Nick Frost pours himself a fizzy drink and peers amenably across the table. He’s a big bloke with a great radio voice, friendly faced without saying anything. We’re in a downtown Seattle hotel to talk about dancing, specifically his new underdog-makes-good salsa-dancing movie Cuban Fury, which opens Friday at Sundance and other theaters. Best known here for his pairings with Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End, Frost doesn’t look like a dancer, a fact he freely acknowledges.
In his own personal life, Frost explains, “I was afraid of dancing in front of people. I felt it was kind of crippling me. You get to the point where you can only dance if you’ve drunk 10 pints of Stella Artois. And then you can’t dance anyway.”
At his own wedding, he recalls, “When we had to dance in front of our friends and family, it was a living nightmare!” Frost laughs at the irony, “Considering I’m a screen actor and I make my living with a hundred people watching me perform” on a film set.
Confidence is key to dancing, and that’s what Frost’s character Bruce has lost. “He’s kind of given up,” says Frost. “He’s lonely and single; he has a job he loves but hates the people he works with.” Things were different for the 13-year-old Bruce we see in flashback—then a champion junior salsa dancer. After some bullying, Bruce puts away his dance shoes . . . until he realizes that his lovely new American boss (Rashida Jones) is a newbie salsa dancer.
Let’s stipulate here that Cuban Fury is entirely predictable and enjoyable; it ends just as you expect, with the rival (Chris O’Dowd) defeated and everyone on the dance floor. But that’s true of all movie musicals or movies about dance. And Frost sees his film—which he produced and conceptualized—in that Hollywood tradition. Just as Bruce is trying to reclaim his glorious past, Cuban Fury tries to reclaim some of the social rituals of the dance floor.
Says Frost, “I love Strictly Ballroom and West Side Story.” Citing the old days of Fred Astaire hoofing and singing a number in one continuous take, he muses, “Where’s that gone as a skill? We’re in an odd position culturally where something as unique and beautifully flamboyant and skillful can be forgotten.” With rock ’n’ roll and the baby boom, the grown-up protocols of dancing “start to get chipped away, and it’s suddenly no longer in vogue.”
For that reason, perhaps, we have the salsa revival in the U.S. and UK. Says Frost, “I think it’s a very adult dance, the salsa. Part of my training for this movie was going out to clubs with the people who taught me to dance. It was amazing to see how Latinos do that. Being an English person, that’s not what my culture is. You don’t dance with girls like that. You leave it until the last 30 minutes at the disco and then try to dance with a girl with a vague hope of copping off with her. For me now, it seems so smart that you could go dance with, like, 20 girls, and there’s none of that pressure—‘Does she like me, does she not like me?’ ”
And how does Frost feel today about dancing in public?
“I still need a couple drinks,” he chuckles.