Interview: The Stars of the Danish Comedy Klown

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For over 13 years, Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam have been one of Denmark’s most popular comedy duos thanks to their popular television shows, having found fans in unlikely people like Lars von Trier (who even directed an episode of their show which you can download and watch here.) Even so, they’ve remained completely unheard of and unknown in the United States up until last year, when their debut feature film Klown played at Fantastic Fest and was picked up for distribution by the Alamo’s Drafthouse Films.

Following the success of their television show of the same name, the duo brought their characters (conveniently named Casper and Frank) to a movie directed by Mikkel Nørgaard in which they go off on a canoe trip, Casper wanting to use the opportunity to cheat on his wife with women they meet, while Frank ends up taking his pregnant wife’s 11-year-old nephew Bo along with them to prove he can be a good father. It’s a hilarious film that’s as raunchy as some of the most R-rated humor America has to offer. (You can watch an extended clip here.)

ComingSoon.net had a chance to sit down with Casper and Frank a few weeks back and believe us, trying to document the rapid-fire chatter between the two of them was pretty difficult as they tended to go off into their own conversations at the drop of a hat. A few days after we spoke, the duo was going to be on another canoeing trip, this time in Texas as part of a special day out with journalists being done by Drafthouse Films and we joked with them that they’ll be the only ones attending with any canoeing experience on that trip.

Casper Christensen: It was so hard sitting in that canoe. You’re sailing downstream but then you have to do the take again so you have sail upstream to do another take. We spent like a month in that canoe. We’re still tired from it, still hurting.
Frank Hvam: When we close our eyes, we’re still rowing.

CS: But you shot this a few years ago.
Christensen:
Yeah, it’s about two years ago now.

CS: I know about the show but I’ve never actually seen it, so what prompted you to make a movie?
Christensen:
We did six seasons of the television show and we wanted to do something different.
Hvam: Yeah, to bring it up on a higher level or on another level. The stories we tell on the TV series are smaller than for a film and the feelings are greater in a film.
Christensen: We had been writing another show before this one – we did six seasons of that and then six seasons of this. We had been writing so much television and we really wanted to try to use our skills writing a movie and it seemed like a good way to start. You know the characters, you know the universe… There’s so many new and difficult things in writing a movie, so if we could find any help by writing for the characters we already knew, we should take it, and that’s why we did “Klown.”

CS: So the television show was essentially the same characters, but those characters are named after yourselves, so are you supposed to be playing ourselves?
Hvam:
Yeah, there’s a lot of ourselves in those characters… I’m afraid.

CS: I’m not sure you really want to admit that. I don’t know what’s allowed on Danish television in terms of what you do can do, but I guess they’re more open to raunchy humor?
Christensen:
A lot more open.
Hvam: Yeah, yeah.

CS: Did the movie generally have a similar feel to what you did on the show?
Christensen:
Pretty similar to it but of course when we did the movie, we wanted to push it just a little bit more, a little bit further. The television show… it’s pretty liberal in Denmark, you can do almost anything. We never got censored.
Hvam: No, no, it’s different. Of course, there are sometimes people who get mad, but everybody’s laughing.
Christensen: But that’s the viewer, that’s not the television company.
Hvam: No, not at all.
Christensen: They’re going to show the movie on national television, too
Hvam: Yeah, uncut.
Christensen: You know what? You had to be 11 years in Denmark to go watch the movie in the movie theater, just 11.
Hvam: But of course, we can’t recommend that.
Christensen: For an 11-year-old to go see another 11-year-old boy’s d*ck is not that big a problem, right?
Hvam: No, they do it all the time in the schoolyard.
Christensen: So it’s just in the sick head of grown-ups there’s something wrong.

CS: I don’t know if you guys bothered with the MPAA or anything but have you guys had any problems getting it released here because of some of that humor?
Christensen:
It’s rated… what is it? 17? I think it’s R. I think it went well with the rating, very well, according to Evan (the rep from Drafthouse).

CS: Many times, foreign films would just get released unrated here because easier than deal with the hassles of the MPAA.
Christensen:
I think we just tried it to see what would happen and that’s why.
Hvam: I think they liked the fact that the story of the movie at its core had a sentimental story, it had heart. It’s about a man who tries to save his marriage and his unborn child.
Christensen: It’s not just offensive…
Hvam: No, the wrapping may be a little offensive…
Christensen: … but it’s a heartfelt story.
Hvam: Yeah, it is.
Christensen: You can’t make a whole movie by just making d*ck jokes and having terrible sex scenes. There has to be more in it.

CS: But the MPAA has handed out an NC-17 for less than some of the things you have in this movie.
Hvam:
But they’ve given us the benefit of the doubt.

CS: They probably think that in Denmark, this is the norm, so it’s probably okay. When you came up with this story of a camping trip and bringing along the 11-year-old Bo, was that something very different from what you were doing on the show?
Hvam:
Often an episode on the weekly show could be about a pen being missing. Smaller things.
Christensen: But also the television show all takes place in the same part of Copenhagen. With a canoe trip we’re going around the countryside and that’s one of the things we wanted to do. We did six seasons in the city, and we wanted to take the guys out to the countryside, so that’s also one of the reasons why we did the movie the way we did.

CS: Often when you do a television show, you have a limited budget but with a movie, you tend to go bigger, but this movie still feels fairly small and like something that could be on TV.
Hvam:
It is, it is. We produced this movie for two and a half million dollars maybe.
Christensen: But when we write, we just write the funniest and the best we can. We don’t really think about how much does it costs to shoot. The things we find funny most of the time are small things between human beings, emotions back and forth. That’s what we find funny. We don’t write the helicopter shot, and we don’t care about that. We just want motivating relationships back and forth that’s what we find funny.
Hvam: We don’t think something’s more funny because it costs $100 million dollars.
Christensen: No, no.
Hvam: It’s just the idea…
Christensen: After writing six seasons of that and six seasons of another television show, you kind of get into the habit of not spending too much money. It gets to be in your brain not to write the big scenes.
Hvam: We don’t even think in terms of expensive scenes. We can’t imagine one.
Christensen: Oh, we can, because one thing we talked about for a long time was that we wanted to take the characters from the television show and write a movie or an episode that took place during the Second World War. That would be interesting. Just take the characters and put them in the Second World War and see what happens to them in that time period, but that’s expensive I think.
Hvam: Another scene we talked a lot about is that Frank wanted to propose to his wife in a hot air balloon and then the balloon should fly away with her before he got in it, and then he’d chase the balloon throughout a whole day…
Christensen: But that seems impossible because you can’t decide where the balloon goes.
Hvam: And again it’s a money thing because it would cost a huge amount of money so you can wait for the wind to blow the right direction.
Christensen: It doesn’t sound that expensive when you talk about it.
Hvam: No, but it is (expensive) in our budget actually.
Christensen: I think we could do it in a movie though.
Hvam: Yeah.
Christensen: (realizing they’ve started planning another movie in the middle of the interview) Sorry. (laughs)

CS: The festival you guys attend is one of those things that attends production values, so is that a real festival?
Hvam:
Yeah, it is, it is.

CS: So you just went there and started filming stuff?
Hvam:
Yeah, we just filmed there and it’s nearly impossible to control festival people–they’re drunk and they know us from TV–so it was like a guerilla recording. We just ran in, taped and ran out again before they discovered us.
Christensen: We shot the thing where Frank is running around in his underwear, being stoned from smoking pot. That was just two small cameras following him around.
Hvam: There was a very touching moment where some of the festival people tried to save me from the cameras…
Christensen: They thought the cameras were paparazzi.
Hvam: So they attacked one of the camera guys screaming, “Leave him alone!! He’s just drunk, leave him alone!!”
Christensen: “He needs his privacy!”
Hvam: Something like that. That was sweet because you never hear about those people.
Christensen: The press tells the stories and the press don’t want to tell stories the people actually want to hear.
Hvam: There’s a lot of good people trying to stop the paparazzi of our world. We have a great belief in humanity.

CS: Alec Baldwin would appreciate that if there were people out there fighting paparazzi.
Christensen:
I think you could get a lot of people on board with that.
Hvam: If you want to help a famous man or woman, attack a photographer.
Christensen: No, don’t attack him! Just tell him not to.

CS: You eventually end up on stage with a band, so did they know you were going to do that?
Hvam:
That musician singing is a big star in Denmark, and he knew about it, and it was during his most famous and biggest hit ever and he said “Why don’t you do it right there?” So he was in on the joke. The audience didn’t know and…
Christensen: We were a little bit afraid of how they would react.
Hvam: You were afraid.
Christensen: I was afraid that someone was going to throw a bottle (at him) or something like that to interrupt their favorite…
Hvam: It was their favorite artist and favorite song.
Christensen: Yeah, and a guy in dirty underwear runs onstage… but nothing happened. All the fear was in my mind.

CS: Later on, did it get into the news about why Frank was on stage in the middle of that show?
Hvam:
Afterwards they found out. I don’t know how much they knew.
Christensen: It was a good press stunt.
Hvam: Yeah, it was a good press stunt because the press were also a little bit confused. Was it planned? Was it not planned? Was the musician in on it or not?
Christensen: They knew we were shooting a movie during that time period so everyone was curious what the movie was about and what was in it? When they saw this, they thought, “Oh, man! This movie, there must be some scenes that are really wild.”
Hvam: Yeah, and it’s always great to do something wild at a festival because there are all these journalists who have these free tickets and they have to write something…
Christensen: And there’s nothing to write about!
Hvam: Yeah, there’s nothing to write about.
Christensen: “What is going on?” Did we have a press screening right after? Like the day after?
Hvam: No, before actually…
Christensen: No, but we didn’t tell, and that’s how we did it.

CS: It’s interesting how the movie seems partially scripted, partially improvised. Do you guys generally write a full script for everything or do you have ideas of situations and run with it?
Christensen:
No, we write a very strict storyline and we know exactly what’s in every scene. It’s just the dialogue that’s improvised.

CS: How many people around you in places like the festival are in on the fact you’re making a movie? I saw a few well known Danes like Jurgen Leth in there, but are there a lot of people who aren’t in on the movie like bystanders dragged into it? Is there a lot of that?
Christensen:
No, no. There’s a few scenes like there’s one scene at the festival, that’s where we met other famous people of Denmark, just because of the VIP area, the camera’s pretty far away so they couldn’t see that we were shooting. This one guy – do you remember that song called “Bobby Girl”? The guy who wrote that, he didn’t know we were shooting and he was just so drunk.
Hvam: When he found out, he was just very embarrassed that he said about his musician colleagues.
Christensen: Other than that, everybody knows what’s going on. It’s not like “Borat” or “Bruno” where people don’t know. Everybody knows what’s going on.

CS: One of the things I noticed about your relationship is how Casper is always giving Frank bad advice, and I was curious about the idea of “man-flirting,” which leads to some funny gags. Was that something you found out about or did you make it up?
Christensen:
We were shooting the last episode of the television series in Norway on a skiing trip, we were shooting out there at some ski resort, and we went to an after-ski party and I was a bit drunk, had my girlfriend with me, and then I saw this snowboard guy, and he was kind of good looking. He started looking at me and I looked back at him and suddenly, there’s a flirt back and forth, and I thought “This is great because nothing is going to happen. My girlfriend is right next to me and she’s never going to be offended by it.” It was safe but you still get that little attention, so we talked about it and said, “This is good. You can flirt with a man and nothing happens. It’s a safe way to feel something.” And then of course we knew in the movie it should just go terribly wrong for Casper because you can’t play with emotions like that.

CS: You guys have already released the movie in Denmark and I assume it did pretty well. Are you guys talking about doing another movie or what do you do after this?
Hvam:
We’re probably going to make a sequel and if not a sequel than a completely new movie.
Christensen: We’re going to write a new movie together.
Hvam: We’ve got several ideas for a new movie so let’s see which one is best.
Christensen: We choose to work together once we got the idea, that’s how it works for us. We’ve been doing a stand-up comedy for half a year, a hundred shows, we just finished that, so the next project is going to be writing a new movie.
Hvam: Something for the U.S. market.
Christensen: No, just for the Danish market.
Hvam: Scandinavian market. Of course, this “Klown” movie in the U.S., they’re doing a remake. It’s funny to sit at home writing a new movie because we know we may be able to sell it to the US afterwards.

CS: It’s interesting that there’s already a remake of your movie in development before most people have had a chance to see your movie. You guys have been doing comedy for so long and it’s surprising that we’ve never had a chance to see your stuff over here.
Christensen:
There’s isn’t that much comedy that travels. I don’t know why. We see every American comedy movie that’s made comes to the European countries but doesn’t travel the other way around.
Hvam: I think it’s a matter of quality to be honest. I think we eventually made something of a higher quality and then it travels.

CS: But it’s interesting that so many Scandinavian television shows and movies have been quite successful when remade here in English. I see a lot of Danish films and there’s a lot of great filmmakers like Lars, Susanne Bier, so it’s surprising that so few movies are released here.
Christensen:
We haven’t been at a screening yet but we have our first screening tonight, but it seems like they like it. That’s why we’re here. It just works very well.

CS: A lot of American humor is physical so it travels even though people may not understand the language, and that seems to be the case with “Klown” as well.
Christensen:
But why wouldn’t it travel? If it’s done the right way, it should just be funny.
Hvam: I think it’s a visual kind of humor, where you can nearly guess what happens if you’re switching off the sound. You can see what’s happening still. That’s an important part of humor to travel.
Christensen: We had no idea how the movie would travel to other parts of the world. It seems like the Western World, we have sort of the same humor, but I don’t know if it would travel to Asia or Africa. We don’t know.

CS: Well I’m not sure how many European films get down to those areas anyway.
Christensen:
No, me neither.
Hvam: I know that our movie, we found that there was another version of it set in China? It’s so hard to figure out.

CS: I figure you guys just do whatever you think is funny…
Christensen:
That’s what we do. We just write the Danish market, we just write for ourselves really. If we think it’s funny we just say, “Let’s do it.” But the other way around, we’ve seen some very funny Asian movies.
Hvam: As long as it involves relationships, stuff like that, it’s the same problems all over.

CS: Have you guys been approached to do any writing for the American market and does that interest you at all?
Christensen:
No, no. We just like to write and try to do our own thing, and that’s the most important thing. It’s wonderful someone over here would like to buy it, but we’re just concentrating on the work and then see what happens.

CS: Are you involved in that remake at all?
Christensen:
They just do it. We’ve talked a few times to Danny McBride, he’s writing it, just talked about ideas back and forth, but it’s pretty much out of our hands right now.
Hvam: Yeah, they’re really very funny guys and they can probably do something marvelous with it.

CS: I’m assuming Danny would play your character, Casper?
Chrsitensen:
We don’t know yet. I think they’re deciding on it right now. They’re going back and forth. I think it depends on who is playing the other part I think. That’s your first part (that he might want to play me) but he may want to do the other thing. You never know.

Klown opens in select cities and on VOD on Friday, July 27.