A Chat With the Makers of Danish Sex Comedy Klown (Or: Frank and Casper Are Not Pedophiles)
Danish comedy duo Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam would like you to know they are not pedophiles. Not that accusations of creative indecency would stop them from toying with the line of good taste, as they do to hilarious effect in the R-rated Danish sex comedy Klown. The Curb Your Enthusiasm-style road trip comedy which they wrote and co-star in, happens to be the funniest, most outrageous film of the year, and it has already been acquired for American remake by Todd Phillips and Danny McBride.
Klown debuted in New York, Los Angeles, and Austin over the weekend, stirring up a decent opening as it looks to expand to 13 additional markets in the coming weeks. Back home in Denmark, it’s already made $12.3 million; nearly 20 percent of the population reportedly watched it upon release in 2010. That’s a fantastic start for a buddy comedy chock full of explicit sexual gags, nudity, child endangerment and wanton irresponsibility galore — a NSFW comedy of discomfort.
After floating down the the Guadalupe River outside of Austin, Texas last month for The Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow screening series, Christensen and Hvam spoke with Movieline about the planned American remake, their scripting process, and their tricks for how — and when — to push the envelope.
The duo also discuss cinematic enfant terrible Lars Von Trier — his Zentropa outfit co-produced Klown — and compare his Nazi-referencing Cannes controversy to “a stand-up comedian at an open mic”
You two had a successful run with Klown the TV show, but at what point did you crack the right way to make it into a film?
Casper Christensen: We did six seasons, and Frank and I wrote all the episodes. It’s a lot of work. It’s a joyride, it’s a lot of fun, but sometimes in life you’ve got to just come up for fresh air. So after six seasons we just took a break from each other. Frank went on a stand-up comedy tour. I did television, and it felt good just to let go of the Klown universe for a while. But we always had ambitions to write a movie. We got together and said, ‘Let’s write this movie.’ I wanted to get back into Klown because the character was so much fun to act, and we knew the characters so well.
Frank Hvam: It was a good idea. I have no regrets about that movie.
CC: But we started out bouncing around ideas for a completely different movie before we did this one.
How different was that concept?
FH: It’s always based on some buddy stuff, because that’s our relationship. We are friends in real life. We have this comic dynamic that we know, and we use that.
CC: We talked about setting it during the second World War.
FH: Because we would probably fail totally in a war situation.
CC: We talked a lot about war.
FH: On which side would we be? [Laughs]
CC: How would we be if we were soldiers? Would we still be friends? Who would really be the hero between the two of us?
FH: Every time we see a war movie in Denmark it’s about Danish heroes, and we would like to tell a story about Danish assholes.
CC: During the second World War.
Maybe you can use that in a Klown follow-up. Do you already have an idea in mind for your next movie?
CC: Oh, we have a plan! We’re going to start writing in January. It might be a Klown movie, but it might be something completely different.
One of things Klown the film does well is give freshness to a concept that isn’t necessarily unique – the road trip set-up, for example. If you were to give comedy writing tips based on your experience writing Klown, where would you start?
CC: You’ve got to have a good story, a story that means something to yourself. Fatherhood is interesting for Frank and I. We’re both fathers [and have] spent a lot of time talking about it. We live a different life than most people in Denmark, so of course we talk about things like, what kind of father figure are we? That was most important for us: We had a good story, and we had something we wanted to talk about.
CC: Once a story is in place, you’ve got to do good comedy on top of it. You’ve just got to refresh your thoughts — I’ve never seen this, this might be fun — and just believe in it. We weren’t trying to please anybody when we made the movie. We’re not going to go, ‘People might like canoeing.’ Frank and I liked the concept of canoeing, that’s why we did it.
FH: Write for yourself. That’s a very important thing.
Nudity, especially involving male genitalia, is used often for shock value. How strategic do you have to be in using it at just the right moment, and for maximum effect?
CC: When we wrote it we wanted to make sure one of the biggest laughs was going to be at the end of the movie, because it seemed downhill from there.
FH: We also had to make sure it didn’t ruin the story. If we have something explosive and we can’t get on the horse again – our story horse – then it wasn’t worth it.
CC: That’s why we don’t show the picture right after we take the picture. We put it late in the movie but early enough that you kind of have forgotten we took the picture. That’s when people go, ‘Oh!’ when Frank goes, “I’ve got Casper’s phone right here.” They’re suddenly reminded.
FH: We were discussing having Bo in the bed having a pearl necklace instead of Frank’s mother in law. That would have been fun, but it would have destroyed the story because it would have been impossible for Frank and Bo to get on that canoe trip after that.
CC: And what would top it? What would top ejaculating on a child’s face? It’s impossible.
FH: Then it’s a skit.
CC: No, then it’s illegal!
Do you think American audiences will be more shocked than Danish audiences by how far Klown goes in the pursuit of humor?
FH: It was a shocking movie at home, too.
CC: Let’s not kid ourselves – it’s way too much, even in Denmark.
Denmark doesn’t just have the coolest audience in the world, then?
CC: Oh, no – that’s why you laugh, because it’s too much.
FH: It’s ok that people are a little bit shocked. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie!
CC: Some scenes get more laughs over here, though; the homosexual themes are much more taboo.
FH: The home robbery scene is also a little more [taboo] because running away from a child during a robbery here in the U.S. is a death scene — in Denmark it’s bad, but it’s not that bad because the robbers are probably not armed.
Thieves are nicer back home?
CC: They’re still thieves! Don’t kid yourself. It’s dangerous, but not that many people have guns so it’s not that dangerous. There’s also a point when Frank is teaching Bo to swim and there’s a beautiful shot of the two characters, the lake is in front of them and the sun is going down, they’re both drying themselves off, and Frank goes, “Let me see that penis... it’s not that small.” It’s funny but it’s a beautiful scene, it’s a loving scene – it’s got feelings in it! In Denmark people laughed, they giggled, but over here it’s like [guffaws] they LAUGH. A grown man looking at a boy’s penis! But in Denmark it’s a beautiful thing.
Why bring Klown to Zentropa? Was Lars Von Trier's involvement part of the appeal?
FH: He wasn’t that much involved, but we came to Zentropa because of Lars von Trier. We wanted to get some of the best film workers on our project, and we wanted to get close to Lars because he’s a super cool guy. He involved himself in a little bit of the editing at the start. He wrote an episode. He acted in an episode, and he is good at forcing us to push the envelope. He really wants things to go wild, and if you’re close to Lars you just want to impress him.
He's cultivated quite the reputation for himself, and not just through films.
CC: Once you get to know him he’s a good guy! He’s got a good sense of humor. He’s a little bit crazy – but in a good way. I’ve been to his house having dinner with his children and my children and it’s all normal. But then suddenly Lars picks up a rifle at the dinner party, stuff like that. Sometimes taking his shirt off during dinner. He wants to see what happens now – what if I did this? And that’s interesting to be around.
Do you think his detractors took his Cannes comments a little too seriously?
FH: We were surprised. We couldn’t see that he’d made any mistake at that press conference. He was just a comedian in an open mic situation –
CC: And somebody misunderstood his joke.
Lars von Trier as stand-up comedian – sounds about right.
CC: That’s what he is! He’s trying out material.
FH: We have tried that too. People sometimes are not offended in their heart, but they can use a matter to promote their own cause, and then they start a war just to show who they are.
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