Nick Frost is putting himself out there. Just as his Cornetto Trilogy collaborators Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are working on their own individual projects, Frost stars in his first solo lead role in the new romantic comedy Cuban Fury, a warm underdog story emphasizing the importance of passion and the value of challenging oneself.
Frost also lives the movie’s message by taking on a technically-demanding role: Cuban Fury is a dance movie, and Frost plays Bruce Garrett, a former child salsa prodigy bullied into giving up his dream now living a safe adult life working for an industrial manufacturing company. Dance is a painful memory pushed firmly out of sight, until Bruce learns his charming American boss Julie (played by Rashida Jones) is into salsa. He dusts off his shoes and dons his sequined shirt once more but not without some significant stumbles.
Directed by James Griffiths, known for directing episodes of TV comedies like Up All Night and Episodes, Cuban Fury also features Chris O’Dowd as Bruce’s thoroughly punchable rival for Julie’s affections and Ian McShane as a seasoned salsa guru and Bruce’s once-mentor.
I recently talked with Frost about the film, his rigorous dance training, and the challenge of embracing one’s passion.
You’re credited with the idea for the film. Where did it come from?
The first thing was I’ve always kind of wanted to do a dance film. I think after doing stuff with Edgar and Simon, I thought it was really important to do something completely different to challenge myself as a person and as an actor to see if I can really pull this off. People don’t really make dance movies anymore, and I certainly don’t, and I thought if we could get a balancing act right — the comedy should be funny, you should believe in the characters, the drama’s dramatic, and the dancing’s really beautiful and real — then we could make something really nice.
How much experience with dance did you have before this and how much training in dance, or in salsa specifically, did you need to do to prepare?
I’ve always liked to dance, but I’d never danced salsa before. The training period was seven hours a day, five or usually six days a week, for seven months. It’s such a long time, and I’d never done it before. We made a documentary about how I learned to dance, and seeing Day 1 and then seven months later, it’s amazing what we accomplished.
Who’s a better dancer, you or Rashida Jones?
I don’t think it’s a competition. I loved dancing with Rashida, it was so nice. We just hit it off. I found a video on my phone last week, and it was essentially like a tiny bit of me and her dancing. I keep emailing her it because I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself look so happy. It’s just that thing of me and her dancing, and we know our shit, and it looks good, us just enjoying ourselves.
When you do a dance film with someone, I didn’t realize that you’d get so close. With me and Olivia Colman who plays my sister, because you’re together all the time, you’re just dancing all the time. I think there definitely is a connection between dancing and happiness. Throughout the whole seven-month period, I met hundreds of dancers and probably had 10 of them who were my trainers full time, and I never once saw them sad or upset. They just loved dancing. There’s definitely a connection.
The movie is so much about having the courage to pursue a passion — in this case, dance. Acting and writing and being funny also require putting yourself out there and being fearless, and this movie really highlights that challenge. Did you ever hide your passion or neglect it?
Yeah, absolutely. I was a waiter for years. I worked in a restaurant, and I kind of knew secretly I was a bit of a show-off, but I was happy being a waiter and I didn’t really challenge myself. I knew that I should. I knew I should be doing it. I did some standup. I did 12 gigs, and I was so nervous about people looking at me and judging me that I kind of malfunctioned, so I did six good gigs and six terrible gigs and just kind of stopped doing it.
I think it was when I met Simon and he wrote this part for me in Spaced that I thought, ‘You should do this because you’re 29 year-old now and you left school at 15 and you have no qualifications; this could be it for you.’ So that was the first time that I thought, ‘Fuck it. Let’s give it a go.’ And I have a really good friend called Michael who one day during a kind of heart-to-heart, he said to me, “You should never be afraid of success. You should never be afraid to succeed.” No one had ever said that to me before. I kind of knew what failure felt like, but I didn’t know it was all right to succeed. And I think that’s stayed with me forever. Me learning how to dance was me, Nick Frost, putting myself out there. Not as a character but as a man thinking, “You need to do this.”
Even though I’m a bit of a show-off, I’m happy just to stand at the side and watch. If there’s a party, I won’t get in the middle like Chris O’Dowd’s character in this. I’m happy to just stand around the edge and watch. But I think there’s a difference between that and getting involved in your heart.
In your scenes with Chris O’Dowd, his character has some incredibly filthy dialogue about what he’d like to do to Rashida Jones’ character. Were those scenes at all improvised?
They were written, but a lot of that stuff was me and Chris. I think “bonfire smell” was Chris. “Milk truck hitting a wall” was mine. Chris and I are good at that stuff, so it’s always fun just to let the cameras roll and have a laugh with it.
What was it like to work with Ian McShane?
We worked together on Snow White and became mates on that. I was excited to work with fantastic British actors and tell stories and have a joke, and we became quite close, Ian and I. So when it got to the point that Jon Brown, who wrote the script, wrote a part for this kind of Mr. Miyagi-style guru, Nira [Park] who’s our producer said, “Ian is the one for this.” And it just seemed an absolute no-brainer that we wouldn’t cast anyone else. The good thing about Ian is that I phoned him up and said, “Ian, would you like to come and do a film with me where you play a salsa teacher?” and he said, “Yeah, I’ll do it,” and hung up.
The film is a romantic comedy, but it mixes a coming-of-age or a coming-of-confidence movie; for most of the movie Julia and Bruce are just friends. Was it important that the main relationship really be between Bruce and salsa?
Yeah, absolutely it was. I thought about this a lot over the past few weeks doing press. In a lot of romantic comedies, if the guy does it for the girl, and if you’ve created believable characters that you think had a life before we met them, they will then have a life after the film ends. If the guy does it for the girl, if that girl two weeks down the line says, “You know what? I really liked you, but this is kind of not working for me. Goodbye,” then that character is back to square one. But with Bruce, I thought it was important that if Julia got called back to Los Angeles to work, he would be sad, but he’d kind of be better. It’s about him doing it for himself and not just doing it for the woman. I think she was the catalyst that reignited him and reignited his passion for life, essentially. Because of that then, he suddenly becomes attractive. I think if there is a message in this film, it’s that passion is attractive. There’s more to attraction than the kind of crackle of aesthetic beauty, which essentially and in the long term fades and gets flabby, but passion doesn’t.
Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects?
I did a picture with Vince Vaughn last year called Business or Pleasure, so that will be out I think later this year or early next with me and Dave Franco and Tom Wilkinson and James Marsden. I had a great time filming it. I’m a big fan of Vince Vaughn, and we got to kind of hang out and act together. That’s the good thing about being an actor: You get to meet people who you like and admire as an actor and you get to see how they work. I was really impressed. I really liked it. Then of course with Sober Companion I was offered the part and I liked the script and I like the writers. I’m a big fan of Justin Long, and I thought, “Yeah, why not?” It’s only a pilot at this point, but it’s kind of exciting if it goes.
Last year, you and Simon Pegg laid down a pretty incredible cover of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” How does it feel to have this movie cement your status as a triple threat?
As a singer, an actor, and a dancer, to be honest I’m hoping to win a Grammy. Maybe the next film I do will have a lot of singing in it.
Cuban Fury hits theaters in the US tomorrow.
Joel Arnold is a writer and improviser living in New York.