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Composer Alexandre Desplat Talks Scoring 'Zero Dark Thirty,' Working With Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson & More

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist January 10, 2013 at 3:06PM

Few film composers had a more amazing 2012 than Alexandre Desplat. The French composer, who rose to prominence based on his lush, nearly operatic score to Jonathan Glazer's woefully underrated supernatural melodrama "Birth," had an unparalleled 2012 which included scores to (deep breath) Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," Jacques Audiard's "Rust & Bone," Ben Affleck's "Argo," DreamWorks Animation's "Rise of the Guardians," and Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty."
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Zero Dark Thirty Alexandre Desplat

Few film composers had a more amazing 2012 than Alexandre Desplat. The French composer, who rose to prominence based on his lush, nearly operatic score to Jonathan Glazer's woefully underrated supernatural melodrama "Birth," had an unparalleled 2012 which included scores to (deep breath) Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," Jacques Audiard's "Rust & Bone," Ben Affleck's "Argo," DreamWorks Animation's "Rise of the Guardians," and Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty."

Bigelow's amazing chronicle of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden was our main topic of discussion, and below he shares his approach to scoring the film, and what Bigelow wanted him to focus on. We also discuss his work on Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life," collaborating with Wes Anderson and much more.

Zero Dark Thirty
How do you decide what project to do?
There are many elements. First of all, you have to be called. And a certain number of directors I've been working with, so there's some kind of loyalty to them. There's a priority to those directors. And then there's the project, of course, the subject – is it a new world and a new adventure to discover? Those are all the elements.

Can you talk about your approach for "Zero Dark Thirty?" It seems very minimal. 
I don’t know what minimal means – does it mean there's no melody? Does it mean there's one instrument? Does it mean there's a hundred instruments playing softly?

It's not a grand orchestral score…
Well, you're wrong. It is. There are twelve cellists, nine bassists, sixteen or twenty horns. It's a huge orchestra. But it doesn't play loud. And it creates a very deep and dark type of sound without being in-your-face. Of course, we could have played very loud, but that wasn't the point. In that film, you have to be inside the battle and not outside the battle. And inside the warriors' heads. And the head of the warrior is the character played by Jessica Chastain. She doesn't talk much. She's the lead and she's the leader of the war. And that's what my score is following – her character, her chase, her personality.

What did Kathryn talk to you about when you signed on?
It's telling the story from inside of Jessica Chastain's head. And at the same time it's bringing us all, the audience, into the mud and the earth and the sad, into this horrible war, with people killing each other and torturing each other. There's something very clinical about the way Kathryn shows these two parties at war. The music couldn't be a score, and we kept saying to each other, 'It shouldn't sound like a film score that tells you everything and follows the action.' It's always telling the same story – we are at war, it's dark, and it's archetypal, because it's two religions fighting each other. We kept talking about Akira Kurosawa and a movie like "Ran," where the music is really into the story. That's what it is.

Argo
You also did "Argo" this year, which is another true-life thriller, but one that is set in the '70s. Did you look to any scores from that period when composing for the film?
No. I tend to write because I feel like music can bring something else to the screen. So if I had started using wah-wah pedals and trumpet sections, it would hobble what was on screen. So I just let the emotion and the fear play and it stays that way. It follows that route. It has to follow this very physical, dramatic arc. When [during] that final climax, when they get on the plane, I could finally release with a big, orchestral, lush moment. But until then it was all about, "Will they make it, will they not make it?" 

You worked with Wes Anderson this year. And he had collaborated with Mark Mothersbaugh for many years. You both contributed music to "Moonrise Kingdom."
He was very loyal to his old friend, which was great, and which I understand. He gave him some tasks. And he gave me another task, which was to write a suite that would become the score of the film. But no, we didn't collaborate. But all of Wes' soundtracks contain different music. 

This article is related to: Alexandre Desplat, The Tree Of Life, Zero Dark Thirty, Moonrise Kingdom, Argo, Rise Of The Guardians, Rust And Bone, Interviews, Interviews


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