and the team. He’s getting on a bit now, but he had that thing where me and him instantly got one another, and we’d make each other laugh, and I’d look at him sometimes, and he can’t hide he’s a volatile man, but in the best possible way. And often I’ve looked at him, and he’d be on the dolly with his head in his hands just rubbing his eyes, and he’d look up at me, and he’d say, “We’re never going to fucking get this.” And I’d just say, “Let’s just knock it on its head. Let’s just start.” And he’d say, “Yeah, fuck it.” He’s a big swearer. He swears a lot too. But watching him light those dance sequences, you can hear him say, “This job’s going to fucking kill me.” And then you’d see what he did, and you think, “God, that’s fantastic.”
Capone: The scene when you first go into the bar looking for your old teacher, the way that is lit, just it’s so dark and it’s a little scary.
NF: That was an amazing set as well. Because they managed to find an old dance school that was shut down. And they took off the whole floor, they took all the lights. Yeah, they really did a beautiful number on that.
Capone: You joked about it last night, about this being multi-million-dollar therapy for you getting over dancing in public, but there’s a lot of discussion in the film about getting out of your comfort zone. I’ve got to imagine that might hit home as well to a certain degree with you. Doing something like this is getting out of your comfort zone--dancing, being a romantic lead with a rival. Did that factor in at all to the creation of this story?
NF: I love what I did, and I love what I do with Simon and Edgar. And Simon on PAUL, and the stuff that we will do in the future, which will be completely different to the stuff we’ve done in the past. But I felt it was important to do something so different, not necessarily comedically, because it is still me, but to suddenly not being the comedy. Because even though there are funny lines, it’s about Chris [O'Dowd] and Kayvan [Novak] in this film, and that’s mportant, but also to dance. What an odd thing that I would want to do a dance film.
When was going into Pineapple [Dance Studio] all that time. I don’t smoke anymore, but sometimes I’d nip out and go have a quick cigarette, and there’d be a 40-year-old woman going into Pineapple, and she’d say, “Hey what are you doing here?” This happened a few times. “What are you doing here?” I’ve got to stand up to do what they did [which he does]--I said, “I’m training to do a dance film.” They go, “[laughs] Oh, brilliant!” and walk in. Literally, I thought “Fuck you.” But then part of me thought, “What if you find just that notion funny, then we might be onto something here.”
Capone: The expectation obviously is that it’s funny because it’s you dancing, but those aren't really the funny moments.
NF: No, the dancing is the unfunny bit.
Capone: YThat’s the stuff that makes people drop their jaws.
NF: Well also, I think this is what’s going to define us and the difference between a film like CUBAN FURY and a film like BLADES OF GLORY. That's not a criticism of that film, I’m just saying that those films aren’t about skating. It just happens to be skating; it could be basketball, it could be any kind of comedy sport film. But the dancing is dancing. We wanted to have that that Baz Luhrmann thing where you believe in the characters. The situations that they get themselves into are funny, the dialogue is funny, yet it can also be tragic, and you feel sad for Bruce. And then the dancing needs to be fiery and passionate to off set that gloom, that Mike Leigh style--“Shit my life is ending because I’m single and 40” gloom.
Capone: I know that was you doing the dancing. Was that also Olivia [Colman] doing her dancing? She’s doing so much spinning at the end.
NF: Yeah, if it’s more than two spins, it’s not Olivia, by the way. That’s how you find out. But she did the thing called the Spanish Sweep, where I have her by the hand, and she spins around and then jumps up.
Capone: That’s pretty impressive.
NF: It’s really impressive, and we did it at the wrap party, and obviously we were both hammered. She gave me no warning. She just literally said, “Spanish Sweep,” and got ahold of me and fell forward, which was terrifying. I’ve got these lovely shoes that I wear sometimes with big, chunky wooden heels, and I saw her soft brow kind of literally go just past the heel, which is the issue with that move, you can really do some damage.
Capone: Is it nice having someone like her around that you’ve worked with before, and you know what she’s capable of, which is pretty much everything. Is that still helpful to have familiar people around you?
NF: Yeah, yeah. But even though this is the first film I’ve done with Rashida [Jones], we had a thing where we hit it off immediately. It was like we had known each other for years and years and years. So when it came to doing that dancing with Olivia and Rashida; Olivia was the first dancer we did. So you’re on that floor; you’re surrounded by 400 extras. It was about her and me, and we were just literally this far away just talking to one another about “Let’s fucking do this. Come on, come on. We can do it.” And then you hear the first AD start to fire shit up, and you’re back into character. And if it wasn’t for her and Rashida, I’m not sure we could have done it. Three times during that week I had to go off secretly with our unit nurse to have her take my blood pressure because I thought I was going to die. So I’d say to her, “Please don’t say anything. I can’t go to the hospital, I just can’t go to the hospital.”
Capone: Did it feel like a panic attack, or like an anxiety attack?
NF: Yeah, yeah.
Capone: So it wasn’t about being winded.
NF: No, it was about being terrified. You just start thinking about what you have to shoot. [takes a deep breath] I’m doing it now thinking about it. You think about what you have to shoot, and who’s going to be there, and the fact fact you have this massive dance, and then you suddenly can’t catch your breath. Then the more you think about it, the more you start panicking. So sometimes I’d have to look at the unit nurse and catch her eye, and we’d find ourselves in some shit toilet in the anus of a club going (blood pressure machine noises) “You're fine, your blood pressure is fine, your heart rate is perfect.” It was just panicking.
Capone: Was it important for you just personally to be the one who was always dancing?
NF: Yeah, I wanted to do it. That’s the good thing about being an actor sometimes: you can shoot shit in a wide shot and see it’s me, but jumping over the fence in HOT FUZZ or the fight in THE WORLD’S END, that all could have been stunt men. I didn’t want it to be; I wanted to do it all. No matter what this film does, if it fucking bombs here, if it doesn’t, if it’s a cult hit, if it’s a word-of-mouth hit, I can watch that and say "I did all that." Bottom line. And I think that’s enough for me in terms of the success of a salsa comedy--well, the relative success of a salsa comedy.
Capone: In a lot of ways, the face-off scene with you and Chris in the parking lot is more important and more properly climactic than the dance competition, because we know you don't have to win the competition to win the girl. You can get away with that. But that battle, you have to win for us, for the damaged child in you. I’m guessing the jump and flip off the car was not you, but that wasn’t really dancing.
NF: No, but I trained to do that, and I had done it all on wirework the second unit. Bradley James Allan was the second unit director, so he brought all his Hong Kong high kicks and tricks. So I learned to do it all, and then the day we were meant to do all that…you know that shot when I lift Chris over my head? And everyone always laughs there, because it’s kind of amazing. He was on a wire, so as I lifted him, two guys lifted him up, and then I spun around, and there was a second where they let go as he was [above my head], and that was the only time I got injured. I pulled all the muscles in my neck and all the way down my back. And I had to be sent home, which as a producer and the star, you think, “No, no, no. We can’t do this.” But they had the rest of the day off, and they had to shoot it with James Harris, who is one of the stunt guys in a big suit, so that’s why it wasn’t me.
Capone: So, you were planning on doing that jump?
NF: Yeah, but the first thing we were meant to do that day was me lifting Chris, and as soon as that went sideway, I couldn’t then do the other bits that were scheduled to be done that day.
Capone: Did you and the director talk much about how you wanted to shoot the dance sequences, whether to show the whole body or focus more on arms or legs?
NF: Well, that was up to James. There’s no point in having someone like James and then teaching him how to suck eggs. You also have to make it look cinematic and beautiful, and I guess by cutting in and using shots from above and feet and other bits, you can collage it all up. But we certainly shot everything. Every dance we shot has a one in a wide, so we had that master. I think I had to do so much more dancing than everyone too, because for every dance Olivia did, I had to do it with her and a stand in. So I had to do it three times as much as everyone else. Rashida came into training, and three weeks in she said, “Why are you doing so much training?” “Because I need to learn this dance.” It’s funny her coming from Hollywood, she said, “Why don't you get someone else to do it?” It’s like I had never thought of it. I thought, “Oh, yeah. We could have I guess and avoided this seven-month dance jail hell.”
Capone: Was that always an American character, and why did that matter?
NF: Yeah. Well, I don’t know. I guess this is going to be a cynical producer's answer coming now, but I guess if we wanted to do well over here, then you would have someone like Rashida that an American audience knows and really likes. That said, it has to work. It has to be able to somehow fit within the parameters of "Why would she be here?" And I think if you can make that work, then there’s no reason not to. I'm doing this pilot for Fox with Justin Long, and I’m playing that English, and there’s no reason why I should be English. It’s not like it's set in 1890, when there just weren’t that many English people here. It’s 2014. There’s no reason why not. Also, when it comes to accents and me as an actor, it’s like, "I’m an English actor. You want an American actor, gave an American actor." I understand acting is about being different people, and I think that works if you’re not so well known. I always think people are not watching your acting or the characterization. They’re listening to whether or not you’re fucking up a Boston accent.[Laughs]
Capone: The idea of you on an American television show excites me to no end. What made you finally decide this was a noble pursuit?
NF: I say No to a lot of stuff, and I got bored of saying no. I thought, “Well, fuck it." I like Justin Long. I really like the script. The character of an alcoholic lawyer has endless potential, not just for comedy, but for heart and tragedy. I think if the writers and Justin and I can make it be believable in terms of emotion as well as comedic beats, then it could be pretty good. And again, it’s a challenge. I thought, “I’ve never done this before, so why not give it a go?” There’s a lot of great stuff being made on television now. It’s fine to sit around waiting to be cast for stuff in films, but you think, "Fox is a big deal."
Capone: Is that an important thing to you now, the challenge of acting as opposed to just the discipline of it?
NF: Yeah. Maybe. I think it’s good for the brain, if nothing else.
Capone: Fear is a good motivator.
NF: Yeah, it is. I don’t want to get to a point where I think, “Alright, I’ve done SHAUN OF THE DEAD, I’ve done HOT FUZZ, PAUL, THE WORLD'S END, and people really like this. I’ve been offered stuff, and so now I’m going to sit back and do shit for money.” I’m just not going to do that. I’d rather do great stuff for no money, and make it hard for myself, but be able to go home and look at myself in the mirror and flop into bed feeling like I’ve just knocked a wall down. That's a good day, you know? That’s what I want. That’s what I need. There’s no point in sitting back on your laurels thinking, “I’ve done it. I’ve won acting.” You’re going to get into trouble. Also, you don’t act differently on television. You wouldn’t think, “Alright, well because this is on television, I’m going to act 60 percent less because it is somehow less valid than cinema.”
Capone: You did like a series just recently for, was it Sky TV? What was that?
NF: Yeah, it's called "Mr. Sloane," with [executive producer] Robert Weide, who did "Curb Your Enthusiasm." It’s set in the last month of 1969, and it’s about a very buttoned-down square, a proper square. His life is his wife and his job, and on the same day he looses both. It starts with a failed suicide attempt, and from there the comedy ensues. There’s only one place to go after a failed hanging, and the series is going to pick up comedically after that point. But, Bob came up with a great character, and the scripts are fantastic, and he wrote them for me specifically. Bob has that thing that I have, and I love it in him, that it’s alright to be really dark. If the status quo is back to normal at the end, and there’s love involved, I think people are quite forgiving of anything as long as the ending is good.
Capone: I hope I get the chance to see it.
NF: Yeah, I do too. I think it’s probably the thing I’m most proud of. Also, shooting period stuff is really hard in the UK, because it’s so expensive because you have to dress all your extras and bring the right cars in. Yeah, we found it really expensive. I said to Bob, "If we do another one, let’s do it every 10 years, so now it’s '79 then '89.
Capone: It’s a little easier to find clothes from the late '70s and '80s.
NF: Yeah, well hopefully it will go back around again.
Capone: Nick, it was great to see you again.
NF: Thanks, mate. Thanks for doing this and for yesterday.