For “Spanglish,” director James L. Brooks’ seriocomic culture-clash film about the impact of a Mexican housekeeper and her 12-year-old daughter on a well-to-do family in Malibu, composer Hans Zimmer took an ambitious route. He imported an Austrian string trio, coupled them with a virtuoso Brazilian guitarist and then tried hard not to write “comedy music.”
“I was trying to write decent tunes for Jim, and to make the music more like miniature orchestral pieces,” says Zimmer, on a break from a late-November dubbing session at Sony’s Cary Grant Theatre. “Soloists actually learned this music and played it from memory. It makes a difference. You get a proper performance.”
At the core of the score are the Vienna-based Triology, which consists of a Russian violinist, an English violinist and a German cellist; and guitarist Heitor Pereira, a frequent soloist on Zimmer scores including “Gladiator” and “Mission: Impossible 2.”
Zimmer, who scored Brooks’ last two movies (receiving an Oscar nomination for “As Good as it Gets”), says that he and the writer-producer-director have been “talking about this script two or three times a month for six years.”
He admits that there were early concerns about acoustic guitar and Latin-sounding music seeming trite.
“I’m using Heitor storywise very strategically,” he says. “I’m trying to get our Latina (Paz Vega) to lose her identity, her Latin roots — so it stops in the middle and doesn’t come back until the end.” And, because she doesn’t speak English for the first 45 minutes of the film, the music becomes “her voice,” Zimmer says.
Pereira says that he used several different guitars to vary the colors of the score, including Spanish classical guitar, vihuela, requinto and a seven-string Brazilian acoustic.
“It’s really a modest score, very small,” Zimmer says, adding that a chamber group needs careful handling. “Three people playing incredibly well will overwhelm the picture in no time. When you have 60 musicians play as loud as they want, you can just pull it back and there’s no harm done.”