Interview: Nick Frost on ‘Fighting With My Family,’ Dwayne Johnson Movies, and ‘Tintin 2’
It’s initially a little disconcerting to see Nick Frost, the star of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz — films about struggling twentysomethings searching for their place in the world (and, y’know, zombies and shootouts and stuff) — playing a father with adult children. But Frost is terrific in Fighting With My Family, the new film about the life of WWE superstar Paige (played in the film by Florence Pugh); both believably tough and fiercely devoted to his loved ones as “Rowdy” Ricky Knight, the patriarch of a family of British wrestlers.
Frost, a dad himself in real life, talked to me about his love of wrestling, and his own time as a backyard wrestler. He also revealed his favorite films featuring his Fighting With My Family co-star and producer Dwayne Johnson, and discussed the possibility that we’ll ever get another Tintin movie — along with the story about the time Clint Eastwood showed up to the set of the first Tintin.
ScreenCrush: Are you a wrestling guy?
Nick Frost: Yeah, I’ve always liked wrestling. We used to have, growing up in the ’70s, we had wrestling. It was on Saturday morning, and it was introduced by a man called Dickie Davis. He’d do a little intro, and then they’d show wrestling from like Norridge Town Hall or somewhere ... it’s like being in, I’m trying to think of a place in America that’s like ... Utica?
I remember watching it as a kid thinking “Oh my God!” They were just huge men. I got it as a kid, I understood how the mechanics of it worked. And then it kind of went off the boil a bit. They stopped showing it, until the WWF began playing. I mean, it’s a monstrous thing: We didn’t have more than four TV channels until like 1995. But more people started getting Sky and you could see then that wrestling was big and it reignited my passion for it. And I’ve wrestled myself.
I have. I’ve been injured wrestling.
You’ve wrestled professionally?
No, as a keen amateur. We were kind of backyard wrestlers. As we learned more moves that they did, we did more backyard wrestling. Power bombing someone onto a freshly-mowed lawn was quite good.
We had friends over one night and we all got really pissed and the guys started wrestling, and I ended up giving someone the move where their head goes between your legs and you hoist them onto your shoulders. And it completely destroyed my bed. Like, it blew it to pieces. And as I stood up, my thumb was hanging down here, loose. We were so drunk, I just gaffer taped it back into position.
Did you have a wrestling gimmick or a character?
No, but I have a script about a London wrestler who made it big in the early ’90s. It’s essentially like The Wrestler, but a comedy take on it. And my character in that film is called “Cockney Lump.” And so that’s always what my persona is. Do you know about Cockneys?
I mean, I’ve heard of them. I think I have an American’s understanding of the concept.
Cockneys have Kings and Queens, and they’re called Pearly Kings and Pearly Queens, and they wear black suits and black hats. But every possible itch has silver and white buttons sewn on. And that’s how they dress. And so that’s what Cockney Lump’s gear would be: A Pearly King and Queen suit, but then he’d take it off just to have small pearly button pants.
I can see it. It sounds like a very real wrestler for sure.
I think in terms of safety, the pants would just have button print on them, not actually buttons. Don’t want to lose an eye or something.
In this movie you are playing a real person. I’ve seen the documentary that the film is sort of based on. The real Ricky strikes me as someone who’d be very unafraid to give feedback about your performance. I’m wondering if he’s seen the film and whether he provided any notes while you were playing him.
I haven’t spoken to Ricky. I never met Ricky. But I know at first, once he realized that I’d been cast, he didn’t know who I was. Which is fine. Apparently Paige was saying that his favorite film is Zulu, and he tends to watch that a lot.
He wanted Ray Winston. He was just very disappointed that it wasn’t Ray,. But since he’s seen the film, apparently he's kind of thrilled and he thinks I did a great job, which is great. I mean if you have to play someone living, a violent criminal, you should do a good job.
Right. That’s the thing! I would be somewhat terrified to not do it in a way that pleases him.
So it’s good that he enjoys it.
Yeah. We have a premiere in a couple weeks in London, and I think I’ll meet him then for the first time. I’ll judge how he feels by the weight of his handshake. If it’s just a bit too hard I’ll think “Ah s—. I won’t go to the party afterwards.”
One of the things I enjoyed about the movie is that while it is about following your dreams — and certainly Paige’s dreams of going to the WWE came true — it’s also about how her brother’s dreams did not. I think that’s an interesting way to approach this story. I’m wondering what you think about the movie’s perspective on dreams.
I think Steven’s done a good thing in terms of is it an independent or a studio film? I think it’s a bit of both, but I think it was an independent film that the Rock rallied before MGM bought it. So because of that set-up, they’ve been allowed to make Zak’s story the actual story. In another world, an exec edits the movie so that when Zak talks to Vince at the end, Vince says “Okay, come on over.”
To see a main character fail is kind of pretty cool and pretty brave. It’s more like reality, more like what happens. What percent of wrestlers make it to the WWE roster? What percentage of actors can come and do a junket? It must be tiny, right? One percent? Half a percent? So the reality is Zak’s story. But, again, another kind of twist is, yes, he fails at that, but maybe life is a succession of failures. Maybe the fact he’s a dad — and a good dad — and those kids look up to him and love him, that’s a success as well.
Totally, and the movie’s about him coming around to that idea. But it also doesn’t also shy away from the fact that this was his dream first. And so I liked that about it. It’s not afraid to show that.
No. There’s nothing he could’ve done, either. That’s kind of galling and kind of stunning. There was nothing Zak could have done to have changed that.
Yeah. You mentioned the Rock. You have a scene with him on the phone. Did you actually work with him on set?
Did you ever meet him?
I met him at Sundance last week. A few times during the film I was talking to [Kevin Misher], the producer, and he said, “You haven’t met the Rock? I'll get him to phone you!” Never happened.
I was nervous. He’s the Rock! I mean, he’s the biggest film star in the world at the moment. But as a wrestling fan, the amount of times I’d seen him and Triple H and Stone Cold go at it ... I’m kind of amazed at that, as an art form. So I practiced different versions of how it would go in my head until we were just there in the theater. And it was like “Hey man, you all right?" [Dwayne Johnson voice] “Hey, thank you brother!” [pause] And that was it.
[laughs] Do you have a favorite Rock movie?
Oh my God. I keep talking about Jumanji, but I really liked the new Jumanji. I liked it a lot. Honestly, I’ve probably watched it the four times. I’ve got a seven-year-old too, so...
I was going to say, I bet being a dad has something to do with it.
Well, the first couple of times were for me. First time was for me, second time was for Karen Gillan, and then the other two times were so me and my son could watch it. I’d like to see a list of his films now, and to go through and say “Yeah I like that.” What was the Mummy one?
The Scorpion King.
Scorpion King! See, I didn’t mind The Mummy franchise. I thought they were fun.
They were fun. The first two were good.
Yeah. What’s the one that was a remake, where he’s got a big stick? Walking Tall?
I enjoyed him in that very much.
He’s very good in The Rundown.
The Rundown is good.
Fast Five, of course.
Yes. Rampage is fun.
I love a film with a big white gorilla in it.
[laughs] As a general rule?
Yeah. I mean, there’s only that film and Congo that I can think of, films with big white gorillas in them.
It’s not a huge sub-genre.
[laughs] The Venn diagram of movies with white gorillas in it is tiny.
Your role in this movie is not particularly physical, like, you don’t have a ton of wrestling —
But we shot a ton of it.
Yeah, we did loads. Both of the fights; the Christmassacre, where Jack kind of kicks Florence’s ass a bit, and the beginning fight where all four of them are wrestling as a family, we spent probably four days shooting both of those fights. I had two weeks at the beginning in terms of learning to tumble and fall properly and the wrestling and the choreography and how to catch Jack. Because Jack’s big.
I loved it. I love wrestling, I did martial arts, I played rugby for years. I trained to be a dancer to do Cuban Fury, so it felt like all those things were part of this. So I picked it up pretty quick. And I like it. I didn’t really start acting until I was older, in terms of life experience. I know what it’s like to go home from work when your hands are sore and your back hurts and you have a bath and you feel like Indiana Jones when she says “Well, where doesn’t it hurt?” And I got that doing this, doing that for those two weeks.
I was going to ask if you have a favorite like stunt that you’ve performed yourself in one of your action movies or shows.
Falling through the fence during Hot Fuzz. It wasn’t a massive stunt, but when everyone’s just watching you do a stunt, it’s like “Oh my God, I feel sick.” The reset time’s huge. I’m always aware, like with a producer’s hat on, that it’s going to take time to reset these things.
I mean a lot of it’s just kind of fight choreography and stuff. Doing Into the Badlands, the fights we do on that are just amazing. And they feel amazing when you’re shooting them. And the way they’re choreographed, they’re not choreographed, because all our guys are from Hong Kong and their technique is the set is cleared, they spend half an hour working through what the next 10 moves are. Then you go off and learn them, they like the shot, and then you shoot those 10 moves until the director’s happy. And then you keep doing that over and over and over. So there have been times when I’ve taken videos of a fight that I’ve done, and I’ve watched it like a hundred times. And you get a sense, because when you work with stunt men and the guys from Hong Kong, when they all come on and pat you on on the behind and say “Hey that was good. That felt good.” So I’d say Badlands and the fight sequences we do in that.
There’s one film of yours that I’ve been patiently waiting for a sequel to, and we were supposed to get a sequel, and it hasn’t happened yet: Tintin.
Oh yeah. Yeah, I don’t know. I never knew what happened. Maybe it didn’t do well enough? Or Steven [Spielberg] and Peter [Jackson] got busy?
Do you think there’s a chance it will still happen?
I don’t know. It would be nice.
It would be.
I didn’t enjoy doing it.
I was just frightened. I’m sure a lot of actors have this, that fear that any minute you’re going to get called out as a fraud, you know? I mean, if you had to f— up on a day where Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg are both co-directing, and Kathy Kennedy’s watching, and Clint Eastwood pops in at lunch...
He just happened to stop by?
Yeah. That would be a bad place to break down. And I just never felt like I wasn’t going to break down on that, even though it all worked perfectly, it was great. It just felt like a lot of pressure. I think it’d be a lot different now.
What did Clint Eastwood think of all that motion capture stuff?
I don’t know. I just came out one day at lunch wearing my suit, looking like a dinosaur egg. And him and Steven were sitting out, smoking cigars. I said “Hey, you all right?” [laughs] Then I just kind of ran off.
Fighting With My Family is in select theaters now. It expands around the country on February 22.
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