‘Klown’ Stars Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam Talk Canoes, Underberg, and Child Nudity

By  · Published on July 5th, 2012

When you watch enough movies, you come to associate canoe trips with many reprehensible things. Among these unfortunate associations are banjo music, forced sodomy, and leaving the house. Still, undaunted by the twanging intro of “Dueling Banjos” that may or may not have only existed in our heads, a group of intrepid movie fans loaded up and headed to Spring Branch, Texas for the Alamo Drafthouse’s Klown canoe trip and outdoor screening.

While in the film, Casper (Casper Christensen) and Frank (Frank Hvam) are on a Tour de Pussy, we were more or less on a Tour de Someone’s-Assuredly-Not-Making-It-Back. As liquored up as Drafthouse impresario Tim League would allow, which is to say to our eyeballs, we set out on the Guadalupe River and took in the beauty and wonder of nature…as we tried, some of us futilely, to keep from capsizing where it was deep enough, and grinding to an embarrassing halt where the drought had made a puddle of the mighty river. Arriving back at camp at various degrees of dampness, we sat down for a glorious screening of the Danish comedy under the gorgeous Texas sky. I laughed heartily into the mouth of my ever-dwindling flask; delighted to be seeing the film again.

The next day, in the throws of a beautiful hangover, I stumbled into a back room at The Highball in Austin ‐ with no recollection of how I got back to the city ‐ to find the stars of the film restrained in a strange Tiki gulag from whence their release apparently depended on their cooperation with a series of grueling questions. Here now, is my interview with Casper and Frank. Hopefully they were able to escape.

How are you guys?

Casper: It’s been a weird day. We’re trapped in this room. What’s that all about? You bring us all the way over here and then lock us in a tiki room?

And it’s funny, if you walk out the door, you fade away like Field of Dreams.

Casper: Exactly!

Well I’m glad to see you two survived your second most infamous canoe trip yesterday.

Casper: It was hard yesterday, it was hard work.

Thank you! It was my first time, and I always assumed the river was supposed to do all the work.

Casper: Maybe if they had water in the river, it would help. But you just kept hearing the boat scrapping on the bottom.

Frank: I totally tipped over. I was wet up to my knee because there was no water.

Droughts are bad for canoes, lesson learned. Speaking of learning lessons, I heard you guys haven’t done much canoeing since the film. Is that true?

Casper: I haven’t done any.

Frank: No.

Casper: Because I almost drowned when we shot the movie, that was a terrible day. When we capsized the canoe, we had stuntmen in the water trying to help us if something went wrong. There was a lot of water back there. I had a safe word, I was supposed to yell out “Dennis.” That was the name of the stunt man. We got in that water, it was cold as hell, the clothes were dragging us down, and Bo panicked. So he crawled on top me, and I just sank down. So my mouth was underwater and I yelled (burbles), and he didn’t hear it. That was terrible. (To Frank) You did good, you just swam ashore and saved yourself.

Got out of harm’s way like in the movie when the house was being robbed and you just left Bo.

Casper: That’s what he did!

Frank: That’s me. That’s me simply.

Casper: It’s even in the storyline: “Frank saves the kid…and cut”

Frank: Actually, Americans reacted very heavy to that moment where Frank is running away from the house. The Danish audience didn’t react that much, probably because in Denmark —

Casper: It’s not as dangerous.

Frank: It’s not as dangerous. Of course things can happen but —

Casper: It’s not as bad as being robbed.

Frank: The robbers are rarely armed for example, so it’s not THAT bad. It is a bad thing, but —

Casper: “You always protect your child.”

Frank: Who says that?

Casper: Yeah, what are you talking about “always?”

Yes, always in quotation marks. Doing a movie like this, how do you pack in so much lewd, raunchy humor and still make the characters human and relatable?

Casper: We start out trying to find a good story. A story that we find important. For instance, that every man has the right to become the father he’s capable of being. That’s something we talked about for a long time; Frank has two small kids, I have two bigger ones. We have the right to be the fathers we’re capable of, and as long as you love the child, you can live differently.

Frank: Don’t tell people how to raise their children, as long as they love them.

Casper: So that was an important thing. We had that in mind the whole time and that motivates why the characters go and do the crazy comedy things they do. So that’s why we write the storyline so many times first. We wrote this one twenty to twenty-five times before we were satisfied.

Frank: It’s about motivation. If the audience believes that you’re doing things for a reason, and they can follow that reason, then they are ready for a journey.

So really it’s born of your own personal views of fatherhood?

Frank: Yeah

Casper: At the same time we know that these guys are idiots in their own way. They’re clowns, that’s why the movie is called Klown. In two different ways they’re clowns, but in the end they try to be good. When he’s pointing the gun to try and get that Underberg car, it’s a sign that he wants to do good.

I’m glad you brought that up, what exactly is Underberg?

Casper: Underberg is like a small liquor, a bitter that was popular in the 70s. I remember going camping with my parents and it was a big thing for them to have the Underberg. They were having that in the morning; you get out of the tent, it’s cold, you have a bitter. I remember you had to collect these caps. It seems to have been forgotten now, but of course when you write and you start thinking of canoeing and camping like in your childhood, it comes back. Then I picked up a box of Underberg and sure enough you could get a car if you gathered 288 caps. Then I had an idea for a robbery where instead of robbing money, people robbed caps from the factory. So that’s how we started working that in. It’s kind of got a retro feel to it.

Seemed like some sort of single-shot alcohol but —

Casper: Doesn’t taste good at all.

Frank: Oh, I like it actually.

Really? Well you did drink a lot of it in the movie so I guess that’s good.

Frank: If you can’t avoid it, start loving it.

I know the show has been a hit for a long time in Denmark, but unfortunately there isn’t much access to it in the states. Can you talk a little about what you were able to get away with on the show, and how much you might have had to amp things up for the movie?

Casper: You can get away with anything; we’ve never been censored.

Frank: Again, it’s all motivation. Sometimes it’s hard to find your way into that story, sometimes it only takes a second. It’s just a matter of finding that way and doing the work.

Casper: For us, the way we like to write comedy is that we like to take topics that are taboo or too much. Then we try and figure out how to get people to laugh about it, and at the same time not feel guilty for laughing about it. We even had in the show Frank ice-skating and running over the fingers of a person with Down syndrome. He was played by a guy with Down syndrome. He lost his thumb and now the parents want money because the kid is not able to work. And Frank goes, “what work?” It sounds terrible, but at the same time, we’re not laughing at the guy with Down syndrome. We’re laughing about Frank’s question and the greedy parents who want money. It sort of pushes out the focus.

Frank: We’re laughing about people’s reactions, and that’s a good way to approach these taboos.

And what’s been the biggest difference in terms of censorship in the U.S. versus in Denmark?

Frank: We were only censored in one scene here in the U.S.

Casper: To get an R rating. We kind of feel that the sex thing is more censored here, whereas violence is a bit more censored in Denmark. We don’t have a problem with nudity on television. I mean a real sex scene with penetration is of course off limits.

Frank: It’s not funny either.

Casper: It’s damn good though.

Frank: It is damn good.

Casper: The movie is going to be shown on television back in Denmark.

With nothing cut out?

Caper: Nothing

Wow. When they show R-rated movies on network TV here, all the violence, nudity and cursing is edited out.

Casper: Cursing is not a problem either.

Frank: We curse a lot in that movie.

Casper: We curse in English, and it creates a distance to the word. Saying fuck is not as bad in Denmark. It’s an English word and it creates that distance. Everybody swears like that over there, because we only hear it as a swear word we don’t use it as a sexual word.

Frank: And we don’t have the beep sounds. Sometimes I think the beep sounds worse than the actual swear word.

Casper: It gets you thinking.

Frank: And people’s imaginations are always worse than real life.

Absolutely, that’s the reason that in horror movies sometimes you’ll have a kill off screen. You don’t know what’s actually happening, because you can imagine far worse.

Casper: Yeah!

So I was wondering, have you guys seen any of the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “on the road” movies? Road to Morocco or Road to Singapore?

Casper: No

Frank: No

The reason I ask is because there are certain aspects of Klown that remind me of a raunchy version of Road to Morocco.

Casper: We need to watch this, what is it called? It stars Bob Hope?

It’s Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. They made a series of them. There’s Road to Morocco, Road to Singapore, Road to Bali —

Casper: We gotta do remakes of that!

I would love to see you guys remake those!

Casper: And we wouldn’t even have to write it!

Frank: How many are there?

I think there were five or six.

Frank: And they were all successful?

At the time they were made, those guys were huge stars so it was an easy transition. I would love to see you guys take that on.

Casper: We gotta take that on, I’m gonna watch those. We really like the movie Sideways. That’s a good movie. It’s got a good story with some fun stuff and some sex stuff. That’s why when Casper’s nose is broken and he has that bandage, that’s a nod to Sideways.

Frank: A little thank you to Sideways.

Very cool. So there was some talk last night of possibly bringing the TV series to the states via Drafthouse Films. The American audiences that have seen Klown, have just gone apeshit for it. Do you think the show is also something that would catch on?

Casper: It’s hard, it’s a big country. You gotta have a lot of people loving it before it’s a breakthrough.

Frank: And you have so many good comedians, so many good shows over here already.

Casper: The good thing that it’s already done. We’ve already done the television series so we can just kind of relax and see what happens. It would be fun though if it took off.

Frank: It would, but you’ll have to ask Tim [League] if that’s going to work out.

Casper: But don’t you think, Frank, that if people like the movie they’re going to like the series?

Frank: Yeah, that’s for sure. We think, personally, that some of the best episodes in the series beat the movie.

And what does it mean to you guys that your distribution is being handled by Drafthouse Films after the movie was such a big hit at Fantastic Fest?

Frank: It has been a big eye-opener for us. We didn’t know that there would be a professional, clever company located here in Austin, Texas. We had never heard about the Drafthouse before, and it’s much more professional than what we’ve been seeing at home.

Casper: I just like that they seem just as ambitious as we are and they find it just as important as we do. That doesn’t happen very often. I’m really amazed at the work they’re doing and the love they put into it. It’s been really great for us, I cannot express how much we owe to the Drafthouse. It’s hard work. It’s uphill. It’s a Danish comedy with subtitles, and nudity, and almost gay porn. It’s uphill and they’re working it twenty-four hours.

And don’t forget little boy penises.

Casper: And little boy penises.

They actually don’t have a rating category for that in the states yet.

Casper: I think the fact that there’s nothing sexual in that scene makes all the difference.

It’s very innocent despite what’s going on.

Frank: We think so, yeah.

Casper: It is innocent. Nothing happens, it’s just not the right thing to do in that situation. And when Frank is showing those pictures to the girls and Bo is awake, it hurts, man.

Frank: It’s more about desperate adults who want to save their own lives.

It walks a fine line between inappropriate and immoral.

Frank: Yeah

You guys talked a bit about coming from standup comedy backgrounds. How do you approach the transition to film?

Casper: I think it depends on why you get into standup. I got into standup, because I am really interested in having people judge my work. I love writing, and the easiest way to find out if what you wrote works is just getting up on stage.

You get instant feedback.

Casper: Yes. After I’ve done a certain text a few times, I’m kind of done with it. I don’t have to be on stage much more. Many standup comedians like being on stage, and that’s why they do it. We kind of differ in that way. (To Frank) You love performing.

Frank: I love performing, but I also love that there’s a core to my material. It comes from my heart. If you have a story to tell, you can tell that story on a standup stage or you can tell it in a movie or you can write a song about it. You have this story, this feeling, this thing you want to tell the world. You can do that on all media platforms.

Well put, sir. In closing, let me ask you, would you guys be interested in doing another Klown movie, or do you consider it done now?

Casper: We might. We shot this movie two years ago, but we’ve been doing groundwork for a while. We’ve been able to sell it to Warner Brothers and Danny McBride for a remake and now coming over here. We’re still in the aftermath of Klown, but we want to get back into the creative process. So we’ve decided that starting January 1st, we’re going to start writing a new movie. It might be Klown, it might be something completely different. We haven’t figured that out yet.

Well we’ll be looking forward to it no matter what it is.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.