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Desplat works hard for the money

Composer raises the bar in the industry

With more than 20 credits over the last three years, composer Alexandre Desplat is borrowing a page from the James Brown handbook and threatening to become perhaps the hardest working man in showbiz.

A lunchtime chat with Variety at the Sunset Marquis was one of a series of interviews he participated in last week in Los Angeles; later that evening he would field questions following screenings of “The Ghost Writer” and “The King’s Speech” (he also scored “Tamara Drewe” and the latest “Harry Potter”).

At the Ghent Film Festival in October, where he won the top two honors at the World Soundtrack Awards for the second year running, he showed up just in time to collect his laurels before having to jet back to his native Paris for work.

When does he realize how much is too much?

“Last week,” answers Desplat without a beat. “I was really tired, and decided to take a break for the first time in a year. After ‘Harry Potter’ I still had three films to go: Another film by Chris Weitz called ‘The Gardener,’ which will be released next year, as well as two French films.”

That break will last only a few weeks before Desplat rolls up he sleeves on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.”

The pace doesn’t seem to bother him; by Desplat’s own admission, he lives like a monk: “I wake up early, go to bed late at night, but I have a good five, six hours of sleep; and I’m very focused.”

Adds his manager, Robert Urband: “Would I have him continue on the same trajectory as far as number of movies? Probably not. I think it’s hard to maintain that and sustain the momentum continually.”

Desplat — tall, slender and raven-haired at 49 — is doing what he’s dreamed of ever since age 6 when he saw “Spartacus,” with its classic score by Alex North, on the bigscreen. His calling card is his diversity and his ability to bring a fresh approach to the most time-worn genres.

“If you dream of one day working with Polanski or Terrence Malick or Stephen Frears, what do you do? ‘Oh no, I’m a bit tired?’ You just do it.”

The Malick project, “The Tree of Life,” is one of the most anticipated films of 2011, and Desplat began work on it as far back as 2007. As usual in Malick films, the score shares space with classical cues, in this case Ligeti and Berlioz, among others. Desplat also had to work largely without the benefit of images. He describes his contribution as orchestral, meditative and trance-like.

“(Malick) always told me that the music should be like a river flowing through the film,” says Desplat, “and that’s what I tried to achieve — something that flows and never stops, very alive and fluid. He just wants you to create something that maybe he hasn’t thought about.”

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