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Frost fires up the dance floor
6:00am Saturday 22nd February 2014 in Celebrity Interviews
Nobody puts Nick Frost in the corner... The funny sidekick takes centre stage in new dance comedy Cuban Fury, and he's as proud as punch, Shereen Low discovers.
When you think of a fancy-footed romantic lead, Nick Frost, perhaps best known as Simon Pegg's comic sidekick in films like Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead, isn't the first name that springs to mind.
But that wasn't going to stop him giving it a damn good go, in his new comedy, Cuban Fury.
While he readily admits he's no John Travolta or Channing Tatum, the 41-year-old reveals: "I like dancing a lot. I think I probably always wanted to be a dancer.
"But when you're a big lump like me and you dance well, you get a lot of weird looks from thin people, and they're looks that made me not want to dance.
"It was a look almost like I've defeated some kind of terrible illness, or I'd overcome awful childhood adversity to finally dance. Let me put the looks into a noise: Awww!
"I hate that," he continues, "so I don't tend to dance."
The movie, directed by James Griffiths, follows under-confident and overweight Bruce (Frost), a former child salsa champion who gave up dancing after a traumatic incident. A crush on his American boss Julia (Rashida Jones) spurs him to return to the dance floor, with the help of his sister and former salsa partner Sam (Olivia Colman), so he can try to win her heart. Chris O'Dowd also stars in the film.
It's all based on an idea Frost had been secretly harbouring for three years. Then one night, while tipsy, he suddenly decided to pitch it to producer Nira Park (who he'd worked with on Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead and The World's End, among other things) in an email.
It said: "How would you feel if I said we should do a film where I dance a lot? Imagine me in tightly-fitted sequinned garments with a lot of slow-mo."
He cringes at the memory. "It's that thing where you wake up in the morning, check your sent box, and think, 'What did I do?'"
To his surprise though, Park replied, saying: "That's one poster I want to see. What's not to like?"
Frost says he'd always hoped to make a dance film. "I thought it was important to test myself," he says. "I don't want to be just a stoned mate in films, or a drug dealer."
Making it a reality meant lots of training (he admits there were moments when he'd think, 'Why am I doing all this?!') and, even more daunting, overcoming his fear of dancing in public.
"I'm a keen kitchen dancer. I've not had people watching me dance before so I felt self-conscious," the actor confesses. "Before this, I've probably danced in public three times - once for our wedding, when we first met, and the third time was in Las Vegas about four years ago. It's pitiful."
He even harbours regrets over his wedding dance with half-Swedish wife Christina.
"It kind of messed up my wedding - I didn't want to do 'the' dance. We probably did four or five seconds of it, then I put my hands in my pockets, my auntie Sheila came over and everybody flooded the floor," he recalls.
Yet, when it came to the film's grand finale, filmed at London's famous Koko club, the hours Frost had spent with celebrity choreographer Richard Marcel paid off.
"It was terribly nerve-racking, terrifying," says Frost, recalling filming the dance sequence - live, in one go, and in front of 600 people. "And we had 300 of Europe's best salsa dancers watching."
Frost, whose other credits include Snow White And The Huntsman and Attack The Block, credits his teachers for helping him nail the moves.
"We spent the first two to three months learning stuff from scratch - that was the hardest," he says. "I was fortunate enough to be trained by some of the world's best salsa dancers from Cuba and Spain. I had different lessons each day; Monday was tricks, Tuesday was Cuban, Wednesday was cha-cha-cha. I'm not exaggerating, it was like being at school.
"Once you know the salsa, the routine's a bit easier, because it's not like a different language any more. I had mirrors at each studio, so there's no escape from watching yourself actually molesting another country's culture," he adds.
Frost is thrilled with the final result.
"I am very proud. It's the proudest of anything I've done in terms of achieving something that looks beautiful, and I've put so much work and effort into it," he says, smiling.
"It makes me fill up a little bit. It was probably some of the most expensive therapy in the world, to make a film to get over a fear of being looked at while dancing."
Since filming ended, the father-of-one has danced in front of people ("And I didn't give a fig who saw!"), but his wife's yet to benefit from his new-found skills.
"I tried to show her some stuff. I think she wanted to lead and be the man - which is fine, but when it comes to dancing, there's only one lead. It was like trying to lead a Smeg fridge. It was literally impossible."
And don't expect him to pop up on Strictly Come Dancing anytime soon.
"I think what they do on Strictly is amazing, but it's not for me. Maybe in 10 years time, if everything goes badly and I need some money," he jokes.
Nor can cinemagoers expect a sequel.
"Tango Fury? No. Once you dance in a film, you start to run the risk of what I call 'John Travolta syndrome', where you dance in everything. There's the expectation," he teases.
"I've scratched that itch, I can move on now. I'm thinking about getting hobbled like James Caan in Misery, so I can't ever dance again."
Extra time - Unlikely dancing kings
:: Saturday Night Fever (1977) - John Travolta's portrayal of disco king Tony Manero, complete with hand-in-air stance and white suit, propelled him to stardom.
:: Footloose (1984) - Kevin Bacon showed off his fancy footwork as rebellious teen Ren McCormack in this dance drama.
:: Dirty Dancing (1987) - Patrick Swayze became a big-screen hero after cajoling Jennifer Grey's innocent Baby out of the corner, and turning her into a real cool shaker and mover.
:: Save The Last Dance (2001) - Julia Stiles may have been the one with the ballet techniques, but she has Sean Patrick Thomas to thank for injecting some hip-hop groove into her moves.
:: Step Up (2006) - Channing Tatum went from obscurity to heart-throb after showing off his popping and locking, impressing co-star Jenna Dewan so much that she became his wife.
:: Cuban Fury opens in cinemas on Friday, February 14