Eye on the Oscars 2011: Music Preview

Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous; British composer Ilan Eshkeri’s two most recent scores straddle two very different worlds: the savage Shakespearean world of “Coriolanus,” starring (and directed by) super-serious thespian Ralph Fiennes; and the zany, spy-spoof world of “Johnny English Reborn,” starring Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean.

“I’ve always liked mixing it up,” says Eshkeri, whose varied credits — “The Young Victoria,” “Layer Cake” and “Kick-Ass” — reveal his eclectic tastes, “and the different challenges involved.”

Eshkeri certainly faced several on “Coriolanus.” “First, Ralph had never been through the scoring process, and I think all the editing and post was quite daunting and mysterious to him,” he says. “And I’d play him ideas, but then it became obvious that he didn’t really want any music at all — or just the bare minimum.”

Eventually the composer and first-time director compromised on a minimal, often pulsing score that is largely driven by percussion and brass. “Because he’s a soldier, I first suggested a lone trumpet — no tune, no melody, just a single note — for some cues, and that was insane enough for him that he agreed to it,” Eshkeri says. “And then we used taiko drums, timpani, and banged random bits of metal and coiled springs.”

Although the final score is “100% a classical score, in that it’s all written out, it has a punk-rock edge and energy that Ralph really liked in the end,” he adds. “It’s incredibly stark, but it worked.”

Eshkeri went straight from that experience to scoring “Johnny English Reborn” for Atkinson and director Oliver Parker. “It couldn’t have been more different as they wanted tons of music, a traditional orchestral approach and lots of hummable tunes,” he says. “It was all about melodies, and in a big movie like this, you don’t get that very much these days, so I was thrilled to have the chance.”

Ironically, Eshkeri’s lush, tuneful submissions, which he overlaid with a rock ‘n’ roll combo, would often be criticized “as not being melodic enough,” he reveals. “I wrote several main themes, and it was difficult to really nail it, as you’re working in the Bond idiom, and you don’t want to be too derivative, but you can’t deny it either.”

But for all the differences, Eshkeri found working with Fiennes and Atkinson “very similar. … They’re both perfectionists, and both drove me completely insane, although it’s a good insanity as it forces you to excel.”

Eye on the Oscars 2011: Music Preview:

Silence is golden for ‘Artist’s’ maestro | Jonsi’s music animates Crowe’s ‘Zoo’ | From the Bard to Bean without missing a beat | Shoring up ‘Hugo’s’ ode to Melies | Spielberg and Williams duet for 25th time | Desplat’s impossible pace propelled into higher gear | Pix pulsate with driving electronica

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