Interview date: 10/19/2009
Run date: 11/10/2009
During the course of the “Pirate Radio” press junket, which took place at the Mayfair Hotel in London, it seemed that I was running into Nick Frost everywhere. First, I shared an elevator with him. He was chatting with one of the publicists from Focus Features, and when she said with a sigh that she knew he was getting ready to embark on another round of interviews, he said, “That’s all right, I quite like doing them.” I piped up, saying, “That’s good, ‘cause I’m in the next round.” Let me tell you: there’s nothing like the cheap thrill of getting a laugh out of someone who makes you laugh. The next time I saw Mr. Frost, he was stepping into the room for a round table interview with myself and three other journalists, at which point he immediately grinned. Good man, that Nick.
Journalist #1: So I have to ask you: were those your actual sideburns that you grew out for the film?
Nick Frost: They are actually my sideburns, yeah. Fortunately, I’ve got the kind of big-man hair genes, so I can literally grow a beard in a matter of days, which is pretty cool. It means you can change what you look like all the time. (Laughs)
Journalist #2: What was the coolest part for you about being in a Richard Curtis film?
NF: The coolest part…? Well, I’m a fan of Richard Curtis, you know. Growing up and being a fan of comedy, you can’t not know Richard, but I kind of didn’t even… it’s all very well and good doing these little indie horror comedy films, but I didn’t even realize that he knew I was alive. So to get him to phone me personally and say, “I’ve written you a big part in a film,” it was pretty great. I think he does something that British filmmakers generally haven’t done before and don’t really do, and I wanted to be a part of it. I just wanted him to like me. (Laughs) He’s like an amazing headmaster that you just want to impress, and you want him to know that you’re alive, so I think when you get someone like that, you kind of want to do your best work for him. But just hanging out with him and seeing how calm he is on set…he’s always got a story, and he’s always approachable. He is the most upbeat, positive person I think I’ve ever met…and it makes me sick. (Laughs) I’m waiting to be around when the laughter stops, but it doesn’t. He’s very positive. It’s great. It’s nice to be around that kind of attitude, you know? It’s infectious.
Journalist #3: He’s also got a big love of music, and I understand he’s a walking encyclopedia of the ‘60s.
NF: Absolutely. Him and Bill (Nighy) together as well, they were both…Bill especially, he’s a proper old rocker, and I think I upset Richard and Bill slightly when, the first week, I kind of said to Richard, “Can I talk to you?” And he said, “Yes, yes, sure. What is it?” I said, “I think I should probably tell you that I’ve never listened to a Rolling Stones record.” But I said, “Don’t say anything.” And he immediately said, “Oh, Bill?” And got Bill over, and he said, “Tell Bill what you just told me.” And I just kind of said it to Bill as well, and then the two of them just kind of railed on me for five or ten minutes, and made me go back and buy loads of Rolling Stones records on my iPod. And I’m very pleased that that happened, because it was an eye-opener for me. I was a big fan of Hendrix, I was always a fan since I was about 10 or 11, but that was kind of it for me. That was my ‘60s touchstone. I like house music and stuff like that, so for me, the Stones were never really relevant.
J2: What about the Beatles?
NF: Not really. (Looks right at me, smiling) I saw you raise your eyebrows at that.
Bullz-Eye: (In mock disgust) This interview is over.
NF: (Laughs) I’ve got to say, again, they just weren’t relevant to me. There’s a guy called Scroobious Pip, who’s an English hip-hop singer, and he says that the Beatles were just a band. And for me, that’s true. It’s true, but Simon Pegg is a massive Beatles fan, so I think for him more than anything I went and, again, bought everything and spent six weeks just listening to the Beatles on my iPod. And I sent him a little text that he was very happy about, saying, “I get it. I understand it now.” And I’m really pleased. It took me awhile to think that. I knew all the Beatles hits, but when actually sit and make a concerted effort to listen to a back catalog, you think, “Wow.” It kind of felt like it was the first time someone had actually taken time and effort to sit down and purposely produced an album of music, so you’d listen to it as an album and not just a three-minute soundbite on the radio. So, yeah, it’s quite nice that, at the age of 37, you can still be musically learning and sucking it in, you know?
J3: So are you a new fan of a lot of the music in the film?
NF: I am! As soon as Richard cast me, I didn’t listen to any music post-1969 for the whole period that I was involved in it, which was about five or six months. And for someone who likes house music and very modern tweets and beeps and whistles, it was pretty tough for awhile! (Laughs) It was! But my iPod is much richer because of it.
J2: Any Motown?
NF: A little bit of Motown. Next time, when Richard does a Motown movie, then… (Laughs)
J1: So how did you like being the stud in this?
NF: Well, it’s my natural state of being. (Laughs) Well, you know…
J1: You get all the ladies!
NF: I do get all the ladies!
BE: And a nude scene.
NF: And a nude scene. (Sighs) I’m so terribly sorry for you all. My mother-in-law is Swedish and very forthright and opinionated, and when I told her that I was going to do a nude scene, she says, “Oh, I hope I don’t see your penis.” (Laughs) But, you know, I think it’s quite brave of Richard to have a 20-stone man making out with a Bond girl. I mean, not many people would write that kind of…well, not that I was the romantic lead, but, y’know, sex scenes for a big man. I think Gemma (Arterton) was more afraid than I was. I don’t think she’d ever seen a man like me before. Daniel Craig is one thing, but I’m a different kettle of fish.
J3: What about the boat camp that you attended? Can you talk about that experience?
NF: Yeah, absolutely! Well, the exteriors of the ship were…what was it called? It was an old hospital ship called the Timor Challenger, and it was docked in Northampton, and we were on it for a week. We lived on it, and we rehearsed on it during the day, all day, and then at night, we would all sit around a table and eat together, and then we’d watch Richard screen “M*A*S*H” one night, or we’d just drink and play foosball and just hang out. There was a DJ booth that they’d set up, so usually after dinner someone would…you’d hear music drifting out, and then someone would go and join, and then before you know it, there was ten of you just going through singles, saying, “Play this, play this, play this, play this.” It was great. I’ve never kind of done that on a film before, but I think that a movie about ten people on a ship who’ve been on that ship for potentially three years, I think you need to have that sense of friendship. I think sometimes when you watch a film and there’s no chemistry between the stars, it’s that they’ve never met before, so I think it was important that we did this. It was just one of those four or five days where you think, “They are paying me for this!” It’s such a nice thing. And I like ships, too. I think that Richard’s partner, who was also the script editor on this film, Anna Freud, she has a team of people whom she works with who went into the ship and did an amazing spring cleaning. It was like a little boutique hotel when we got there, so our cabins, which usually would be filled with oily seamen, so to speak, they were filled with Egyptian cotton and green and black chocolate. It was nice. It was a nice five days.
BE: How much swimming did you end up having to do?
NF: (Laughs) A little bit, actually, in the harbor down in Weymouth, which is cold in March. It’s not warm. But, again, it’s one of those days as an actor where you look at your schedule and think, “Oh, I’m going to swim in the sea today!” It’s exciting. It was very good.
J2: So what’s some of your favorite house music?
NF: Well, there’s a kind of branch of house music which started here in Britain and is still going strong called Hard House. It’s not a great name, but I’m a big fan of it. It’s pretty frantic and full-on, but for me, there’s a saying amongst clubbers which is, “Go hard or go home.” So it fits the bill for me. And I Twitter quite a lot, so through Twitter I’ve kind of become friends with three or four of the kind of major Hard House DJs in Britain. So I’m kind of living vicariously through them, 23 year olds going out for two days, then I’m tucked up in bed, Twittering at 9:30 at night.
BE: What do you think about the title change of the film?
NF: I like it. I think. I like “The Boat That Rocked.” I’ve no idea why they changed it. I guess the powers that be have an idea about marketing strategy, but it’s…it’s all right, y’know? I guess. What do you think about it?
BE: I just have a vision of a suit somewhere saying, “Well, you know, the kids like the pirates…”
NF: Sure, yeah. What’s it called, the one Johnny Depp did?
BE: “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
NF: “It’s very big! Let’s just drop ‘Pirates’ in the name!” (Laughs)
J3: But it is more specific, though, than “The Boat That Rocked,” because pirate radio was a legendary thing.
NF: Maybe they could’ve called it “The Boat That Rocked (With Pirates).” Just to make everyone happy.
J1: I never saw the British cut of this, but I heard that it was a bit longer.
NF: I think it was a lot longer. I saw it on a plane, so if you’re flying from New York to London, you won’t finish watching the film. (Grins) Yeah, you know, Richard shot so much stuff that I think that the figure was, like, at one point eight million feet of film or something crazy like that.
J1: Did any of your scenes get cut from the American version, as far as you know?
NF: No, I was saved.
J1: They knew what they were doing.
NF: Thank you very much. I think…I don’t know for sure, but I think the British version was, like, two hours thirty-five. Or two-forty. And it’s fucking long for a comedy, you know. It’s Judd Apatow long, or it’s getting there. So I think it was quite a wise move. You can always trim stuff out of a film to make it quicker and faster and funnier. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
J1: Did you know about the whole pirate radio and Radio Caroline thing beforehand? Not firsthand, obviously, but from your folks?
NF: Well, I did. I’m from a part of the country called Essex, which is on the east coast. It kind of juts out into the North Sea, and that is where the boats were moored: just kind of off the coast of Essex and Kent. And I do remember Radio Caroline in 1976, 1977, but those same ships... (Hesitates) I hate to go on about house music again, but when the house music revolutions kind of hit in 1986 and 1987, the same thing happened to those guys that happened to the rock ‘n’ roll generation. The government realized that this movement was fairly powerful and people were listening to this music and not doing what the government said, so they essentially banned it. And they went and lived on these sea forts and ships again, and instead of playing rock ‘n’ roll music, they were playing house music. And for me and for a lot of people who listened to Radio Rock, that was the attractive thing: that the government didn’t want you to listen, and your parents potentially didn’t want you listening, and…it was naughty. So I wanted to do it. (Laughs) That little fellow in the film who’s listening to Small Faces at the beginning of the film, under the sheets? That was me, except it was Frankie Knuckles and some Detroit and Chicago DJs at the time.
J3: Speaking of DJs, what about the DJ training? How intensive was that?
NF: It was good. It was really good. We had an authentic ‘60s booth set up in an office in town, and we were kind of encouraged to go two or three times a week for an hour. If you were in town, you’d just go in, and they had the whole place set up, and you’d each play records for a couple of hours. I’ve DJ’ed a bit, but on modern equipment. The theory’s the same, but the equipment was the kind of stuff that was there at Frankenstein’s reanimation: lots of valves and arcing electricity. It was good. I’d forgotten the kind of joy of taking a record out of its sleeve and, y’know, blowing on it and smelling it, and when you set the needle on it, it’s not completely flat. There’s a little ripple to it. I’d forgotten the kind of joy from that. And the little crackle before the music starts, which they try so hard to produce out now...but you can actually get a program on the computer that puts that crackle back in. But it was great, you know? I’d forgotten the feel of a big baker-like valve in my hands. It was good, really good. Oh, and the point was they wanted us to do an hour-long show, which they shot as live. So that was working toward that hour-long show. I put quite a lot of effort in, but it didn’t make the cut at all. I’m sure it’s on the DVD as an extra, though.
BE: You mentioned having a bit of a learning curve as far as the Beatles and the Stones went. Did you get the impression that Tom (Sturridge)’s curve was even steeper, given his age?
NF: Well, Tom is one of those blokes – and he’s very lucky, actually, and skillful because of it – who, even though he’s quite young, he seems to look into the past for his musical references. He’s a big fan of a lot of ‘60s music, anyway, so his knowledge of ‘60s music was better than mine at that point, I think.
J3: Philip Seymour Hoffman…
NF: That guy…
J3: (Laughs) Yeah, that guy. He came to the project kind of late, didn’t he?
NF: Well, yeah, he did. I think we’d already been on the ship for two or three weeks shooting before he arrived, and it was…you know, he’s Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. So there was that odd sort of excitement like when you get a new headmaster coming into the school. Everyone saw his scene on the call sheet. (Whispering) “Philip Seymour Hoffman’s coming! Phil Hoffman!” And then you’re on the set, and you see him arrive, and…he’s got a tremendous presence, you know. It’s like seeing a prize fighter walk into a ring. He had this amazing calf-leather script bag with his name embossed on it that he came onto set with, and it was, like, “Wow, this guy…he’s good.” I need to get one of those. (Laughs) I wish I could tell you a story where he was an absolute arsehole, but he was amazing. He mucked in, and there was no pretense. He was a real good bloke, you know, just like a mate on set. You can see why he’s as good as he is. A lot of times, you’ll see me looking at him during a scene, and I’m thinking, “Are you acting? Are you still acting now? I can’t tell the difference.” It was great. And he encourages everyone else to up their game, you know, because no actor wants to be left behind and eclipsed by another actor. So you just immediately see that everyone’s upped their game, and you kind of get a feeling that it’s on. Every day, you have to bring your best work. And that’s a good thing. It’s a nice way to work.
J2: You’re a funny guy, but do you think that at some point there’s a heavy drama in you?
NF: Absolutely. I’m just about to do an adaptation of the Martin Amis book, “Money,” for the BBC, and I’m playing John Self. And that is…it’s darkly comedic, but, again, I’ve spent a lot of time in my pants, weeping. I never trained as an actor, so it would be silly for me to pigeonhole myself as a comedy actor, because I’d like to do more. I’d like to win an Oscar for being a heavyweight actor. D’you know what I mean?
J2: And then you can get your name on your script bag.
NF: Get an embossed kit and leather script bag. That’s where the big money is.
J1: When does “Paul” come out?
NF: “Paul” should be out in August of next year, touch wood. I don’t think Simon and I realized how tricky it would be making a film with a CGI alien. (Laughs) I mean, it takes so long…so long…to shoot a film with an alien in it, and so long to edit it, and all of the post-production, too. For every single shot I had, he had six. There were some phone calls to the producers, let me tell you. (Laughs) I’m not sure we’d do it again. I think we’ll just write a nice, quiet piece about two men fishing. No CGI.
J1: So it’s basically in post-production now, I guess?
NF: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s been there for the last six weeks or so. So there are assemblies cut together, but I haven’t wanted to see one yet. I remember watching the first day’s rushes and wanting to kill myself, so I kind of promised that I’d wait a little bit. When you watch rushes and they’re not funny and there’s no sound or comedy or effects, you think, “Oh, my God, this is shit. We’re ruined!” (Laughs) But I’ve heard some people say it looks all right.
J1: Who’s doing your effects?
NF: Double O Negative, who did “Hellboy.” So I think we’re in the best hands. I hope. And, again, it’s an amazing cast. I was quite surprised, because it was my first big American movie, and I think you expect one thing, and you hear certain things, but then you get the cast and an amazing crew. They just worked, and they were great. So, yeah, it was a really amazing experience, and Santa Fe, where we shot it, was…I think that helped. It felt like we were doing something a bit special, with a little gang of people, making a little guerilla film up in the mountains.
And with that, our time with Nick was up, and he bid us a fond “cheers, guys” and departed for his next group of journalists. Fortunately, however, I was able to secure another ten minutes with him that afternoon, this time for a one-on-one. As such, I tried to ask him questions that hadn’t been brought up during the roundtable…well, except for the one about the boat camp. That really just sounded like a cool experience, so I wanted to know a bit more about it.
Bullz-Eye: We meet again.
Nick Frost: Hey, how are you? Third time! Do you mind if we stand by the window, so I can smoke a fag?
BE: Not at all.
NF: I know I shouldn’t, but… (Lights up)
BE: So when I was in the roundtable with Talulah (Riley), she made a comment about how you two were comfortable doing your nude scene, but then you suddenly blurted, “I’m engaged, you know.”
NF: Yeah, well, I think that for all Talulah’s beauty and height and…she’s a very good, nice girl, and I think that was her first nude scene, and, y’know, I think it was important that she felt comfortable. And I think if by me saying “you’ve got nothing to fear from me, because I am happily engaged did that, then… (Fades out and takes another drag from his cigarette) I have that weird gentleman’s thing going on that I have to just make sure that they’re all right. The same with Gemma Arterton as well. It must be tough for a young girl to have to do a naked scene with a 40-stone man in front of 40 men looking on. (Laughs) I can’t even imagine how embarrassing that would be! So, y’know, as one of the lead actors, I think it’s my responsibility – as well as other peoples – that they are comfortable enough to think that they can actually perform as they want to perform.
BE: Tell me a little bit more about the whole boat camp experience. How successful was it at bonding the cast?
NF: I think it was great. I think my only regret was that Phil (Seymour Hoffman) wasn’t there. Phil couldn’t come to boat camp. But it was great. It was…it was like a work piss-up. You know? We rehearsed during the day, and we’d finish at seven o’clock, and…you quickly get into a routine, even on a boat in a week. So you’d finish up, and everyone would rush to the galley to see what was for dinner, and you’d all eat together. I think…I don’t want to sound like some sort of fucking Italian mama, but eating dinner together…it does a lot for a group. It does a lot for the dynamic of a group and a cast, and…it was great getting to hang out with Chris O’Dowd and Rhys Darby and Rhys Ifans. And Richard (Curtis), having a few drinks with Richard and playing darts. We played a lot of music on board as well, on the boat. There was, like, a DJ booth set up in the ship’s hospital…which was the ship’s hospital…and we just played a lot of music. It was fun. What a nice thing to do. I spent a lot of time on canal boats as a kid, so it kind of had that same vibe, where you and a group of mates were on a ship. It was great. I love it.
BE: There seems to be kind of a different dynamic between British and American television when it comes to doing television work at the same time as you’re doing film work. Here you’re able to do them simultaneously.
NF: Yeah, I don’t think there’s that stigma attached necessarily to doing television. I think sometimes there’s that snobbery in the American media where, if you do a film and then go and do something on TV, it’s seen almost as a step down. But I don’t necessarily think there’s that here. I think it’s such a small industry over here as well that it’s…well, it’s silly to say, “I’m only going to do film.” I mean, that said, though, I love making films. There’s something about film that seems more permanent that doing a six-episode series which plays at 9 o’clock on Wednesday nights for six weeks and is then gone forever. I like the permanence of cinema, so to speak.
BE: If you’re wondering, I brought this up because I was wondering about the experience of doing “Hyperdrive.” I haven’t seen it yet, but…
NF: Fucking hell, it was… (Hesitates) You know what? I loved shooting it. It looked amazing. It was shot on 16 millimeter. The sets were fantastic, like your classic cheap sci-fi sets. And the other performers in it were great. The writing was a little hit and miss, because the writers were all so…they were there on set every day, and we clashed as groups. I think we were told that we could pretty much improvise what we wanted as long as the written stuff had been done, and then we could have a go at improvising. But I think a lot of times the improvisations were frowned upon, and it kind of made shooting the second series not as much fun. But that said, I’m still very proud of my performance in it. And it was my first lead as well, so I’m very proud that they would’ve trusted me to lead the whole thing, y’know? But I loved it. I really enjoyed it, and I think people who watch it as well…it’s always going to be compared to “Red Dwarf,” because it’s a British sitcom set in space, but space is a big fucking place. I think there’s enough room for “Red Dwarf” and us.
BE: Were you pleased when “Spaced” finally came out on DVD in the States, so people in America could finally see what everyone had been talking about for so long?
NF: Yeah! (Puts out cigarette) Y’wanna go sit down?
NF: (Walks back over to the couch) It was a long time ago, but I think that’s the thing that we get asked about more than most anything else, really. Either “Is there going to be a third series” or “When is the Region 1 DVD coming out?” Yeah, I’m glad it’s come out, and it’s pretty intact, as far as I know, music-wise. That was always the issue: there was so much music that it was difficult to clear for America. I dunno what the regional market is – I don’t know half that shit! – but, yeah, I’m glad that it’s come out. It’s been ten years, and people are still really into it. I think Simon and Edgar and Jess did a clever thing, and you hear it on the radio sometimes as well, but with television and films, even though the audience is several million, you think that it’s talking to you personally. That’s the kind of ethos behind “Spaced,” and “Hot Fuzz” and “Shawn of the Dead.” We never wanted to make a film for a mass market, because…you tread a very thin line there, because you kind of reach a point where you dilute your comedy so much that nobody enjoys it. So if we make a film for Pete Sarofinivitz… (Laughs) …if we make something that’s gonna make Pete Sarofinivitz laugh, then other people out there are like Pete Sarofinivitz and are like our group of friends. So a lot of time we just make people that we’d want our mates to see…and, touch wood, up to this point there are people who are like us all over the place. And it talks to them directly, I think. That’s quite a nice way of doing it.
BE: That being the case, do you feel like you’re just one of the luckiest bastards in the world, because you get to do what you think is funny for a living?
NF: Oh, God, yes. Every day. I’ve got a friend called Andrew who calls me the luckiest waiter in the world. (Laughs) But it’s true, you know.
BE: And, lastly, I wanted to ask you about “Tintin.” What was that experience like?NF: We’re done. We shot in February down in Santa Monica, and…it was amazing, really. It was the most stressful month of my life, and I don’t think I really slept for a month. I was tired and frightened and cranky, and it was amazing. Just to meet Steven Spielberg, let alone to have him kind of punch me on the arm or…you know, sometimes he comes on and, if you did a good take, he’d laugh and come on and do a dance and punch the air and say… (Offers his Spielberg impression) “That’s great! That’s in the movie!” Eight years ago, I was a waiter, and I didn’t have a pot to piss in. And now…? It’s like I said to my wife: I love the fact that, if I was in a restaurant and Steven Spielberg walked in, I could go up to him and say, “Hey, mate, how are you?” I think that’s pretty amazing, actually.