To the majority of the American audience, their first introduction to Nick Frost was as Shaun’s slovenly (yet loveable) best friend Ed in Shaun of the Dead.
To the UK audience (and the hipper element of the American audience), however, Frost hit the scene in Simon Pegg & Jessica Stevenson’s sitcom Spaced, where his turn as “intense” best friend Mike proved to be a favorite in a show full of stellar writing and memorable performances.
As himself, Frost was the presenter of Danger! 50,000 Volts!, a reality series that found him giving survival tips on scenarios ranging from dehydration in the desert to subduing a crocodile (think of it as TV version of The Worst Case Scenario Handbook).
More recently, Frost co-starred in Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright’s follow-up to Shaun, and was the lead in two series of BBC2’s sci-fi sitcom Hyperdrive as Space Commander Henderson, the captain of a 22nd century British spaceship tasked with trying to get aliens to relocate their businesses to England (in competition with the Americans, who are offering Florida).
My interview with Nick was another one of those “Oh, what the heck…” ones, as I just had an impulse to try and track him down and do exactly what follows - a candid conversation on his life and career. So enough of the formalities - let’s get this show rolling…
KEN PLUME: Tell me about your early life…
NICK FROST: Oh, god. Seriously?
PLUME: What made you give up a doctorate in physics to pursue acting?
FROST: (laughs) Um, well, I didn’t…I left school when I was fifteen.
PLUME: Your choice?
FROST: Yes and no, really. I mean, I wasn’t very good at school and my parents were not very well. They were quite sick. And so, I kinda felt as if I had to leave school to financially support them. Do you know what I mean?
FROST: I kinda felt like I had an obligation to do that.
PLUME: Was this a decision that they supported? Did they understand where you were coming from in that?
FROST: I don’t even know if they kinda knew, do you know what I mean? I kinda kept it to myself and told them: I’m not very good at school, and, you know, I’m not a scholar. You know, you need a bit of money, we need some money, so why not, you know, why not let’s just leave school and get a job, you know?
PLUME: Was it a difficult decision for you or did you have to really mull it over a bit?
FROST: Not really, you know, I didn’t at that stage…you know, I didn’t…I was a very different person, Ken, I was really different to who I am now. To leave school and having to go to work it seemed… normal, you know?
PLUME: How would you describe the person you were then?
FROST: Oh god, I would say… a loutish idiot.
PLUME: Was that a nature issue?
FROST: Well, you know, I’m from a working class… it sounds really f***ing hackneyed, but I’m from a working class background, so being a man in a working class kinda background, you become a certain type of person, you know?
FROST: And I was that person. Even right up until I was seventeen, when I left home and went and lived in Israel. And that changed me. That was my university, in a way.
PLUME: What led to that decision to make that drastic a move?
FROST: Well, I - this is really in-depth now, but I was having trouble with drugs and stuff. And I kinda made the choice to… you know, someone said to me, “It would be better if you were to leave the country for your own good and for your own health.” And I did.
PLUME: Was it something that you were an active participant in or were people pushing you into, “this really is the right decision”?
FROST: No, I loved it. I loved it. I mean, I do have that thing in me. Well I think I had it in me more than I do now, but… you’re with a group of mates and it just felt really natural, you know, to get off your head. That’s a very London-sounding saying, isn’t it?
PLUME: We’ll put a glossary at the end…
FROST: “To get off your head!” Sound like someone from Snatch. But yeah, you know, I mean, I was sixteen, seventeen, and it just seemed… it was normal. It wasn’t (horrified whisper) “Oh my God, we’re doing drugs!” it was just… you know, you got in your car and you drove and then you’d take some drugs and you’d laugh a lot. And it wasn’t anything more sinister than that, you know.
PLUME: Was it something that you saw that could develop into an issue?
FROST: Well, I mean… yeah. That was what made me go away and so, for me to have moved three thousand miles away, you can probably guess that it was getting a bit serious.
PLUME: Was it developing into enough of an issue to make that serious a move?
PLUME: What led to the decision for the destination to be Israel?
FROST: I had a friend called Brendan who went and lived on a kibbutz and he was older than me, much older than me, and I kind of sought his advice, and he said, “Go to Israel,” you know. And it was the best decision I ever made, I think.
PLUME: How much of a wake up call was it to be that far away?
FROST: It was great. I loved it. It just felt… I was meant to stay for three months, and I ended up staying for almost two years.
PLUME: What did you do during that period?
FROST: Oh God, I just… it just felt right to be there. And I just loved it and I just wholeheartedly kind of, you know, embraced the lifestyle. And…what did I do? God, I worked in the fish ponds. And I picked cotton and I picked apples. And I worked in a plastics factory. And I…what else did I do?
PLUME: Are you sure you didn’t live in the American south?
FROST: Yeah, I was doing all that. I lived in Louisiana for a time - no, I didn’t think of it. Yeah, you know, it was lot of… it was manual work. And I kind of like that. I like that kind of… you know, you can see why people become addicted to the army and prison.
PLUME: That sort of regimented work ethic?
FROST: Exactly. You get up at half-past five, you go to work, you come home, someone gives you cigarettes, someone gives you a bag of clean laundry, you know, you swim for an hour, then you sleep for two, then it’s dinnertime. But I loved it. I really loved it. And I didn’t want to come home, but, you know, you think: well, I’m now almost twenty… I had to go home. That and I got…caught. I got caught. I got caught and arrested and deported. Because I’d overstayed my visa by, you know, fourteen months.
PLUME: So one way or another you were going back home.
PLUME: But mentally did you feel somewhat that you had made a decision that you needed to go back?
FROST: God, let me think. That’s a long time ago. Probably. I mean, I’d fallen in love with a girl… with a couple of girls. And they had gone back to England. And you know, it was that kind of thing. I believe that everything just kind of goes in a cycle, you know, so the people that we had on the kibbutz who were really cool and amazing, and the kind of amazing time we were having, suddenly wasn’t so amazing, and all the cool people were going, and loads of new people came… and I just felt, well, f*** it, I’m just gonna go home.
PLUME: Did you have any kind of idea what you were going back to? Did you ever fear that you would go back into the pattern that had sent you to Israel in the first place?
FROST: No, not really… I mean…
PLUME: Or did you already feel that you were a different person by then, than the one that had left?
FROST: Well, yeah, I was. Because I… that was it then, I’d left home. I left home when I was seventeen. And I never went back, I mean - I went back, but I never went and lived back with my parents. I mean, that was it. I just came back and moved in with one of the girls that I’d fallen for and then that was my life then, and everything that got me into my troubles before Israel was left back in another part of London, you know?
PLUME: So this would have been what, around the early 90s?
FROST: Yeah. Yeah, I’m originally from a place called Essex and all my mates and stuff were in Essex. But when I came back from Israel, I moved to a place called Kentish Town, which is in the north of London. And so, you know, I’ve never been one for going back - I never look on Friends Reunited, I’ve never gone to a school reunion, I’ve never really gotten in contact with anyone from my school… I kinda think about this, and I think, “Is it bad? Is it sad?”
PLUME: Is the motivating factor, as you said, just to not look back, or do you consider that such a different time and a different person that there’s really nothing to revisit?
FROST: Yeah, I think it’s kinda nothing to revisit, you know? You know, it wasn’t incredibly enjoyable, and, you know, even though I had good friends, it wasn’t “we’re friends for life.” The friends I’ve got now are, you know, the proper, real deal friends for life. And I’d just… you know, I’d just f***ing die for them.
PLUME: As you said, there’s a difference between the friends you make in high school and the friends you make in college, as it were.
FROST: Yeah. And there’s that thing, especially when you’re on kibbutz, you know, people are coming and going all the time, so there’s that thing where you say, “Oh my god, I love you so much, I’m going to miss you so much, I’m going to cry everyday and I don’t know how I’ll get through life without you,” and then, you know, four or five days later, you think, “Who was that person?”
PLUME: As you’re busy collaborating with the new people.
FROST: (Laughs) Yeah, exactly. I think my time in Israel has kind of painted me with that kind of, you know, once people go, it’s: “Oh, well, that was nice.”
PLUME: So in some ways it really prepared you for being an actor.
FROST: Yeah, that kind of lonely…
PLUME: Moving from production to production.
FROST: Yeah. Exactly. But, god, I’d never… I mean, I came home and I had no qualifications, I had never been to school really, I hadn’t been to university - I had never even thought about university, you know, and I was a young man and just didn’t know what I wanted, really. And I don’t think, to be honest, I knew… even now probably what I want. Do you know what I mean?
PLUME: Well, you could always go back and finish that doctorate.
FROST: Yeah, of course I could.