Co.Create

Why Hollywood Is Crazy About "Klown"

An impossibly un-PC Danish TV series turned film has now spawned a U.S. remake from Danny McBride and Todd Phillips. Here, the Danish director behind the original talks about the TV-to-film transition and bad behavior in the service of good storytelling.

How often do you catch a trailer for a film, get interested, then learn it’s an adaptation of something you’ll never get to check out in time for the new version’s arrival? With Klown, the opportunity to become both versed with the original and enthusiastic about the redux is right in front of you.

The Danish comedy, hitting American theaters, iTunes and VOD on July 27, nabbed some marquee fans this spring in Hollywood humorists Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down) and The Hangover director Todd Phillips. The pair will produce a remake for Warner Brothers, with McBride also starring and writing the screenplay.

"If you make an adaptation, you’ve really got to bring some of yourself in it," Mikkel Nørgaard, the Danish director of Klown, tells Co.Create. "I hope these guys will take the stuff they like, twist it around, and have a fresh go at it. I think Danny McBride and Todd Phillips are amazing people, from what I’ve seen that they’ve done. I just hope they’ll go in with all their energy, and then I think it will hopefully turn out great." Given the source material, it’s easy to see why McBride and Phillips wanted to take a crack at it.

Nørgaard’s original film was itself a spin-off of and marked a grand finale for a TV series (known as Klovn) that echoed Curb Your Enthusiasm’s conceit—an improv-heavy, single-camera comedy of social awkwardness revolving around not one but two well-known comedians. But much, much filthier.

Both Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen are portrayed as man-children of the worst kind, and the film saddles them with a preteen boy as a companion on a raunchy canoe trip (which the characters call the "tour de p*ssy," if you must know). Casper, a wannabe-Lothario, scarcely tweaks his plans to get himself and Frank (both committed men, mind you) as explosively laid as possible. But Frank, a potential yet unlikely candidate for new-parentdom alongside his pregnant-and-ready-to-abort girlfriend, gradually finds himself growing up.

In a world where Arrested Development is at long last becoming a movie and Party Down is often rumored to be, Klown holds a unique honor, having already executed the exact #sixseasonsandamovie feat NBC’s Community began gunning for last season. Nørgaard, an open, affable conversationalist, says he was terrified of the comedy-to-screen conversion. "Normally when you take a show and put it to the cinema, you fuck it up."

Nørgaard, who directed 55 episodes of the show’s 60-episode run (he edited the five he couldn’t direct), did not, in fact, screw up the film. It’s equally full of cringes and laughs, and rings like an increasingly emotionally resonant film rather than four episodes of a joke-heavy show tacked onto one another. There’s a discernible focus on character development and a thematic study of responsibility and fatherhood.

The flip side of those themes, of course, the unavoidable fact that Klown is about the misadventures of a couple of assholes—more than likely a facet that drew Danny McBride, whose HBO alter ego is the constantly off-color Kenny Powers, to the property. Nørgaard wondered during Klown’s TV run just how horrible he could make his leads—Casper in particular—and retain the show’s fandom. "At one point I was thinking, 'What’s your limit, guys? What should I do to get you to hate these guys?'" Nørgaard says. "I was surprised how far we were able to go. But it comes back to the heart thing, I really think that’s the key. The character is doing the bad thing out of a wish to do good — inside all the crap, he’s a good guy. We also like Caspar, and he’s just an asshole."

The "crap," in the film alone, includes but is not limited to: Running from home during a burglary, leaving a 12-year-old Bo to fend for himself; smoking a massive joint while responsible for the same child; indulging in numerous conversations with the boy about the lackluster size of his "willie." American audiences will do well to steel themselves for McBride’s spin on the material, although from what Nørgaard has witnessed of the U.S.'s experience with the original, all is well: In Austin, TX for a screening last autumn, Nørgaard worried, "How are they gonna take this in? Will they understand it, that there’s a heart in it, or will they just find it vulgar?" And in the end? "They had a very amazing, positive approach to it."

Nørgaard calls Denmark’s television censorship "pretty liberal," which allowed the film’s boundary-pushing to be more story-oriented than centered around carte blanche shock value. "There’s gotta be a reason for these guys to do something stupid, and the more time you have, the more stupid they can be," he says.

A scene from Klown

Does Nørgaard have any tactics he’d personally use in converting his series’ brand of uncomfortable entertainment for another nation’s sensibilities? "Awkwardness is really interesting, and I think that each country has its own issues there," he says. "You’ve really got to figure out which buttons to push to make it work specifically in each country. You’ve really got to know the society that you want to portray if you want to do a film like this."

Though Hvam and Christensen, who also wrote for the film and series, have been facilitators for the Warner remake and may continue on in a production capacity, Nørgaard is aiming to have little influence. "They bought it, now it’s theirs to do with it what they find the best," he says. "If any of these guys wanted to talk about how we did it and what I thought were the important things in the film, I’d be glad to share. But I don’t want to get hands-on or get really involved. I’m afraid it’ll mess it up. I’ll just sit back and see what happens."

Nørgaard is clearly not of the opinion that remakes are inherently loopy in the first place; he’s probably not the guy you’d hear lauding Sweden’s Let the Right One In and going on to decry Chloë Moretz’s version as a hackish money-grab. "In the U.S., when you have a foreign film, it’ll always be an arthouse film," he says. "So I think there is good reason for remaking some of these films in America, because they’ll get a lot more attention. If I should do a remake at some point, I would prefer to do it in America; to remake something European in the U.S. could be interesting."

Talk of the adaptation has, Nørgaard half guesses, half hopes, boosted awareness of Drafthouse Films’ U.S. release of Klown. "Coming out in the States is like the biggest you can hope for a film going abroad," Nørgaard says. "Denmark is a very small country, and we just hoped the film would go well in our country. And now it’s moving out in the world."

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