Actor/writer/comedian Nick Frost has become a fixture on American screens over the past decade thanks to his appearance in 2004's Shaun of the Dead, which became a beloved cult artifact virtually the instant that it hit theaters. Since then, the multi-talented Frost has appeared in two follow-up projects from Shaun director Edgar Wright and co-star Simon Pegg, 2007's Hot Fuzz and one of my fave movies of last year, The World's End, forming the three legs of what filmmakers and fans have dubbed the "Cornetto Trilogy."
While Frost has been a reliable second banana until now, he makes his leading man debut with this week's Cuban Fury. The salsa-themed (the dance, not the condiment) rom-com stars Frost as Bruce, an introverted office drone who uses the language of dance to compete with Chris O'Dowd in winning the attention of co-worker Rashida Jones. I had the chance to talk with the genial and gregarious Frost a few weeks ago about where the first fires of Fury started to burn, and his thoughts on having wrapped up the "Cornetto" films. Here's what he said:
This movie started with an idea you had. Was this you being like, "I love dancing and I need to share this with the world!" or was it the opposite?
I think my relationship with dancing is very complex in terms of the fact that I like it, and I've always loved dancing and weirdly I've always been pretty good at, it but I don't like being watched when I dance. There's a weird look that thinner people give to a big man who can dance well and it's like, I can't, I mean, this is for, this is a non-visual format, so I'll give you the look in a sound and it's this: (makes disappointed groan) You know what I mean? (laughs) And that look is like a f___ing wet rag to me.
I feel like you were working out some issues in this [film].
Yeah, I was. It was the most expensive form of therapy a man has ever indulged himself in. You know, I didn't want to dance with my wife at our wedding because I knew people would be watching. Our dance lasted about three seconds and I felt like I was back in grade school where I kind of just put my hands on her shoulders like a Frankenstein's monster and we moved a bit and then I kind of broke off and turned my back to the audience -- our families -- and then everyone rushed on and danced and it was saved but I felt like I wanted to right a few wrongs.
You wanted to dance like no one was watching.
Yeah, which is a saying the salsa world uses a lot. I think it was also in terms of stuff I've done with Edgar and Simon I thought it was really important for me to do if I was going to do something on my own to do something which was so completely different that people could never accuse you of sitting back and not challenging yourself.
Yeah, and this was it. I'd had this idea. Also, what else is going on is that I think I was very keen on a big man, or a plain man, who is a passionate dancer woos a woman with his passion, essentially. It's that whole thing where just because you don't look like Brad Pitt, and let me tell you, there's a very tiny percentage of the population that looks like Brad Pitt. The rest of us look like us, and me, people out there, you know? (laughs) We all find love. It's about passion.
Attraction is not necessarily about looks. I mean, yes, of course it is, but it's about passion. And passion remains. It doesn't get flabby. Passion never needs a nose job or its tits lifted up. It's a very attractive, beautiful thing. And that's not necessarily a passion for salsa, it could be a passion for graphic novels, or cooking, or engineering, or the trumpet. And so that was part of my deal about this film too. It was like, let's show a normal man reigniting himself and in doing so finding love.
I think the relationship with Rashida Jones is very interesting because obviously she's just gorgeous, but, there was something...achievable? I don't know if that's the word.
Yeah, I completely understand. Yeah, and it should be believable. And it's believable because he's lovely, and you immediately hate Drew (O'Dowd) because...
Oh, you hate him.
(laughs) ...because he's horrible! And he's horrible to Bruce, and I think it's that nice thing that the good guy finishes first for once and that kind of doesn't happen in real life. You know, I've kind of had experience of that myself, so it's nice to show that it can work. But what we did I think which is different is that if you've done your work in terms of creating characters you must imagine that when the film finishes their lives continue and we just don't see it.
But with traditional romantic comedies where the man does it for the woman, does it to win the woman, if three weeks after the film ends she turns to him and says this isn't going to work for me, that man's back to square one. But the way I think we did it is Bruce did it for himself. And so if Rashida said to him, "I've got to go home, I've got to go back to San Francisco," he'd kind of be alright I think. And that was what we wanted to do too.
What was your training process like?
I mean, the term "living hell" has been handed around a lot, but I think it's kind of, it was seven hours a day, every day for seven months. I'd get into a gym at half six and I'd lift weights with my legs and arms for an hour and then I'd go, I would start dancing at eight in the morning and we'd dance until three in the afternoon and it was I think an hour into that first session where I had Richard Marcel, who is one of the big voices on the London Latino scene and a fantastic dancer, and Susana Montero, who's from Madrid and is one of the best salsa dancers in the world, and then me in he middle kind of clomping my way through a basic step, I thought, "We're ruined. I will never look like you. My body will never move like yours."
And, but it took seven months, but about month five you start to think, "Oh hang on, I kind of...this kind of looks a bit like you!" And you start realizing that we might be able to do this, you know? But it wasn't easy because as soon as you get something, when you think you're moving forward, they just dump a whole bunch of other stuff on you. And it's not just the dancing. You're essentially trying to learn a new language because they're talking to you in Spanish and the moves have Spanish names.
There were tears. There were two, twice I walked out. It just gets to a point where it's like two thirty and you're looking at your watch thinking, "School will be out soon," and your mind, you get to a point in the day where your mind just cannot absorb any more information. And it got kind of a bit heated and I think I did that thing where my voice broke (voice breaks) and kind of went quite high (voice gets high). Because I knew I was gonna...I knew there'd be tears, and I kind of grabbed my bag with all my kit and (tearfully) "I'm going home!" Just kind of walked out. (laughs)
So, the Cornetto Trilogy is done.
What have you learned from that experience? Because that was kind of a life changing experience for you, I would think?
Yeah, yeah. I learned that we can do it. We set out to make three films and we did it.
Did you know with Shaun of the Dead that this was going to be something?
You know, Shaun of the Dead, people loved it, people, it was only when we came here to the States to do the Hot Fuzz press tour did it sink in how big Shaun of the Dead had been because we were going into auditoriums, 500 seat cinemas and it felt like you were one of the f___ing Beatles. People were going crazy as only American cinema goers, fan boys and girls can, you know? If they like you.
They let you know.
They will let you know that they like you too, which is amazing. And I think when we were doing that, that was kind of when we thought, "Hey, people kind of loved Shaun of the Dead!" And they went on to see Hot Fuzz and they really liked that too. But I think we've always tried to be careful in terms of not taking that, you know, that's not the norm. That's three weeks of a life essentially.
I was talking the other day about when like a Roman emperor used to come back from overseas or winning a battle and there were a million people cheering for him. They used to employ a man to stand on the back of his chariot and whisper into his ear, "Remember, you are mortal." And it's that kind of, that thing you have to keep in mind is, let's go back and write another film. Let's go make another film and let's kind of ignore what that was because it felt lovely but it's fleeting and it's transient and let's now do another one so we can then go back and feel that again.
******Many thanks to Nick Frost for taking the time to chat with me. Cuban Fury is now playing in limited release, so check your local theaters for listings. To hear the audio from our conversation, click on the latest episode of the MovieFilm Podcast below: