Nick Frost is best known for working with director Edgar Wright and his homeboy Simon Pegg in the Cornetto Trilogy (that would be Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End). But now, Frost is taking on something that goes beyond the worlds of suburban zombies, gun-toting senior citizen cults and pub crawl aliens. He’s tackling something much more challenging: the art of salsa dancing.
In the comedy Cuban Fury, Frost plays Bruce, who, as a child, had a loyal admiration for salsa dancing…and he was good at it. Really good. One unfortunate day, a bunch of bullies literally beat the love of salsa out of him. From that day forward he denounced his love for the dance style and swore he would never step into his dance shoes and sequins. It wasn’t until he meets the salsa-loving Julia (Rashida Jones) that he tries to reconnect with the dance style. At the same time, he gets pushed around by his douchey co-worker Drew (Chris O’Dowd) and finds a newfound friend in his flamboyant dance classmate Bejan (Kayvan Novak). During his salsa journey, he realizes that while he is trying to win the heart of Julia, he is redeveloping a love of himself.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
We had the chance to talk to Nick Frost about playing a leading man, his intensive salsa training, his rehearsal breakdowns and a sequel to Cuban Fury that definitely needs to happen.
How important was it for you to do all the dancing in Cuban Fury?
Nick Frost: I think it was the crux of it. In terms of me and my motives for wanting to do a dance film and the terror that dancing in front of people brought to me at that point, it was all a part of my catharsis, my incredibly expensive therapy session. I messed our wedding up by not wanting to dance with my wife. We had a dance all picked out, but when it came down to it, it was like grade school where I put my hands on her shoulders, we did this a bit [does the awkward swaying slow dance motion]. I thought, I shouldn’t have to feel like that, you know? I’m an actor and I do scenes in front of the cast and crew every day. I shouldn’t be afraid of dancing. There’s a stigma to being a big man who can dance and enjoys it. There’s a look that people give you and it’s often accompanied by a “Awww…You go for it, big guy!”—sort of a patronizing “attaboy!” That makes me so cross. That was part of my reason to want to dance. I think it kind of helped it get green-lit, really.
There’s no Oscar nomination for the amount of effort put into a comedy. If it was Daniel Day Lewis putting seven months training into becoming some kind of man who stuffs animals, people would say, “Wow! His dedication to the role is admirable!” But for a romantic comedy about a big man who woos a girl through the medium of salsa—no one gives a shit about your training. [laughs]
The theme of the film is the discovery self-confidence. Is there a breakthrough moment you recall when you realized you don’t need to be insecure about dancing?
Frost: No, because it never got easier. There was never a moment where they unplug a wire from your head, your eyes flicker and you say, “I know Pachanga!” I don’t want to seem down it, because I loved it. When you watch ten minutes of the film and all of that is me I think, “That’s why I did that.” When you’re in it, it’s like, “Fucking hell, when’s this going to end?” But I became a dancer…also, I didn’t want to lose weight. I wanted to still be a big lump. So I could eat giant steaks in the morning, 50 bananas a day, a whole chicken – it was like a dream for me! I dressed like a dancer, with leggings on and bands in my hair. I’d find myself sat in a room with fifteen 18-year-old ballerinas and we’d all be having a stretch. [laughs] I became that dancer.
Were there any breakdown moments as a dancer?
Frost: Twice I had to leave because I started crying in front of people. Once I was going to hit Richard Marcel, who was my choreographer. I don’t like to be manhandled. It got to a point at 3 in the afternoon where we’d been dancing since 8 am. I got to that point where he’d be talking to me in English and I would be (hearing) Mandarin. “I don’t know what you want from me!” You know? He moved me. He’s only a little thing. I would murder him. (laughs)I had that thing where my voice kind of went quite high: “Don’t fucking touch me!” He tried to calm me down and I kind of started to cry in front of him, and then I went into the bathroom and there was a bunch of beautiful 18-year-old boys, 18-years-old, ballerina boys with no tops on. Then this big fucking gorilla comes charging to the toilet in tears. They were like, “You alright?” and I said, “Just fucking leave me alone!” I went back into the studio eventually, grabbed my kit bag and said, “I’m going home!” That happened twice! But the next day we hugged it out.
Did you find it difficult folding a comedy element without disrespecting die-hard fans of dance?
Frost: No, not really. It was never about taking the piss out of salsa. Also, literally spending five minutes with the Latino community in London you realize that, should you disrespect that, you have a big problem on your hands, because that’s the thing those people love more than anything in the world. I was very keen that it be respected and it got the respect it deserved. As soon as the community realized that that was our motive, they couldn’t have helped us more in terms of support and making themselves available for training.
How did you find playing the lead character as compared to your roles in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead?
Frost: Nick: I’ve got to say, it didn’t feel any different at all. The things about Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End is that it is a three-way collaboration. Even though Simon was number one on the call sheet, I never felt anything but a collaborator with Edgar and Simon. In terms of ego, there’s no space for it on our sets. When you do this and you’re not the funniest person on set, you can grumble about it and think, “Why haven’t I got the funniest lines?”, or you can sit back and think it’s for the good of the film. If it’s good for the film, it’s good for me. It didn’t bother me. I had the idea, I produced it, I’m starring in it. You can’t do much more. I’m happy to sit back and watch Chris [O’Dowd] and Kayvan [Novak]. I like watching them.
Was Chris O’Dowd your first choice to be the character of Drew?
Frost: I think he kind of chose himself. I’ve known Chris for years and out of everyone I’ve worked with, Chris is the one I have trouble looking in the eyes. He makes me laugh. He improvises tons, and to improvise you need to know a lot of things that not only fit but push the story forward, too. It’s difficult acting against it, because if you know it’s coming, you can prepare yourself for it. But when that thing is constantly changing, it’s hard to really hard to defend yourself. If you notice in the film, I don’t look at him in the eye at all until the end the scene in the bathroom. The fact is, I just couldn’t look him in the eye.
Why did you choose salsa?
Frost: Ballroom had been done by Baz Luhrmann beautifully. Strictly Ballroom was a touchstone for this film. You believe the characters are real people. The acting’s fantastic, the comedy’s funny, the drama is dramatic, and the dancing is real and beautiful to look at. That’s what we tried to do. It had to be a dance where there is physical contact between a man and a woman. Some suggested tango, but in terms of salsa, it looks beautiful on screen. The colors and sequins are very cinematic. I think it could have been twerking. [laughs] What an awful movie that would be.
What was it like working with a writer other than Simon?
Frost: I didn’t want to write the film. It takes so long to write a film that you’re then out of the loop for other acting jobs. That’s fine by the way. Me and Simon took so long to write Paul, and that was two years where we weren’t making a film. I didn’t want to do that on this.We’d known Jon Brown for a while and we got on really well. I said, “These are the characters, this is what I think it should be.” He wrote a great first draft. He did it in, like, twelve weeks. It was amazing.
As a child your character was obsessed with salsa but then later strayed away from it due to unfortunate circumstances. Was there hobby you took up that got derailed and you wish you’d stuck with?
Frost: Rugby. I played rugby from age 7 to 21. I was at a point in my life where I think I probably could have been pretty good at it, but it came when I discovered weed and girls. At the time, I was playing on a team called London Nigeria and I was the only white player on the team. The thing about London Nigeria is, A: They’re fucking massive. B: They used to fist fight a lot during training. You have to make that decision: Do I want to be hit in the face by a 6’8” Nigerian man on a Tuesday night? Or am I going to smoke a bowl and try to get off with this beautiful waitress? I chose B. I stick by my choice, but I loved playing rugby.
If you made a sequel to Cuban Fury, what would it be like?
Frost: We’ve thought about this, actually. We thought it would be Bruce and Bejan going to Tehran to open Tehran’s first salsa club. We thought it would be a cross between something Baz Luhrmann would do and Argo. Smuggle me in wearing a rhinestone-covered burka. He’d find a giant old building that was a club at one point and turn it into a hot new night club. [laughs]
Cuban Fury opens in theaters Friday, April 11.