If you think Nick Frost is funny in movies such as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End, Kinky Boots and the new Cuban Fury, just try interviewing him. As fast on his feet as his salsa dancing character Bruce in Cuban Fury, Frost is an interviewer's dream. He knows when to be funny and he knows when to be serious, both of which he did when I spoke with Frost at the Fontainbleau Hotel in Miami about his role as the unlikely, but not unlovable, romantic lead character (and snappy and sizzling salsa dancer) Bruce in April 2014. [Cuban Fury opens in theaters on Apr. 11, 2014.]
GS: (Gregg Shapiro) Nick, dancing is at the heart of Cuban Fury. Do you like dancing in general?
NF: (Nick Frost) I have a complex relationship with it and always have done. I like doing it. I'm at an age now where, as a 42 year old man, I kind of don't give a shit about who sees me either. Because I'm kind of good at it. Watch, don't watch. I'm from a House Music background. There's a club here (in Miami Beach) that I went to last night. I've got to say, where I go clubbing, where I went clubbing, you don't give a shit what you look like. We used to go to a lot of gay clubs because that's where the best DJs played. I'd wear a sarong (motions like he's tying a sarong) and a vest and white gloves. It was all about fun and making connections with people.
GS: Speaking of House Music, I just moved to South Florida from Chicago…
NF: Did you hear about Frankie Knuckles dying?
GS: Yes, I was going to ask you about that.
NF: Terrible. It's very sad.
GS: There is a long history of dancing in the movies, including Saturday Night Fever, Footloose, Billy Elliott and recently in Silver Linings Playbook. Do you have a favorite movie in which dancing plays a part in the story?
NF: I'm a big fan of Strictly Ballroom, the Baz Luhrmann ballroom spectacular. That was the only film I said people should look at before this. In terms of what Baz Luhrmann did; the characters are believable even though it's something that 99% of the audience would never relate to in terms of it being ballroom dancing. But you do relate to it because you relate to the characters. In terms of doing a comedy, if you can get the audience on board to root for a character or disliking a character because they are a baddy or enjoying the interplay between two characters, that enables you at some point to take your foot off the gag count and play it for the emotion. For me, and I know Edgar (Wright) and Simon (Pegg) are exactly the same. We always find that it leaves the audience coming out of the film feeling like you've been somewhere.
GS: Bruce is a salsa dancer. How did you decide on that style of music and dance for the movie, as opposed to say, polka?
NF:[Laughs] The most romantic of all dances, of course [laughs].
GS: Or tango!
NF: Right! A lady said that to us the other day when we were in Seattle – it could have been tango. It was never going to be ballroom. Technically, you need to find a dance that looks beautiful and will look beautiful on camera that needs physical contact; that you're essentially kind of like having sex without any fluid exchange. It completely fit the bill.
GS: Bullying continues to be a hot button issue and in Cuban Fury, it is bullying that causes Bruce to abandon his passion for salsa dancing. Did you experience bullying as a boy, and if so, how did you deal with it?
NF: I experienced bullying when I was probably 10. The boys were older than me. They were like 13. They were two brothers. For like a month they picked on me every day on the bus to school. I never told anyone. One day, I was outside my house and they were picking on me. My mum came thundering out of the house. She suspected that something was going on. She beat them. She physically beat those two boys. They ran off crying. An hour later, their mother came ‘round. Then my mum and that woman had a fistfight on my door step. It ended with the woman crying because my mother had pulled all of the buttons off of her coat. This is a really working class thing in England – my mum took the coat, sewed the buttons back on and delivered it back to her the next week. It was a code of honor between fighting women – you might have a fight, but you don't tear the fucking buttons off another woman's coat.
GS: That's poetic, actually.
NF: That was it. I was never bullied (again). From that point on I became a big man, I was 18 stone (approximately 250 pounds) at 16. I played a lot of rugby. I got to a point where you wouldn't bully me. I have a two and a half year old son now and I think about it a lot, how I as a father…my heart would say, "Pop him in the fucking mouth." But then that could create a bully. When I was 14, I was seeing a girl in school who was older, called Amanda Frye. She was a honey. It was a kind of forbidden love because you never went with older girls; you went with girls in your own year. I was hanging out in their common room one day. This man called Simon Hunter, who fancied her, kind of started to bully me in front of everyone. He kneed me in the balls. In front of all his mates (punches fist in palm), I laid him out. He never did it again.
GS: Bullies aren't limited to childhood and Bruce is tormented by office bully Drew, played by Chris O'Dowd. What was it like working with Chris?
NF: Amazing. We've worked together before. We did the film Pirate Radio and we realized we liked each other. He has that ability just to make me laugh. That's on set in front of cameras, as well. I like him and I like working with him. You have no defense against Chris. You're doing the script as written, you know what's going to be funny and you can prepare yourself. He improvises a lot, so you never know what he's going to say. If you watch that film again, I don't look at him until the scene in the bathroom. One might argue that it's a character thing; that he (Bruce) can't look at his oppressor until he has the power of salsa in him. But the fact is that I just couldn't look at him. I look at his shoulder or I look above his head, because he'd make me laugh.
GS: Bruce, who doesn't have much luck in the romance department, finds himself attracted to new boss, the seemingly unattainable Julia (Rashida Jones). Have you ever found yourself in where you would do anything to get the attention of a woman and, if so, what did you do to get her attention?
NF: I'd say almost daily. I fall in love a lot. I've always been kind of funny, so it's about making them laugh.
GS: Right, because without a sense of humor, you can be stunningly gorgeous, but if you can't laugh or make others laugh…
NF: …you're just a bag of well-chiseled meat, right [laughs]? If there is a message in this film it is that. My point was that there is more to attraction than aesthetic beauty. Passion remains hard forever. You don't have to worry about being sixty and drooping. Your passion doesn't droop.
GS: There's Viagra for that if it does.
NF: [Laughs] If your passion droops… We live in a media driven society where we are led to believe that unless you look like this, then you're fucked. That's a tiny percent of the population. Going back to what I was saying before, this club I went to last night, everyone was so bothered with how they looked, as a result everyone looked like they were having the shittiest time in the world. [Imitates a physical stillness] also, not moving.
GS: Because of Botox?
NF: No, it was like their spirits had been Botoxed. At one point I looked at a table of girls and all of them were independently on Twitter. [Imitates an American accent] "We're just on Twitter." Are they really having a good time?
GS: What was it like to work with Rashida?
NF: I'd met Rashida before at dos (events) in Los Angeles. If I was in town or it was a mate's birthday and I saw her (waves), "Hey." We got her over to London when we thought she was the one we wanted. There wasn't a list. We met for lunch and tea and that turned into afternoon wine, which then turned into dinner and margaritas when we realized that we'd been talking for five hours. There were never any moments of silence. We knew some of the same people and we talked about films we loved and sketches and how much we like Andy Samberg. In terms of not just the potential that we would be working together but the connection between human beings…often the connection I have with people like that are those I've been friends with for 20 years. I feel like I will remain friends with Rashida forever because we have that thing where I might not see her for six months, but when I see her, it's like I saw her yesterday. Whenever you don't have to put effort into a relationship, they're the ones I think last the longest.
GS: While taking refresher salsa lessons, Bruce meets and is befriended by Bejan (Kayvan Novak), a man of Middle Eastern origin and shall we say indeterminate sexual orientation.
NF: [Laughs] Yeah.
GS: Their unlikely friendship leads to some of the funniest scenes in the movie. Why was it important for you to include a character such as Bejan in Cuban Fury?
NF: My feeling about that is that we never thought about it. Kayvan, the actor who plays Bejan, came up with this character during our improvisations. I've thought about this and I've talked about this with Kayvan. I don't think he's gay. There are certain countries in the world, in the Middle East, in sub-Saharan Africa where men hold hands in the street. They will be draped over one another, they kiss. It's not such a hang-up in certain cultures. I've been to places in Africa where men sit around braiding each other's hair, holding hands. From the outside, you think, "These are gay men." But they're not. It's just a thing in certain cultures. They don't have the hang-ups we do in terms of labels. If it was two women holding hands or doing each other's hair, no one gives a shit. Because it's men, people have an issue with it. They have to label it. He's (Bejan) a man who likes Bruce. He can't help but show it; that sometimes means being tactile. I think that's a reflection of my relationship with the actor Kayvan. We really like one another. When he comes in at the end and says (spoken like Bejan), "Where'd you put it?," that's just him and me. That's not the characters [laughs]. I also want to say that me and my group of male friends, we're mouth-kissers. We do it to freak people out and we do freak them out. They're like, "What the fuck did we just see?" I remember reading a book about the Hell's Angels once and they're mouth-kissers. It completely smashes people's perceptions of these men with bowie knives and scars. So, coming back to the film, real men dance. Some of the hardest men I've ever encountered are the first on the dance floor. They don't give a shit about who sees them. You know you'd never say anything (to them) because you'd get murdered [laughs].