British experimental-pop musician Mica Levi, composer of “Jackie,” is only the fourth woman in Oscar history to be nominated for an original film score. “Jackie” director Pablo Larrain liked her first score for 2013’s “Under the Skin,” and sought her out to bring what he called “a feminine sensibility” to his portrait of JFK’s widow in the days following the 1963 assassination. Levi talked to Variety about the experience while she was on tour in Europe with her band, Micachu and the Shapes.
How did “Jackie” come to you?
Pablo got in touch with some of the people I’ve worked with. He hadn’t cut the film much, and he sent me some scenes. I sent him some music, and he cut the film using that music. He didn’t want to get attached to a temp score.
Was there something that appealed to you about Jacqueline Kennedy and her story?
I just like writing music, really. I wrote a lot of the music without even seeing the film. That story is a very unique story — the privileged position she was in, but also the amount of loss and the kind of extreme trauma that she experienced.
How did you arrive at the sound and the approach?
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I was interested in her way, her grace, and her kind of strength. I thought of her as quite sweet and childlike. I basically got together a group of instruments that I thought felt resonant to the time, because it was a period piece. I tried to be sensitive to that. I just sort of looked out the window and wrote music.
The first piece in the film is quite powerful, that descending string line suggesting both anger and sorrow.
I guess, I often write pieces of music that have glissandos or pitch bends in them. I just wrote this piece and Pablo used it at the beginning. That music was for a more dramatic moment, for Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination, and then got pulled back to [the opening scene].
While you were composing, were you thinking about the turmoil that she was experiencing?
I think I had a few different perspectives. In a sense, I was trying to write music that I think she’d like. Her sort of taste, something that might move her. I was interested in her coping in the face of it all. I tried to keep her the center of it. And then the way it was used came down to where Pablo put it.
Do you think being a woman gave you a different perspective in creating the score?
It’s hard to say. I don’t know. Maybe there is a different female perspective. I’d like to say that those things don’t really matter. I guess maybe a woman can imagine the difficulty that she went through, the restrictions that she had.
Diversity issues are much talked-about these days in Hollywood. There are statistics showing that women composers have not getting the same opportunities as men, but that things may be changing. What do you think?
I suppose I feel pretty happy that everyone I work with is evenly balanced. It’s surprising to remember that things are imbalanced. There are different perspectives in gender, all sorts of things. There are certain levels of understanding and empathy, different behaviors. I just think it’s about time. It makes a world of sense to me.
Do you have other films coming up?
No, I don’t. Not that I know of. I just take each thing as it comes.