LOGLINE Beneath Bruce Garrett's under-confident, overweight exterior, the passionate heart of a salsa king lies dormant. Now, one woman is about to reignite his Latin fire. Spotlight hits, sweat drips, heels click - Nick Frost IS Cuban Fury.
SHORT SYNOPSIS 1987: Poised to sweep the floor at the UK Junior Salsa Championships, 13-year-old Bruce Garrett has fire in his heels and the world at his feet… until one fateful night, a freakish bullying incident robs him of his confidence and diverts his life down a very different path. 25 years later, having locked away his boyhood dreams, Bruce finds himself out-of-shape, unloved and well and truly wedged in his comfort zone. It takes the arrival of Julia (Jones), his smart, funny, gorgeous new American boss, to force him to re-examine his dull, passionless existence. But she’s way out of his league, and with expert lothario and alpha-male office nemesis Drew (O’Dowd) in rampant pursuit of her, it’s enough to make Bruce want to give up on himself all over again. Can his loyal sister (Colman), childhood dance mentor (McShane), and crazy new amateur salsa pal (Novak) help Bruce unshackle his dancing beast, regain his long lost fury and claim the love of his life?
LONG SYNOPSIS 1987: 13-year-old Bruce Garrett, a natural born salsa dancer with fire in his heels and the world at his feet, is perfectly poised to clinch the title at the UK Junior Salsa Championships. But then... a freakish bullying incident on the mean streets of London robs him of his sequins and his confidence, and our young hero finds his life diverted down a very different path.
So it is that 25 years later, an adult Bruce Garrett (Nick Frost), finds himself out-of-shape, unloved and emotionally inert - trapped in a downward spiral of self pity. It takes Julia (Rashida Jones), his smart, funny, gorgeous new American boss, to force him to confront the demons of his past and re-examine his passionless existence. Bruce fears it's an impossible challenge - she's way out of his league ("She's a 10, I'm a 2!") and long held self doubts prove tricky to shed. Luckily for him, Julia also has a secret passion... salsa dancing. Maybe, just maybe, this is his way in...
But life is never that easy for Bruce. First he's got to get past Drew (Chris O’Dowd), horny king-monkey of the office and Bruce's tirelessly taunting team manager. With Drew making no secret of his desire to make Julia his latest conquest, Bruce is forced into action and brought face-to-face with his darkest and most powerful inner demons.
Somehow, with a lot of handholding from loyal sister Sam (Olivia Colman), his old mentor Ron (Ian McShane) and crazy new amateur salsa pal Bejan (Novak) Bruce must learn to unshackle his dancing beast, regain his long lost fury and claim the love of his life... and he’s got to do it all On The Dance Floor...
The producers of Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim, Paul, Attack The Block, The World’s End and Sightseers bring together some of the finest comedy talent with some of the world's best salsa dancers. With a thumping score, a dash of sequins and a large squeeze of comedy and romance, Cuban Fury is a movie cocktail that satisfies like no other.
PRODUCTION STORY Most movies begin life as pitches, delivered in an office to a group of executives with their fingers on a figurative green light. Not Cuban Fury. It began life as a very different kind of pitch. It began life as a drunken email. Sent in the middle of the night. “It was half past 2,” says Nick Frost, the star and executive producer of Cuban Fury, and the man who sent the email. “I’d kept the idea hidden for about three years, but I was a bit tipsy one night and thought, ‘fuck it’. It’s that thing where you wake up in the morning and check your sent box. ‘What did I do?’”
What he had done was send the email to his long-term producer, Big Talk’s Nira Park, who has worked with Frost on Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, Attack The Block and Paul. And she had read the email. Her response? “That’s one poster I want to see. The whole idea: what’s not to like?”
The idea, as expressed in Frost’s slightly tipsy email, was glorious in its simplicity: 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."
And lo, Cuban Fury - a romantic comedy with lots of salsa - was born.
It grew up quickly, as well. Fifteen months after Frost sent that email, filming began, a testament to how quickly the project came together. A week after reading Frost’s pitch, Park did a pitch of her own - in the traditional fashion - to FilmFour and Studiocanal. “I said I got this email from Nick and told them the one-line idea, and the whole room went silent,” recalls Park. “That was the one they wanted to make.” The BFI enthusiastically came on board a little further down the line, once a script and director were in place.
First, though, flesh had to be put on Cuban Fury’s bones. From the off, Frost was adamant that, even though this was to be his baby, he didn’t want to write the screenplay. “If you write everything you’re in, you’re in one film every two years,” explains Frost. So he and Park recruited up-and-coming writer Jon Brown to come on and fashion the first draft from an outline and character breakdown written by Frost.
“We had four meetings with Jon and by the end of those four meetings, we pretty much had the whole film plotted out,” says Park. “He wrote the first draft in six weeks.”
That draft, which was refined over the following months, told the tale of Bruce Garrett, a man in his late 30s who’s plodding through life until the arrival of a new boss, Julia, for whom Bruce falls hard. Even more so when it transpires that Julia is a salsa dancer on the side, reawakening in Bruce a passion that has lain dormant for years. For Bruce was once a champion salsa dancer, until a terrible incident forced him to hang up his dancing shoes and retreat into a life of drudgery. But with a woman’s heart to win, Bruce embraces salsa once more, and feels the power of Cuban Fury.
“That first draft had it all,” says Park. “We didn’t just have the shape of the movie, we had characters, we had dialogue, and we felt that they had come alive. It felt like a film we would be making within a year. There was no question: we are going to make this.”
The next step was finding a director. Park turned to James Griffiths, a British director with whom she had worked on the sitcom, Free Agents. Cuban Fury would be Griffiths’s first feature film, but Park had no doubt that he was ready for the challenge. “We’re so lucky to be making British films, and I thought it would be really wrong to be working with an American director,” says Park. “I should be talking to someone like Griff and giving him the opportunity to prove himself. And it was such a good collaboration - I loved Griff’s aesthetic, I knew the films he loved were the same films I loved, and that we wanted to make the same type of film.”
Griffiths jumped at the chance, despite the daunting challenges that lay in wait. “It’s my first feature film, and my first dance movie, and my first wire work too!” he laughs. “There’s a lot of firsts, but I’m just ticking them off on my filmmaker’s passport. It’s been intense, but that’s what filmmaking is about. And the best thing about working with Big Talk and with Jon Brown is that they’re incredibly collaborative, and really backed me in terms of the visual ambition for the film.”
Griffiths’s vision for the movie came from a place a million miles away from previous dance films. “The influence has always been the superhero movie,” he says. “Superman is one of the first films I ever saw at the cinema, so it’s in the DNA. Clark Kent is essentially a man with a talent that he doesn’t want to share with the people around him. And that’s Bruce.”
Tonally, the movie also takes an unexpected turn. From the off, Frost and his collaborators were adamant that this would not be a broad, cartoonish comedy, but rather a more realistic British comedy first and foremost, where the humour comes from the characters. “We’ve tried to make them feel like three-dimensional people,” says Griffiths. “It’s not gritty realism, it’s absolutely funny, but we don’t go for silliness. You want Bruce to win the girl, and if you don’t care about him as a character, you’re not going to feel that. It’s got to have heart.”
CASTING CUBAN FURY The first and most crucial piece of casting for Cuban Fury fell into place right away: Frost would play Bruce Garrett, the hero of the piece and a character unlike anything Frost had ever played before. “Part of me wanted to not be Ed (his Shaun of the Dead character) and Danny (Butterman, his Hot Fuzz character) again, and not play a kind of hapless buffoon,” says Frost. “And what Bruce has that Ed doesn’t is that he’s sensitive. He’s a gentle soul, until this fucking terrible thing happened to him, and it changed him. But that also saved him from himself, although he doesn’t know it yet. I think he could have been a real dick, a young kid who’s amazing and arrogant and smarmy. But now he’s a normal bloke. He’s not an idiot. I think he’s had a lot of girlfriends, but he’s at a point right now where he’s a bit downtrodden. He’s stuck in a rut.”
That rut involves weekly pub and golf driving range sessions with his best mates Gary and Mickey (played by Rory Kinnear and Tim Plester), and hanging out with his sister, and former salsa partner, Sam (Olivia Colman). Meanwhile, his work life is complicated by the presence of Drew, a bully who makes it his mission in life to put Bruce down, even more so when Drew also falls for Julia. “Bruce is happy to get fucked over and smile and do his thing, and not be bothered and not bother anyone,” says Frost. “But when Julia starts there, you can hear that rhythm in him - he wants to hide it, he knows something is happening to him, but he can’t resist.”
For Julia, the American boss whose love of lathes, sense of humour and devotion to salsa, sweeps Bruce off his Cuban heels, Frost and Park wanted Rashida Jones right from the off. The Parks & Recreation star jumped at the chance. “I’ve wanted to work with Nick since I first saw him in Spaced,” she laughs. “I was kind of obsessed with him and I met him and told him I was a fan. He doesn’t remember! Nick was the main attraction for me, but when I got the script it was so funny and clever, just exactly the kind of humour I was interested in doing. And I wanted the chance to be able to learn how to salsa dance like a pro.”
The relationship between Bruce and Julia is the fulcrum of Cuban Fury. “We have an instant connection, which is good for her because she’s new in town and doesn’t have that many friends, and is trying to find that delicate balance between friendship and professionalism. And I think she inspires Bruce to go on this journey towards who he really is. And who he really is... is the fury of Cuba!”
Continuing his Superman theme, Griffiths calls Julia the Lois Lane to Bruce Garrett’s Clark Kent, and loved working with Jones. “She’s so natural and very believable, but still has funny bones,” he says. “She finds the funny bits in a way that never feels forced, which for this film is exactly what we needed. I believe in their romance - with Bruce, you have this really lovely, warm, kind man who needs a bit of fire to win the girl. It’s that very simple thing - if you start loving yourself, then someone may fall in love with you, and Bruce has to fall back in love with himself before he can let her in.”
With the likes of Alexandra Roach as Helen, a workmate of Bruce’s who also befriends Julia, the inimitable Ian McShane - as Ron Parfitt, Bruce’s old salsa dancer who starts putting Bruce through his paces once more - and rising star Kayvan Novak as Bejan, a flamboyant Iranian salsa dancer who drags Bruce out of his shell with the help of some spray tan and flat Fanta orange, also on board, there was just one piece of the jigsaw left to complete: Drew, the villain of the piece. And just as Frost had instigated the movie with an email, he recruited his bad guy via text.
“I saw Nick at the BAFTAs at the start of the year and he told me he was in salsa dance training,” explains Chris O’Dowd, the Irish actor who plays Drew. “It didn’t make sense to me then, but then he sent me a text saying, ‘do you want to do this film where you play the baddie and we dance together?’ I’ve been looking to do something with Nick for a long while, and when this came along it all made sense. And I haven’t played this kind of character before.”
Drew is a preening braggart who, essentially, bullies Bruce in the workplace and who will resort to desperate measures in his attempt to usurp Bruce and get together with Julia. “It’s nice to be able to play a dickhead and let that side of myself show up on screen,” laughs O’Dowd. “Drew reminds me of someone who applied for The Apprentice and got turned down! Some of the personal trainers in the gym I go to are exactly like this dude.”
For Frost, approaching O’Dowd - with whom he’d worked on Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked - was a no-brainer, especially given the different demands placed on him by his first lead role in a movie. “It’s a lot different,” explains Frost. “The lead character is hardly ever the funniest character in a comedy. My instincts are to be funny, but you have to think about the whole film. It’s been an interesting learning curve, having to suppress that instinct to be the funniest person on set. But also, I’m just not when Chris is around. He’s just a funnier person, and he makes a lovely villain.”
Griffiths was delighted to note that his principal cast all had one thing in common: they were gifted at improv. “It’s a tight script and you want to make sure that the story is coming through,” he says, “but as long as the actors feel that they’re never just doing it for the funny, that works. Chris is very inventive - you get twelve variations every time.”
PUTTING THE CUBAN IN CUBAN FURY (including the dance fight sequence)
From the off, Frost and Park were adamant that Cuban Fury was going to be a dance movie that treated the dancing with respect, not just as a basis for comedy. “The dancing had to be real,” says Frost. “We’d be lynched if we did a parody of it, and it got into my heart, too. I felt I’d be fucking over something I loved if we were not true to it.”
All of which meant that Frost would have to learn how to dance like a former salsa champion. In just six months. Almost immediately, he began an intensive training programme - including sessions at London’s famous Pineapple Dance Studios - under the watchful eye of Strictly Come Dancing’s salsa choreographer, Richard Marcel and top dance trainer Susana Montero.
“I was a clubber, moving in rhythm to music, which is the most basic form of dance,” he laughs. “I danced maybe three times in my life - once at a wedding, once in Las Vegas before Simon Pegg and I started Paul, and once at a post-Coldplay party about eight years ago. I think it’s been a five million dollar training budget for me - that’s what they had to spend to get me up to scratch!”
Frost knew going in that it wasn’t going to be easy. He didn’t know the half of it. “The first two months of training was just fucking horrible. I hated it. I walked out of rehearsals twice, and I cried once. I did. It just gets too much. You have a lot of mirrors in your studios, and you look at yourself and you can see yourself destroying a country and its national identity like a big chimp grabbing a cake. And you can’t do it. You see this Cuban guy who’s 26 and he’s got the biggest smile in the world and dances like a motherfucker and it’s beautiful, and all he’s doing is just moving one foot and then the other. You think, ‘why do I not look like that?’ It’s infuriating and maddening.”
Eventually, though, Frost nailed it, thanks to Marcel and Montero, the lady he dubs ‘Mrs Miyagi’. “The first day I met her,” recalls Frost, “I got a sense that I would do anything for her. Anything you want me to do. I’ll rob someone if you want me to do it because I trusted her immediately.”
“We were talking about six hours a day, every day, for months,” says Montero, who also plays the role of Gloria in the film. “That much time together, you might want to kill someone! But since the first lesson I thought, this is a person I can talk to. Nick is someone who listens to what you have to say, and he’s a perfectionist. I think that he got to be the best he can be with the time we had.”
Park was stunned by Frost’s commitment to the grueling training program. “On the second of January, the Big Talk office was shut. I was on holiday, but he was in the studio! Once he started training, it felt like there was no going back.”
For Frost, there was a moment when everything just clicked. “It was a week before we started shooting,” he remembers. “It was a camera test at Twickenham, and Nira said there’ll be nobody there. I turned up and there were fifty people there, and 20 of them were Cuban dancers! So Susana and I did our dance top to bottom and it was amazing. It felt amazing to do it, and all the Cubans came over and patted me on the back and said I was a salsero. I think I could have cried at that point. That’s what that six month period was about; all those times where Richard and I would have heated debates and I’d angrily shake my protein drink at him and storm off in tears. But there comes a point where you think, ‘it’s a language’. I’ve learned a language and it all makes sense now.”
Marcel, who became Cuban Fury’s choreographer, and Montero were also instrumental in putting Jones, Olivia Colman and - to a lesser extent - O’Dowd through their paces. They also played an enormous part in recruiting many of the salsa dancers who take part in the movie, and brought in legends of salsa to work with Frost and his co-stars, including Robert Charlemagne. “He’s like a godfather of salsa in the UK,” explains Marcel. “And he was quite a large guy which was quite reassuring for Nick, to know that with salsa dancing in particular you don’t have to have the body of Nureyev. Anybody can dance salsa, whatever colour, style, shape, size you are. It’s all about expressing the music.”
The filmmakers were very keen to have the backing and participation of key players on the UK salsa scene, something that Marcel and Montero’s involvement made easier. “I think what is going to make this film special is that you actually have proper salsa dancers involved,” says Montero. (For example, Yanet Fuentes, who has been featured on So You Think You Can Dance, plays Alicia in the movie, and has a very fun dance-off with Bruce.) “The authenticity of this film is what we were looking for. Me and Richard would help Lucy [Pardee, crowd casting co-ordinator] to put all these dancers together. Lucy was going out to salsa clubs every night. I went with her - she loved it!”
The film’s two major slices of salsa come relatively near the end, and couldn’t be more different. The first is the film’s most outlandish comedy sequence, a dance-fight between Drew and Bruce, who’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. Shot on the roof of a car park in an industrial estate in Hayes, the sequence once again saw Griffiths hark back to a man in tights for inspiration. “It’s Anchorman, it’s Bourne, it’s Superman fighting himself in Superman III,” he says of the sequence, which top stunt co-ordinator Brad Allen came in to choreograph. “Tonally, it’s one of those things we always had to be careful about, but you have to believe that at this point the audience are going to be willing Bruce to defeat his enemy, and you have to go at it with full gusto.”
For O’Dowd, the sequence gave him his only real opportunity to dance. “Some of it couldn’t even be called dancing,” smiles O’Dowd, who had knee surgery just before starting work on the film. “It’s just violent thrusting. We’ve got such great people teaching us to dance. It’s been nice to use, for once, a harness in a non-sexual sphere.”
But by far the biggest salsa sequence comes at the end, when a rejuvenated Bruce and Sam enter a salsa contest. Shot at Koko in Camden, it’s a full-on series of dances that required Frost and Colman to strut their funky stuff in full view of about 500 extras, many of whom were also professional salsa dancers.
“The final dance we shot was amazing,” says Frost. “All those people, all those dancers, I couldn’t have wished for a better and more romantic, exciting, funny, charming, touching denouement for a romantic comedy.”
“I think Koko was very special to him,” says Susana Montero. “He had a real connection with the whole salsa community there. They loved him. We were so proud - I cried so much! Oh my god, my whole make-up was such a mess!”
When the ticker tape is cleared away, and the last blast of Latin music has faded into the night, Frost is incredibly proud of Cuban Fury, which started with an email and, just over two years later, is a full-fledged movie. “It’s exactly what I had imagined. This is the movie I had in my head,” says Frost. There’s just one minor difference from that movie to the one that’s about to open in cinemas everywhere. “We’re not in Miami,” he sighs, “but apart from that it’s close!”
Nick Frost – ‘Bruce’ Nick Frost first came to prominence as the gun-mad character Mike Watt in the award-winning Channel 4 sitcom Spaced. Since then, Frost has become one of the U.K.’s most sought-after actors. He earned a nomination for Most Promising Newcomer from the British Independent Film Awards for his role in the cult zombie movie Shaun Of The Dead, starring opposite Simon Pegg. Frost again starred with Pegg in the hugely successful hit comedy Hot Fuzz. Frost’s other film credits include Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked, also for Working Title and Focus Features, Julian Jarrold’s Kinky Boots and Nick Moore’s Wild Child.
Frost demonstrated his acting credentials in the BBC’s adaptation of Martin Amis’ best seller Money, directed by Jeremy Lovering. His lead performance garnered acclaim from critics and the author alike. He has also appeared in the Channel 4 sitcom Black Books with Dylan Moran and Bill Bailey, and hosted the Channel 5 series, Danger! 50,000 Volts!,Danger! 50,000 Zombies! and Danger! Incoming Attack! Frost was the lead role in Hyperdrive, a sci-fi comedy series for BBC Two, and starred in two seasons of the BBC sketch-comedy series, Man Stroke Woman.
2011 saw the release of Paul, written by and starring Frost and Simon Pegg, which debuted at the top of the UK box office and went on to become an international box office smash. Following Paul, Nick appeared as Ron in Joe Cornish’s award winning, Attack The Block. Nick also appeared as one-half of Hergé’s beloved detectives Thomson & Thompson, opposite Simon Pegg, in Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s epic motion-capture feature, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.
Last year, Frost lent his voice to the fourth installment of the Ice Age franchise, Ice Age: Continental Drift and also starred as Nion in Rupert Sanders’ blockbuster Snow White And The Huntsman alongside Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron and Ian McShane.
Last July, Nick starred in The World’s End opposite Simon Pegg, with this film completing what Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright refer to as ‘The Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy’ consisting of Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. Twenty years after attempting an epic pub crawl, five childhood friends reunite when one of them becomes hell bent on trying the drinking marathon again. As they attempt to reconcile the past and present, they realize the real struggle is not just for their future, but for all of mankind’s. The World’s End also stars Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike and Paddy Considine. Following its release, The World’s End reached the Top Ten in the US Box Office. Total Film commended Nick as “the scene-stealer” of the film and Screen International referred to Nick as “a real delight”.
Nick’s next project will hear him lending his voice in The Boxtrolls, the 3D and CG hybrid animated adaptation of Alan Snow’s ‘Here Be Monsters’. Directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable. Nick will feature alongside an impressive voice cast featuring Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan and Simon Pegg. The Boxtrolls is due for release in October, 2014.
Nick has also completed filming Sky Atlantic HD‘s six-episode comedy series, Mr. Sloane, from writer/director Robert B. Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm). Nick will play the titular Mr. Sloane, alongside Olivia Colman and Ophelia Lovibond. The bittersweet 1960s-set romantic comedy centres on Mr. Sloane’s buttoned-down man in crisis. The series will air in 2014.
Nick is currently filming the comedy film, The Business Trip, directed by Ken Scott and starring alongside James Marsden and Vince Vaughn.