If you think Nick Frost is funny in movies such as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and Kinky Boots, 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 him about his role as the unlikely, but not unlovable, romantic lead character (and snappy and sizzling salsa dancer) Bruce.
Nick, dancing is at the heart of Cuban Fury. Do you like dancing in general?
I have a complex relationship with it and always have. I like doing it. I’m at an age now where, as a 42-year-old man, I kind of don’t give a sh-t about who sees me either. I’m from a house music background and 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. It was all about having fun and making connections with people.
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?
I’m a big fan of Strictly Ballroom, the Baz Luhrmann spectacular. In terms of what Baz 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 can relate to the characters. In terms of doing a comedy, if you can get the audience on board to root for a character or dislike a character because they are a baddy or enjoy 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. We always find that it leaves the audience coming out of the film feeling like you’ve been somewhere.
Bruce is a salsa dancer. How did you decide on that style of music and dance for the movie, as opposed to say, polka?
[Laughs] The most romantic of all dances, of course [laughs].
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.
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?
I experienced bullying when I was probably 10. The boys were older than me. They were like 13 and for like a month they picked on me every day on the bus to school. 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 and they ran off crying. An hour later, their mother came ‘round. Then my mum and that woman had a fistfight on my doorstep. It ended with the woman crying because my mother had pulled all of the buttons off of her coat.
That’s poetic, actually.
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 and 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.
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?
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. 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.
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 doing anything you could to get the attention of a woman and, if so, what did you do to get her attention?
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.
Right, because without a sense of humor, you can be stunningly gorgeous, but if you can’t laugh or make others laugh…
…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.
What was it like to work with Rashida?
I’d met Rashida before at two events in Los Angeles. We got her over to London when we thought she was the one we wanted. 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. 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.
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.
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?
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. 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 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 my group of male friends and I, we’re mouth-kissers. We do it to freak people out and we do freak them out. They’re like, “What the f-ck did we just see?” 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. You know you’d never say anything because you’d get murdered. [laughs]
by Gregg Shapiro