'Klown' Stars Casper Christensen, Frank Hvam Explain How a Rivalry Became a Remarkable Partnership
Although Christensen says he teamed up with Hvam to work "with the most talented guy around," he still insists that his former tormentor "should be paying 10% of [his] wages to me."
Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam are huge television stars in their native Denmark, but they’re set to test their international appeal this week with the release of Klown. A comedy that evokes the “funcomfortable” style of Curb Your Enthusiasm or Eastbound and Down, Hvam stars as a would-be father who kidnaps a teenage boy in order to prove to a doubtful girlfriend that he’s “father material.” The film builds off of well-known characters from the Danish series Klown – both of whom not coincidentally share their names – but their comedic sensibility has already found an audience in the U.S., where Danny McBride is planning to mount a Hollywood remake of the film.
Christensen and Hvam spoke to The Hollywood Reporter on the eve of Klown’s domestic release. In addition to detailing how an early rivalry evolved into a hugely-successful partnership, the duo discuss their approach to creating – and then testing – the audience’s tolerance for awkward scenarios, and compare their longtime stardom at home to their experiences interacting with new fans abroad.
The Hollywood Reporter: We understand that originally, Frank started his career doing a comedy bit about how bad Casper was as a comedian. How did that become this great partnership?
Frank Hvam: Casper started off as a stand-up in Denmark 22 years ago.
Casper Christensen: I was 19 years old, I’m 43 now, and there was no stand-up comedy in Denmark. I was an exchange student in Las Vegas for a year, and when I got back to Denmark I thought, oh man, we’ve got to have that stand-up scene going -- so that’s how I started.
Hvam: After making stand-up you started doing television and stuff like that, and you became quite famous at a young age. I started 10 years later or something like that. And of course, when you’re a young comedian you’re looking at the guys at the top, and it’s always fun to tease the guys on the top.
Christensen: You make it sound so natural, even when you say it today it sounds weird. But you know what? There was no stand-up. It was hard work, there was no money. You come out to the countryside to do stand up comedy, and nobody knew what it was. It was hard work. I spent seven years on the road trying to get stand up to work and finally when there’s some money in it and it starts to work, these guys come along and say, “I want to do standup and go on stage,” and they made fun of me – “he’s just an idiot” -- and you guys made a living of it. And then I just said, why don’t you thank me. I mean, you should be paying 10% of your wages to me -- and that’s what I told the agency. We have the same agency and I said to them, “Get this guy out.” They said, “We have a policy and we don’t kick people out.” And then I did a very big stand up show at that point, and Frank got a free ticket, and you didn’t even come down backstage to say thank you afterwards. That’s the kind of man he was.
Hvam: It was impossible. You couldn’t get in there, there was a huge [group] of teenage girls in that area – you couldn’t get in there.
Christensen: But then I started the sketch show, and I wanted the best comedians in the country. And sometimes if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, and he was without a doubt the most talented guy around, so I gave him a call and said, “Hey man, lets bury the weapons. Do you want to work with me?” And Frank was like a small puppy – “Yeah, thank you.”
Hvam: And then I bit his balls (laughs).
Christensen: And then we started and from Day One we just had a good time, and we just clicked. And the way we work -- I mean, we’re so different, but it works.
THR: Talk about working out the mechanics of your comedy, because there’s so much improvisation in your work. When you have a scene where a guy’s sleeping next to a couple that’s having sex, does that work itself out intuitively, or do you find something through writing and editing after doing the scene 10 times?
Christensen: What happens is that when we write the script, we write a lot together, and in the process of that we improvise instead of writing. So we kind of act out the scene in the writing process so we have a feeling and an idea of how we want the scene to look. So when we get on the set, everybody is prepped, everybody knows what’s going to happen, we shoot the whole scene 10 times maybe.
Hvam: No rehearsal.
Christensen: No rehearsal, no pick-ups, just the whole scene, and it’s hard because scenes sometime last 10 or 15 minutes, so there’s a lot of wasted material but that’s the way it works best for us. We know somehow where the other one is, and how the other one is going to do it.
Hvam: In the story line, there’s probably going to be text like, “Frank is going to bed and Casper and Anya are in the bed. Frank falls asleep, then he wakes up because they’re making love.”
Christensen: “And Casper wants Frank to join in and Frank doesn’t want to join in, so Casper will say, ‘Put a finger in her ass.' ”
Hvam: “ ‘She’ll like it’ and Frank will feel forced to do it.”
Christensen: “And Casper will force Frank to do it.” And so we’re in the bed, and I had to convince Frank to do it, and Frank would then struggle and try to say “No” while doing the take -- and that’s why the take is so long. I have come up with a million suggestions in the shoot of why Frank should put that finger in her ass, and so then in the end when we end it, we find the funniest one.
THR: Where do you feel is the boundary between making the audience laugh because they’re uncomfortable, and where they will revolt against what they’re watching?
Hvam: If it’s motivated, you can go very far. And if you start with the story, that’s the most important for us to tell. And we don’t edit out the story; we edit out gross scenes, gross jokes, and stuff like that.
Christensen: We don’t do that much that’s gross -- it’s more like shocking. I’ve heard a lot of people say of the TV show that they can’t watch it. They watch 15 minutes and they go, “This is too much. I want to watch it, but I’ve got to take a break because this is so awkward now, the atmosphere is so weird.” So people stand in front of the TV, and it’s almost like a horror movie [where] the more you get scared the more you want to come back for it. But we don’t like toilet humor that much and as long as it’s not making fun of people who are sick or handicapped, but making fun of Frank and I, you can go pretty far. That’s the way we work.
Hvam: So we’re going for better not bigger.
THR: How does it feel to come to the U.S.? Is the experience here a different kind of fame? Are people more honest with you, or interact differently?
Christensen: It’s fun to travel. You kind of lose that fame cloud over you, and it feels so good. People talk to you in a different way and it feels nice. I’ve been famous since I was 20. And it’s fun to be famous but it does get tiring at some point. If we had to sit in a van with journalists for 2 hours in Denmark, we wouldn’t have said a word, because they are just waiting to find something and interpret it the wrong way, so it’s kind of relaxed for us today.
Hvam: Yes, it’s very relaxed, it’s very fun. It was like starting over again. First of all, America is the greatest comedy nation in the world, so it’s great to just be here. The next thing is that we’re only just about the movie over here. In Denmark when people see the movie there’s a whole backlog in their mind too of all the other things we have done, and it’s difficult to separate things in Denmark.
Christensen: Here we’re just filmmakers. That’s super cool.
Hvam: Yeah, it’s nice.
Christensen: And you know what, we have already tried stardom. And once you have tried it, you don’t strive for it anymore. We think it’s funny that our name is on the marquee outside, but that’s not the game. The game is that people watch the movie and they understand it, they laugh at the right places and they come out after and say, “Oh, we liked your movie.”
Hvam: And there’s a matter of priority -- we don’t have time to think about being famous. We only have 20 good years left and that might be seven or eight big projects left. So we have to focus on the work from now on, to get things out of life while we still have it.
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