Paul, in theaters Friday March 18th, 2011, is not just a movie about an alien. It's not just a movie starring Seth Rogen. It's not just a movie starring, and written by, the seasoned duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. No, it's not just any of those things, it's all of them at once, and it makes for one funny movie.
Nick Frost, new to the writing part of this team, sat down with us in New York City to talk about the film, his ambitions, his experiences with writing, and even make an announcement specifically for Newsarama fans about an upcoming project.
Newsarama: Nick, you got to step into the writer's role for the first time in any of your films with Simon. What was the experience like and why was it more necessary for this project?
Nick Frost: The easy answer is, it was our idea, Simon and I's idea. I've always wanted to write more than I wanted to act, really. I've always harbored dreams of being a poor, Soviet novelist, you know. [laughs] I'm a big fan of Dostoevski and Solzhenitsyn, so I always thought, I enjoyed that thought of eating a watery potato soup; that was always kind of a dream of mine rather than acting, I didn't want to act at all.
But I mean, Shaun of the Dead was Simon and Eric, it was their idea, and Hot Fuzz, even though I didn't write it, I had slightly more responsibility in that, so after their initial writing period I got to come in and look at the script and go 'This is cool, what about this?' and they'd say 'sprinkle in the funny'.
So this, I felt like I'd been promoted. We had this idea, we had it on the set of Shaun of the Dead. It was good! We'd written things before, like sitcoms that got commissioned, and we pulled it.
I think we were getting to a point where we weren't sure whether or not we could finish something. So, I'm glad we did, and I think so far so good!
Nrama: Well speaking of that, you came up with this idea on the set of Shaun, how'd it come about from there?
Frost: We were doing Shaun and the weather was terrible. We lost hours and hours to the rain, and as we were sitting in this horrible tent in the rain, Nyra, our producer, said to us "You know, it'd be good to make something somewhere it doesn't rain as much!" So we thought the desert, and it became Area 51, and that wasn't a big jump to then discovering aliens with these Comic-Con refugees.
And that was it! The first thing we thought of was a weird theme tune and the opening credit sequence. That was the first thing we did; which didn't make the film, but that was the thing that kind of got us going. Then you know, you just spitball ideas or you write little jokes. We'd text message each other and go what about this or what about that and that's how it snowballs, then the next thing you're in a meeting with Working Title Pictures and it's serious at that point. But you know, Simon and I, I don't think we ever take it that seriously. Even then we didn't do any "homework" for that meeting, you know? We just sat in and we're spitballing and bullsh*tting and we come up with ideas on the trot. They said "all right, we've got money in the budget for you guys to go on a big RV tour, if you wanna do it."
[laughs] That's how it happens, you know?
Nrama: So how did Comic-Con enter into the picture of this as your framing sequence?
Frost: Well, we are fanboys! I mean, if we weren't doing a film, we'd be at Comic-Con every year as fans. We're lovers of comicbooks and genre pics and sci-fi. So our characters Graeme and Clive, that is us as our most fanboyish. We've been to Comic-Con a bunch of times as well so it just seemed like the perfect couple of characters to use, a frustrated writer and a cartoonist.
Nrama: Is it difficult/interesting for you to take a look at that event from the side of just fans?
Frost: I'm not sure if we saw it like that. We had to be careful, because we didn't want Comic-Con attendees thinking that we were taking the piss, you know. This is a love letter, and an homage to those people, and to Comic-Con as a festival of difference. I think Simon and I really like the idea that there can be some regular guy living in Nebraska that does a normal job, but at nights and on the weekends, he likes to dress up as Invincible or Appleseed or something.
That's the good thing about Comic-Con, you get normal people from all over the world who singularly would do a lot to hide their shame so-to-speak, but when it comes to Comic-Con, San Diego is theirs. I like that, I like that power. The power that mass numbers of comic book fans and geeks can bring when they unite.
Nrama: Did you and Simon choose the various shirts and comics that were featured in the film?
Frost: We tried, but there's stuff that…
Nrama: There was a lot of Dynamite stuff!
Frost: Right, and we know Kirkman as well. I'm a massive fan of Invincible and thought it was important to get that in. There was a scene at the end that we cut, I'm not sure if it'll be on the blu-ray, where MILD SPOILERS Kristen Wiig was dressed as Atom Eve, which was fantastic, she looked so good. END POSSIBLE SPOILERS.
So, we tried, but there's a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes with clearance. So you'll say "well I'd like him to wear this, this, and this," then people in offices spend days and weeks in some cases trying to speak to the people, the companies involved saying "do you mind if we use this." What they'll usually do is they'll read the script and say, "well this character's smoking a joint, so no."
And the irony there is that a lot of people that read comic books or watch those movies probably enjoy a joint, so it's kind of a weird double standard. But we had a wishlist of things we'd like to use. Nancy Steiner, who's our costume designer would come back with a whole wealth of things and say "these are cleared, what do you fancy?" It works like that. If you go into this business with a very stiff attitude and say "I want this or there's going to be trouble," then there's going to be trouble. You need to be able to stop and think on your feet all the time, because not everything you want is going to be able to come off.
Nrama: Putting the writer hat back on, it was interesting, the cast seemed almost too perfect sometimes, like you guys were writing these lines for these specific people. When did the casting start, and did you move things around to make it feel that way?
Frost: I think the joy of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead is that now, we've written a script, it doesn't just get binned by agents. They say, "oh, these are the guys that did this!"
So it opened a lot of doors for us, someone like Sigourney Weaver and Jason Bateman, just to have them, and Jane Lynch! And we knew Bill, and Joe a little bit, we didn't really know Kristen. An expensive film like this as well, you have a wishlist, and the studio has a wishlist, and you need to find a place that you guys can both work together. I think it's one of those odd things, for me, when I find myself in LA having lunch with Sigourney Weaver and [director] Greg Mottola, and we're sitting there watching her eat a chicken caesar salad! And she says "Well I loved Hot Fuzz." [laughs] And it's just "what? What did you say?"
Nrama: "You realize you're Sigourney Weaver, right?"
Frost: Yeah, yeah, "you know you're like 6 foot 8 and the world's most beautiful woman…" You know, we put it out there and people can only say no. So we just said let's try and get the very best people that we can, and we'll see where we go from there.
Nrama: Did you find yourselves rewriting a little bit for the specific people that were cast?
Frost: No, not at all.
Nrama: You just got really lucky then? [laughs]
Frost: We did get really lucky! We just wrote the script we wanted to write. That said, Simon and I are really particular about the script, cause it's taken us five years to write it and get it to a position where it's ready to shoot. So we always made sure the script, on any scene we shoot, is done as written, then it's a free-for-all. You'd be mad to have someone like Joe Lo Truglio and Bill Hader and Kristen and not let them improvise. That'd be stupid. So a lot of their stuff, it comes from that as well. So in the end, Greg would look at what we had from what was written, and the improvised takes, and choose the best bits.
Nrama: Were Kristen's curses in particular improvised?
Frost: A little bit, that's one of those things about making films. You're suddenly, there's me and Greg and Bill and Kristen and Simon. And we're all scratching our chins about the monitor. And you think, if anyone is watching us from the outside you'd think we were talking about the most serious sh*t in the world. But then once you get in and you hear what we're saying, it's like, "Well, do you think d*ck milk is funnier than c*ck drop?" [laughs] Just sitting around. We did that for ages! Well, as in, when we had to do that.
But Kristen, she's a great curser, we're all pretty good cursers, so I think we'd just stand around talking about swear words pretty often.
Nrama: Whose was "bag of t*ts?"
Frost: I think that was Simon's! He's used that socially before, so that must have been his.
Nrama: So you guys wound up writing in some of the experiences you actually had on your real road trip while filming this, what was an experience you had that did NOT make it into the movie?
Frost: Pff.. God, well, I think what made it into the movie was not just individual things, it was the feeling of being in America on a road trip. We'd been to LA a lot, and NY a lot, and Miami, and Chicago, but we'd never been to that massive part in the middle. So it was important that we had a feeling of what it was like. We had a lot of snow, so that didn't make it in. We drank a lot, there wasn't very much of that in the film…
Nrama: You've done the send-up of Zombie Flicks + Romantic Comedies, the send-up of Buddy Cops + Conspiracy Theories, and now a send-up of Road Trips + Aliens… are there other combinations you guys have talked about?
Frost: Well, I don't know. I'm not sure we ever set out to do that, you know. We do these genres because that's what we're interested in. We like the work of George Romero, so we made a zombie film. We like action movies, so that's where Hot Fuzz comes from. Same with this, you know? We're massive sci-fi fans, we're lovers of the genre, so it seemed an obvious thing to do.
I don't think we necessarily set out to, I hate to say spoof, cause we're not like Epic Movie or those kind of things, I don't think those things necessarily come from a place of love. We love these things, and that's why we write about them, that's why we make films about them.
Nrama: You're actually doing a voice in a comic book movie here with Adventures of Tin-TIn?
Frost: Yeah, well it's not a voice! It's acting, it's motion capture. We did every scene as if we were shooting a movie, except your'e dressed in these terribly tight suits. Which is fine for Daniel Craig, you know for "James Bond" cause he looks amazing! I said to Simon, I look like a dinosaur egg in mine. So yeah, we did it like rehearsing a big play. It was really good. We've got 3 or 4 more days of that in Wellington in the next couple of weeks, and then we're done, it's out!
Nrama: Is there another comic book character you'd like a crack at as a writer or an actor?
Frost: Oh God, I'm sure there's loads! [laughs] I'm far too old and fat for Invincible but he's my favorite at the moment. Maybe they'd let me play Omniman or something.
I'd like to do a bit more serious stuff as well. I did a thing called "Money" which was an adaptation of a novel, and that was drama. I'd like to give my acting chops a bit of a flex.
Nrama: Would you like to write outside of film and TV?
Frost: Well I'm writing a graphic novel at the moment!
Nrama: What can you tell us about that, that's our bread and butter!
Frost: Well it's not what you'd expect. It's provisionally titled "Homesick Swedish Mice." My wife is Swedish, she's not a mouse, so I had this idea about a group of Mice who become marooned in London. Grandfather Mouse passes away and his final words to his son are "Take me home." So then it becomes about a group of mice trying to get from London to Sweden in a toy boat. So yeah, doing that at the moment, as well.
Also, I've written a film about a wrestler, so I'm hoping to shoot that later this year or early next!