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Alexandre Desplat on the Music Challenges & Rewards of ‘Danish Girl’

Alexandre Desplat’s subtle and melodic score for Focus Features’ “The Danish Girl” sounds effortless, but it was just the opposite. In the Tom Hooper-directed film, Eddie Redmayne stars as Danish painter Einar Wegener, who became Lily Elbe, with Alicia Vikander playing loyal spouse Gerda. The film debuted at the fall Venice Film Festival, only seven months after it began production. Desplat spoke with Variety about the challenges and solutions in writing a score for the film.

How did you begin work on the film?
I read the script, and Tom sent me photos of the transformation of Eddie as they were researching — his looks, clothes and makeup — to keep me in the loop. I did research myself, about Einar and Gerda, to be prepared when the moment would come for me to dive into this world of the ’20s, which was a very creative time. At first, when I thought of music in the ’20s, I thought maybe Kurt Weill would work, because it’s very edgy. But I realized this is a love story, and any music that was bent or dissonant would give the audience the wrong message.

What was the big challenge?
It took a long time to find the right tone. It was difficult to convey what Einar has inside his own self, which is Lily, and how to bring it out. I knew we should feel an undercurrent of happiness, something that is irrepressible, that you can’t stop, and to feel the emerging of Lily. But that was not so easy. The music had to mix something beautiful and moving, but with a little spice of anxiety and danger; it’s tricky.

Was there a breakthrough moment?
The spark came when we realized we had to look at Einar through his wife’s eyes. She’s maybe the braver of the two. He’s brave because he’s taking chances, but she bravely sacrifices what they have as a couple, for him to feel free and happy. When we realized we needed to musically go through eyes of Gerda, that was a revelation. I had to score a duet, to respect each of these two voices — and to find different angles each time. That was the other challenge, watching two characters who are changing, not to be too emphatic or too dark or too simple, It is romantic, but it’s not just romantic, something else, something deeper.

Was there any scene that was especially difficult?
Unfortunately, everything was difficult!

Post-production on the film was very fast.
Tom was invited to Venice Film Festival and he had to rush to finish the film. The movie was still being cut when I was writing, so working on the score, we had to write, adjust, change, compare, change again — and we recorded a week before the premiere. It was tight, with a lot of hard work. But there was also a lot of joy.

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