×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Composer Alexandre Desplat on a roll

French scorer says he cannot refuse movie offers

And the Oscar for Most Prolific Composer of 2009 goes to: Alexandre Desplat.

The Paris-born composer (“The Queen,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) has written music for nine films over the past 12 months, six of which are potentially eligible in this year’s round of awards-giving and two of which are presumably major contenders for next year’s honors.

Titles in play include “Julie and Julia,” “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” “Coco Before Chanel,” “Cheri” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” His latest film with director Jacques Audiard, “A Prophet,” is France’s entry for foreign-language Oscar honors; “L’Armee du Crime” has not been released here and two others are still in post-production.

Why so many?

“In the last two or three years, I’ve been called by more directors,” he explains over lunch on a recent visit to L.A., “directors I’ve dreamed of working with — Stephen Frears, Roman Polanski, Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, David Fincher. … All these gentlemen are amazing artists. So what do you do?

“Chris Weitz called me back after (our collaboration on) ‘Golden Compass,’ and said he’s got this ‘New Moon’ in the ‘Twilight’ series. I just want to say yes to all of these people. I work twice as much as I used to, but maybe I also work more quickly. I’ve improved,” he adds with a laugh.

Desplat, who recently won composer of the year honors at the Ghent Film Festival, burst on the American film scene in 2003 with his charming score for “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and has since become one of the busiest composers on either side of the Atlantic.

This year’s entries include a surprising array of styles and sounds to match the diversity of the films.

“It’s most difficult to score a comedy,” Desplat says of Nora Ephron’s “Julie and Julia.” “Where are the limits? When does music become gimmicky or stupidly funny? Both stories, in New York and Paris, were love stories, so it’s more that side that we embraced, with lightness and wit. Most of the time the music is in a gentle, soulful, Manciniesque mode.”

For the young-vampire sequel “New Moon,” Desplat recorded 80 minutes of lush, alternately mysterious and powerful music with the London Symphony Orchestra. In early discussions, director Weitz cited the music of a fellow Frenchman of an earlier generation: Maurice Jarre (“Doctor Zhivago”). “He wanted symphonic, lyrical music,” Desplat says. “Of all the movies I’ve done, it’s the biggest love story — the sense of longing, Bella for Edward. Here the emotions are not contained.

“There is a love theme for Bella and Edward, and another for Bella and Jacob,” he adds. “Some moments they are very clearly exposed, but sometimes I don’t play the themes in a very clear way. She is in love with the two of them, so the themes tend to blur.”

Desplat also enlisted the London Symphony for his warm and delicate score for “Coco Before Chanel.” “I thought, what drives Coco Chanel? An incredible energy, a broken childhood, a will that was unstoppable, and that’s exactly what I tried to bring in the music.

“For the opening cue, at the orphanage, I could have written a slow, sad, emotional piece, for her loneliness and difficult years. I chose not to go there. Instead, we have a little ‘motor,’ a musical motion starting, so we feel subliminally that this little girl is not being overwhelmed. She has a special energy that will enable her to confront anything.”

For “Mr. Fox,” Desplat went in a wildly different direction: banjo, mandolin, flutes and whistling. “I suggested to Wes that, because we were working with puppets, we should invent an orchestra of instruments that puppets would play: little things, they could whistle or play little flutes. Even the strings are few, just a quartet or quintet.

“Wes is like his puppets, very excited and happy to find new colors and sounds. It was a crazy, funny experience.”

“Cheri” utilized a string trio (violin, viola, cello) and the LSO. The composer cites the original Colette novels as a starting point: “She is an author who always hides the emotion behind the lace and elegant manners but, deep inside, it’s a very universal, moving story. The music (suggests) time passing by in a nostalgic, sad way, but, like a stream flowing, it can’t stop.”

Already recorded — but still awaiting release — are Desplat’s major scores for next year. Polanski was in a Swiss jail when the composer recorded his score for “The Ghost,” although “we discussed all the main themes and he heard (via demos) almost 80% of the score. He has a very accurate and very smart way of working with music. I learned a lot,” Desplat says.

For Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” Desplat recorded “at least an hour” of music last year, “because Terrence wanted to have the music to edit to. I know there’s more to come.”

More Film

  • TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT

    China Box Office: ‘Bumblebee’ Flies on to $138 Million Total

    “Bumblebee” flew to its third weekend of dominance in China. But the Chinese box office remains in lackluster mode at the start of 2019. The spinoff from Paramount’s “Transformers” franchise earned $16.1 million in Chinese theaters between Friday and Sunday, according to date from exhibition and distribution consultancy Artisan Gateway. That was a 38% drop [...]

  • Mara Watkins Nabhaan Rizwan Steven Wouterlood

    Diverse Talents Pepper Variety's Fifth 10 Europeans to Watch List

    Variety has unveiled its fifth edition of 10 Europeans to Watch, spotlighting 10 rising talents from across the continent who are poised for breakthroughs in 2019. The selection includes emerging actors, directors, showrunners and cinematographers from six countries whose dynamic talents are being showcased on screens big and small, and on both sides of the camera. [...]

  • Glass Movie

    Box Office: 'Glass' Shines Overseas With $48.5 Million Weekend

    After autobots and aquatic kings have dominated foreign markets over the past few weeks, a different kind of hero has risen to the top of box office charts. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is the new champ overseas, pulling in $48.5 million from international territories. The supernatural thriller, a sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2016’s “Split,” debuted [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    'Roma' and 'The Favourite' Lead London Critics' Circle Winners

    After ruling the U.S. critics’ award circuit, “Roma” continued its dominance on the other side of the pond, as the London Film Critics’ Circle announced its winners tonight. A week after landing seven BAFTA nominations, Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexico City memory piece landed film of the year and director of the year honors from the group [...]

  • M. Night Shyamalan Should Stop Writing

    The Big Twist M. Night Shyamalan Needs: He Should Stop Writing His Own Scripts (Column)

    Quick, name the greatest film by each of the following directors: Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, David Lean, Robert Altman, Roman Polanski, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Demme. Answers will vary (mine would be: “Psycho,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Nashville,” “Chinatown,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The Silence of the Lambs”), but whatever your taste, odds are that [...]

  • Andy Vajna Dead: 'Rambo' Producer and

    Andy Vajna, 'Rambo' Producer, Dies at 74

    Andy Vajna, executive producer of several “Rambo” films as well as “Total Recall” and several “Terminator” movies, died Sunday in Budapest after a long illness. He was 74. The Hungarian National Film Fund confirmed his death, calling him a “dominant figure in the Hungarian and international film industry” who was responsible for the development of [...]

  • Glass trailer

    Box Office: 'Glass' Dominates MLK Weekend With $47 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” topped box office charts during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, collecting $40 million over the weekend for a four-day sum of $47 million. If estimates hold, “Glass” will come in behind “American Sniper” ($107 million) and “Ride Along” ($48 million) as the third-best showing for both January and MLK holiday [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content