People know Hans Zimmer as an Oscar-winning, much-in-demand composer. But there’s another side to the creator of scores for such films as “Interstellar,” “Gladiator” and “The Lion King”: Zimmer is a veritable mentoring machine, with many of his apprentices launching successful solo careers, including John Powell (the “Bourne” films), Harry Gregson-Williams (“The Martian”), Lorne Balfe (“Terminator Genisys”), Steve Jablonsky (the “Transformers” series) and Heitor Pereira (“Minions”).
The latest to be rocket-fueled by their time with Zimmer is Junkie XL, the stage name of Dutch artist Tom Holkenborg. After writing additional music for Zimmer on the “Madagascar” films and “Man of Steel,” Holkenborg was called upon in 2014 to tackle, on his own, “300: Rise of an Empire” and “Divergent.”
Last year he shook off all remaining boosters when he accompanied George Miller’s awards-guzzling “Mad Max: Fury Road” with a hybrid electronic/orchestral score that kept pace with the film’s insanity. (He also scored crime drama “Black Mass.”)
This year he has two of the hottest superhero tickets in town: “Deadpool,” which shattered R-rated film records, and the upcoming “Batman v Superman” — which he co-piloted with Zimmer.
In his former life, Holkenborg was a successful electronic/dance artist and DJ. He first took the stage in the late ’80s as a synth player in a Dutch New Wave act, then produced for metal and industrial bands. He adopted the “Junkie XL” moniker in 1997, when he released the electronica album “Saturday Teenage Kick.”
|“It’s a long trajectory from coming here and wanting to (score films) to the point where a studio says, ‘OK, we’re going to give you the responsibility of this $200 million film.’”|
That kicked off a decade in the rave and EDM scenes in Europe and the U.S., and soon he was being asked to contribute music to movies. “I wasn’t really a film composer at that point,” Holkenborg says. “I was just being an artist, providing cool pieces of music that a music editor would put throughout a film.”
But he got hooked, and moved to L.A. in 2002 on a mission to score films. “I pretty soon found out it was going to be a tough road,” he says. “On one hand you want to learn, on the other hand you want to work; you want to do something cool. But it’s a long trajectory from coming here and wanting to (score films) to the point where a studio says, ‘OK, we’re going to give you the responsibility of this $200 million film.’”
He discovered the best way in was by assisting established composers, and found work helping former Zimmer apprentices Gregson-Williams and Klaus Badelt. Through them he met Zimmer, and the two self-admitted geeks clicked immediately.
“Who else sends you a text at two in the morning with a picture of a new synth, and expects a reply at 2:05?” says Zimmer. “That’s us.”
Zimmer doesn’t believe that all musicians can move successfully to film scoring. The key attribute for the job: story sense. “I think you’re just born with it or you’re not,” Zimmer says.
In Holkenborg’s case, he cites an example from “Batman v Superman.” “We finally came up with a motif for Wonder Woman. It was pretty daring and noisy and out-there. I knew it was good, but I didn’t quite know how to marry it to the character.
“I remember Junkie being very specific: ‘OK, go to this frame and just lay it up against the frame.’ We played it back, and it was one of those great shocks: I thought it would never work, and it worked like magic. I remember looking at him and going, ‘Hmm … great story sense; great filmmaker here.’ ”