Equal parts humor and heart, Cuban Fury tells the story of Bruce Garrett (Nick Frost), a man who gave up his dream of winning the UK Junior Salsa Championships, 25 years ago. Now, he’s out of shape, unloved and doing a job he’s not passionate about, until the arrival of his smart, funny, gorgeous new American boss, Julia (Rashida Jones) reawakens his love of salsa dancing. From an original idea by Nick Frost, the film also stars Chris O’Dowd, Olivia Colman, Ian McShane and Kayvan Novak.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Nick Frost talked about where the idea for this film came from, his secret dream to be a dancer, why he decided not to write the film himself, shooting a full-on dance fight scene, how Simon Pegg ended up doing a cameo, how grueling the dance training was, finding the right balance in tone, what this cast was like to work with, the film’s love story, how much he hates doing wire work, and the deleted scenes. He also talked about doing the Fox comedy pilot Sober Companion with Justin Long, how he got involved with The Boxtrolls, the lack of an update on the Tintin sequel, and his experience making Business or Pleasure with Vince Vaughn. Check out our Nick Frost interview after the jump.
NICK FROST: Well, the short answer to that is yes. I think I’ve secretly always harbored that dream. I wanted to be a dancer, really. I’ve always liked dancing and I’ve always been pretty good at it, but it was very amateur. It was just club and house music that I danced to, and really enjoyed. Once I’d done Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End and Paul, I kept having this weird idea that would knock on my unconscious, once every three months, and it said, “Tell someone your idea to do a dance film.” It was something I was afraid of, and I snubbed the idea and wouldn’t listen to it. I drove it back into the woods with a pitchfork. And then, one night I got slightly worse for wear, came back from a party, sat down and essentially wrote the whole idea for the film in an email to Nira Park, our lovely producer, and just fired it off to her, not realizing the ramifications of what that sent email would entail. It’s kind of like I was a serial killer that wanted to be caught. It’s only when I was caught that people realized the fiendishness of my plan.
Seeing as this was your idea, what made you decide not to actually write it yourself and to pass it off to a writer to do it?
FROST: If I’m going to give you the perfectly honest answer, I just couldn’t be bothered. I didn’t want to do it. It takes so much time to write a script. After me and Simon [Pegg] wrote Paul, I really loved that process, but it took a long time, and it was time that I felt like I was out of circulation, in terms of being an actor and performing. So, in terms of going forward and being an actor and producer, I like that template of coming up with a great idea, and then finding a fantastic writer and exchanging ideas and finding a great script. As a template going forward, it lets me have my cake and eat it. I can just keep acting and performing, and know that someone else is drafting something really nice for me to do, once I’ve finished.
Since this was a secret dream of yours, were you worried about handing it over to someone and getting a script back that wasn’t anything like what you wanted it to be?
FROST: No. We knew what Jon [Brown] could do. It wasn’t like we just gave it to him and said, “Here, get on with it.” There were lots of nice meetings and ideas being thrown around. I had a very loose bible, in terms of what I imagined the film to be. And Jon went away and wrote an amazing first draft. We’d come in and I’d then spend a couple of days notarizing the whole thing with suggestions. And then, we’d get in a room and Jon would say, “I’d rather not do that because if we do that, then these other things have to change.” We just went through it all, and we’d either make a note work, or it didn’t work. And then, Jon would go off and do another draft. That’s how we got to the final shooting script.
FROST: No, never in my life. It was pretty tough to shoot because it was during that weird period that we have in England where there’s two weeks of 96-degree Celsius heat, and we were on a car park, which is essentially a big asphalt heat sponge. We shot that dance fight in about four days, and it was so hot. That’s my overriding memory of that whole thing.
How did the cameo with Simon Pegg come about? Was that planned, or was he just there that day?
FROST: No, it wasn’t planned. We thought it could be the space for a cameo. The car pulling up and interrupting the guys having the dance fight was always planned, but it was never planned that it was Simon. But then, we got to the point where we thought, “Let’s see if Simon could do it.” I don’t think we’d ever just crowbar each other into a film ‘cause we’re not in each other’s films, but it seemed apt that it was him. It was so brief that it was nice that it was brief. He was around for about three hours that morning. We did a take that I liked, but it was too long, where he slowed down and I said, “What are you doing here? Just keep driving.” And then, he looked at me and said, “Who are all these people?” It was funny, but it was just too long.
How grueling was the dance training for this? Did you get to a place that you were happy with, as far as what you could do, or was it just all really challenging?
FROST: It was seven hours a day, every day for seven months. It was the most grueling thing I’ve ever done, and that’s not just physically, but mentally, too. It’s so hard. I’ve never danced like that before. I’ve danced and I like dancing, but I’ve never done that. It was like learning a martial art. It never got easy. The better you got, the workload would increase. As soon as they saw you were getting it, they’d push it forward. And it was important to me that I did all of the dancing. That was the point of it, really. Anyone can have a countless amount of doubles, and you can just shoot close-ups with someone else’s feet and reaction shots. Any idiot can do that. For me, the charm of being an actor is that you get to be someone else.
How challenging was it to make sure this film had heart and a sensitivity to it without ever getting too cartoonish? Did you know the tone you were going for, when you started shooting, or was it something you always had to gauge on set?
FROST: We had a good idea. Coming from the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright/Nick Frost school of filmmaking, a comedy should be funny, but it can also be dramatic and charming and honest and heartfelt, if you do all of those things right. Even though it’s a comedy, you should take time to make sure that these characters that an audience is going to watch for 94 minutes are utterly believable. That enables you to take your foot off the comedy gas pedal and you can allow the drama to play out, and people don’t question it or smell a rat because of that.
FROST: It’s just easy. Olivia makes it easy. After we shot this, we went on to do a sitcom (Mr. Sloane) where she plays my wife. That was amazing, to go from sister to wife. Olivia is the kind of actress where she just does it. She doesn’t think about it. It’s completely natural to her, no matter if it’s comedy or drama, and she does both as well as the next.
Was the key to making a role like Drew work in casting someone who is inherently likeable and charming, so that when he does and says such horrible things, you don’t totally hate him?
FROST: Yeah, I guess. Chris [O’Dowd] is so funny. I love working with him. But sometimes, before we did a take where I knew he was going to say something horrible to me, he’d be like, “I don’t think I can do this!,” and I’d say, “Come on, it will be good. It will be fine.” I think he found it difficult. But I think we’ve all got a little bit of bastard in us, haven’t we?
Because the love story is the motivation at the center of this film, what led you to Rashida Jones? Were there specific qualities in her that made her the perfect actress for this role?
FROST: Yeah, she’s full of great qualities. She’s charming and funny and beautiful, and she’s a fantastic actress. She was the only person on our list. We flew her over and me and her had lunch, and then that lunch became afternoon champagne, which then became drinks and dinner. We realized that we had been hanging out for four or five hours, and the conversation hadn’t lagged. We knew some of the same people. We had a laugh, and it felt natural. It didn’t feel forced. That kind of connection is very important, not necessarily for co-stars, but for people in life. I’m 42 years old. I could have met her when I was 18 years old, and we’d still be friends now.
Out of all of the physical comedy and the stunts you had to do in this, what was the most challenging?
FROST: The dancing, obviously, was the most challenging thing I did. And in terms of the stunts, I hate doing wire work. I had to do some wire work, and I hated it. Being a man that weighs 20-stone, and then you see these wires, which are half a millimeter in diameter, you think, “That fucking thing isn’t going to hold me!” You second guess the technology, which makes me nervous. I’m a bit of a control freak, so having to put my life in a tiny wire is not something I do lightly.
When you think back to how this all started with an email pitch, how close is the final product to what you originally envisioned all of this to be?
FROST: Really close. One of the differences was that originally Drew was going to be Julia’s boyfriend. He was a dick who didn’t dance, and she’d been unhappy with him for a long, long time. Essentially, Bruce fell in love with her and realized that she needed saving. That was the initial pitch.
FROST: Yeah. You shoot a ton of stuff where you look at the script and thing, “This is great. This will be amazing. We’ll never not use this in the film.” And then, you put an edit together and you realize that you have to cut 40 minutes out, so something has to go. We shot a kiss with me and Rashida. At the end of the dance-off, me and her kissed. As the ticker tape was floating down, we had a little kiss. I think we realized pretty quickly in the edit that, in terms of Bruce’s journey, it just didn’t sit right. It was about Bruce doing it for himself, and not doing it for Julia. As soon as we took the kiss out, it worked better.
You’ve also signed on to do an American TV pilot, right?
FROST: Yeah, absolutely! I’m doing Sober Companion with Justin Long.
What was it about the story and character for that, that made you want to sign on for what could be a few years?
FROST: It was a good character. Being a character actor, getting the chance to potentially play a high-functioning alcoholic is interesting to me. I really liked the pilot. I really liked the script. I’m a big fan of Justin, really. I say no to a lot. This just came through the office and it was a lovely offer, so I thought, “Why not? Why shouldn’t I?” I was very flattered.
How did you get involved with The Boxtrolls, and how much of the film have you gotten to see?
FROST: Well, I haven’t seen anything. I saw the trailer three weeks ago, and I loved it. I was so pleased that my character made the trailer. I heard my voice and I was like, “That’s me! That’s me!” You do these films and people are a fan of what you do, and then someone contacts you and says, “Hey, do you fancy coming to do some work on our film?” I was like, “Absolutely! I loved Coraline, so I’d love to come do it.”
Have you heard any updates on the status of the Tintin sequel?
FROST: No, not at all. Last year, I’m not sure when it was, I was in New Zealand with Simon and Edgar to do The World’s End press tour, and we spoke to Peter [Jackson] about it then. He was still keen to do it, but there was nothing firm, at that point. I think he was just really working hard to make The Hobbit as good as he could.
How much fun did you have working with Vince Vaughn on Business or Pleasure?
FROST: It was fantastic! It wasn’t just Vince Vaughn. It was Dave Franco and Tom Wilkinson and James Marsden and Sienna Miller. It was one of those things where (director) Ken Scott and Todd Black, the producer, contacted me to say, “We like what you do, and we’d love you to come be in the film.” I’m very flattered by that, when people ask me to be in their film. I think it’s a nice thing to not have to cast. I’ve been a fan of Vince’s for ages, and I love what he does. I was really happy to find out that he was just like us. He was like me, in a way. There were not airs or graces. He hung around on set and knew all of the crew, and we had a laugh. I think I probably had an expectation that someone like Vince would be a certain way, and to find that he completely wasn’t was a real treat for me.
Cuban Fury is now playing in theaters.