Nick Frost had a deep, dark secret: He liked to dance. Or he wanted to like to dance. One night, after a few drinks, he pecked out a movie idea in an email to his longtime producer, Nira Park, then went to bed. She called him the next morning to say how much she liked his idea about a shy, average-looking guy who resurrects his childhood passion for salsa dancing in order to woo his beautiful new boss (Rashida Jones) away from her doucheboat boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd).
“I think I’d always been a massive fan of Strictly Ballroom,” says Frost, whose idea became Cuban Fury, in theaters April 11. “That was definitely my touchstone for this film, in terms of the comedy has to be funny and the drama has to be touching, yet the dancing has to be smoking hot and real. And I wanted to do [all the dancing], so that was pretty important too.”
As the saying goes, be careful what you ask for. Frost, best known as Simon Pegg’s burly sidekick in movies like Shawn of the Dead and The World’s End, put himself through a torturous training process to become a suave lord of the dance. Tears may have been shed. Toes and egos were certainly crushed. But for Frost, it was all worth it. “I kind of really worked freaking hard on this and it was my idea, so to see it come out kind of exactly how we wanted is a real treat,” he says.
Click below for an exclusive clip from the movie and an interview with Frost.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I don’t want to typecast you, but it’s fair to say you’re not the first actor I would’ve thought of for a salsa movie. Why did you gravitate towards a dance movie?
NICK FROST: I think for the reasons that you have just said. I think it’s important to not get stuck in a rut in terms of playing stoned, angry sidekicks. I wanted to do something completely different, and I think secretly I’d always wanted to be a dancer [laughs] and to do a dance film. You know, to do a West Side Story-style dance film.
If I were to survey the women in your life from the time you were 20 years old, what would they tell me about your dance skills?
They’d say, “Um… does he? I’ve never really seen him dance.” I think I was, like a lot of men, afraid of it. It takes a lot to put yourself out there and engage in weird, jerky rhythmic movements in front of people. It’s a big ask for a lot of men. I kind of sat at too many weddings where my wife and her mates had a laugh, and all the men sat around the other side grumbling about things. I think it was time to stop grumbling and to not be afraid of it any more. I think it was a kind of catharsis for me to try to tame this fear that I have of dancing.
You’ve even said that dancing with your wife at your own wedding was sort of a disastrous experience. How so?
The thought of having to dance in front of all my elderly relatives was an absolute nightmare. I think I’d rather have had sex in front of my relatives than have to dance, you know. I didn’t f— it up, but I just didn’t want to be there, being looked at by Auntie Sheila and her handmaids.
So what did your wife say when you told her you were making a movie all about dancing?
She doesn’t really listen to me, so I think it was only at the premiere did she realize it was a dance film. And she was completely blown away by it.
Where did you turn to learn how to dance?
We found a man called Richard Marcel, who does like [the British] version of Dancing With the Stars. His forte is Cuban salsa, and he’s at the forefront and is the heartbeat of the London scene. He put together about 10 dancers, and between them, they taught me how to dance. We did six or seven hours a day, every day, for seven months.
Oof, that hurts just to think about. Was there a moment during that process where you second-guessed your wisdom in taking this on?
I think probably day 1. Probably 30 minutes into day 1, when I kind of thought, “Oh you idiot, why did you say anything to anyone? Because you’re committed now. People are on board. There’s a budget. You’re a producer on it. It’s your idea.” And it never got easier. It’s not like the Matrix where they plug me in and I kind of wake up and say, “I know the conga.” There’s never that moment.
There’s a great scene in the trailer with you and Chris O’Dowd — who plays a real jerk — having a high-noon dance-off. What would I have seen on the script for that scene the day before filming? How much was on paper and how much was improvised?
Most of it, I’d say 99 percent of it, was choreographed, and then a few little bits of pieces we added on the day. If it was funny, we tended to leave it in. Once you’ve learned how to dance, you can improvise slightly because you do know what you’re doing. But I think our brief for ourselves on that scene was shoot the dance-off as if it’s the bathroom fight in The Bourne Identity. It’s a dance-off that men can enjoy.
Now that you made this movie, do you feel added pressure to put on a show when you are at a wedding or on the dance floor?
There is an expectation, but I’m trying to steer clear of contracting Aren’t-I-Cool John Travolta syndrome, where you just kind of have to dance in everything. But the truth is, I like dancing. The only difference between now and then is now I don’t need eight pints of Stella Artois to give me the cojones to get up there.
Nick Frost’s Current Pop-Cultural Obsessions
TV: Orange is the New Black
“I just spent two days smashing my way through series 1, and it is absolutely amazing. I literally just finished 10 minutes ago, and it ended on such a cliffhanger. I’m like, ‘Oh sh–, now what?’ I’ve been a big fan of Northern Exposure for years and years and years, and there were a few times watching Orange is the New Black that it gave me the same feelings: great writing and fantastic performance. I think I’ve got a big crush on Taylor Schilling so I’ve added her to my list to actresses that I’d love to work with.”
Music: The Betty Ford Boys
“I just bought an album by a hip-hop collective called the Betty Ford Boys. And I love a kind of house music called hard bounce. I rifle through SoundCloud and find very tough, hard, house music to melt my brain.”