Nick Frost’s 2015 memoir, Truths, Half-Truths & Little White Lies, ends on a surprisingly downbeat note. Typically, these memoirs conclude with the celebrity lying by their pool in Beverly Hills, congratulating themselves on how it’s all turned out. Not Frost’s. Together with his best friend, Simon Pegg, he has made Spaced, Paul, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. He has money in the bank, a new son and an international reputation, but his life has been marked by an extraordinary amount of tragedy. His 18-year-old sister died of asthma when he was 10. When he was 16, his abusive father went bankrupt, and the stress caused his alcoholic mother to have a stroke. Neither parent fully recovered. Frost attempted suicide when he was 17. Then, in the space of a decade from 2005, Frost lost both of his parents and four of his half-siblings.
“My professional success (relatively speaking) comes at a price,” he writes. “I want to tell you that things got better for me emotionally but I can’t, they didn’t. Seemingly every time I did a film another member of my family died. Was this the price I had to pay for success?”
It’s with this thought in mind that I sit down in a cafe near Frost’s home in Teddington, west London, to catch up with him. Despite the difficulties presented by 2020, this looks like a good time for Frost. He has a new eight-part Amazon Prime series out, Truth Seekers, which reunites him with Pegg in a sitcom for the first time since Spaced. He has an 18-month-old son with his girlfriend, and a nine-year-old, Mac, with his ex-wife, Christina.
Seven minutes before he is due to arrive, however, I get an email from his publicist informing me that he has to cancel. A few hours later, Frost emails to apologise and explain that a close friend has died. Later it’s reported that it’s Miles Ketley, the CEO of Stolen Picture, the production company Frost owns with Pegg, who has died suddenly at the age of just 52.
“I’m afraid, man,” Frost says, when we speak a couple of weeks later, by which time Covid has sent interviews back to Zoom. His familiar bearish torso is clad in a blue Ellesse T-shirt, and his chin, which he strokes frequently, is covered in stubble rather than the thicker beard he’s had more recently. For someone who has always been a “big man”, coronavirus presents an extra threat. “I shaved my beard off the other day, thinking I’d be some chiselled Judge Dredd-style guy underneath, but instead I cried for like two hours.
“I’m afraid of getting Covid, of the misinformation around it. I don’t know what the truth is. I don’t understand the tier system. Then Miles passing was just like, ‘F***!’ He was my brother. I know nothing about being a producer, but everything I know I learned from him. He was creative and fantastic at making deals. It was completely unexpected.”
In the new series, co-written by Frost and Pegg with James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders, Frost stars as Gus Roberts, an internet repairman who has a double life as a paranormal investigator. Samson Kayo plays his partner, Elton, and Pegg has a supporting role as his boss, Dave. Malcolm McDowell even crops up as Gus’s infirm father, Richard. It’s a charming, witty series with some genuinely spooky moments, anchored by Frost’s performance. Watching it, you would never guess that it was such a nightmare to create that Frost walked out halfway through.
“The edit was difficult and the writing was a pain, too,” Frost says. “We were late in delivering it. We wanted it to be too big and we didn’t have a clear end in sight, which made it really difficult. We got to a point where we were just sitting around and I was like, ‘F*** this.’ I quit, James and Nat quit. I really learned a lesson in terms of writing. We’d do it differently next time.” He has no time for the idea, floated by Joker director Todd Phillips and others, that comedy has become more difficult to write in an era of greater respect for personal sensitivities. “It’s only harder if you want to write jokes about black people,” he says. “That’s never been our thing.”
Whatever the series’ gestational difficulties, it’s nice to see him reunited onscreen with Pegg. Their relationship at times has seemed like a kind of fantasy bromance, in which they have somehow managed to translate an adolescent male friendship based around lager and video games into genuine Hollywood stardom. The legend is well worn by now: they met when Frost was working as a waiter at an Indian restaurant with Pegg’s then-girlfriend and instantly bonded over Star Wars. Pegg got Frost into stand-up, they lived together, sharing a bed and reading to each other. Pegg cast Frost in Spaced, alongside Mark Heap and Jessica Hynes, and a great double act was born. Truth Seekers lets the pair revisit old interests, after years in which Pegg has achieved global fame, starring in Mission Impossible, Star Trek and Star Wars, while Frost has had steady, if less glamorous work, such as last year’s wrestling comedy, Fighting With My Family.
“Simon and I have always loved horror and conspiracy theories and things with an X-Files element,” he says. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as cinema until I met him. I knew there were films, but I didn’t know there was ‘cinema’, or ‘genre’. In Gants Hill [where Essex meets east London, and where Frost grew up] there was a newsagent next to the pub where you could get VHS. On a Sunday when my parents were drinking, the payoff was I could get any film I wanted, and it was always The Exorcist or Poltergeist or I Spit on Your Grave. It’s got to be kind of s*** [at home] if you run away to see Omen films. Maybe it was an escape, although I didn’t see it like that at the time.”
For all the tragedy in Frost’s life, including the shocking death of Ketley, he strikes a more hopeful tone than in previous interviews, where he has said he thought he would never be “fixed”.
“I think things for me can be fixed. It would be unfair to my children to use that idea as an excuse to be a poor father or poor person. After all the years of being depressed and thinking so much about everything, I’ve found that maybe it’s simpler than I thought it would be. There are things I can do that bring it back to the moment, and I’m that much happier. I’ve always been trying to make people happy, and always imagined that if I can make you happy, I’ll be happy, but that never came. It has to come from me. If someone had said to me 18 years ago that the key to being happy was just to worry about living right now, I’d have laughed you out of the boozer.”
He has been teetotal for four years, and says he only misses pints of lager. He collects art and trainers. In lockdown he started painting, which takes his mind off things. “I go into my shed and I don’t worry about money or if the kids are happy or if people like Truth Seekers. It helps.” Is he any good? “If someone had had a really terrible crash or stroke and injured their brain and the surgeon said, ‘Maybe you should try art to learn to speak again,’ it’s about there at this point.”
He mentions money a few times, and I wonder if things are leaner in the Frost household than they might appear from the outside. “A successful actor talking about money in the press always comes off badly, because people are like, ‘You don’t know what it’s like,’ and I understand that. We had f*** all growing up, but I never thought about it. It’s another thing about being blinkered in your life, wanting to be a child forever. When my dad died, and I had no parents, that was the first time I realised I was utterly alone, and I couldn’t phone my dad to ask for a tenner or ask him for advice. That’s when I thought, ‘I’m a man.’ I wanted someone to take care of me, to look after me, but once he died I was like, ‘OK, I need to look after myself.’”
He is off to America shortly to film a big new series, the details of which are still under wraps when we speak, which ought to help. “Listening to some of the economic fallout just for normal people, it’s terrifying,” he says. “I feel very lucky and grateful that I’ve got the chance to make something good and make some f***ing money.” He would like to lose weight. “It’s a difficult thing to do anything about but that’s no excuse,” he says. “I used to think I didn’t want to lose weight until I’d played Henry VIII and Churchill. But big funny guys when they’re 30 don’t last to be big funny guys when they’re 50. Watch this space.”
Beyond that, he hopes he and Pegg get a chance to make more Truth Seekers. “I love the show, I hope we get another chance to do another one,” he says. “I like playing Gus Roberts. He’s a funky character. He has a sadness to him, and he’s driven by loss. I’m always interested in that.”
Truth Seekers will premiere on Amazon Prime on 30 October