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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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Rise Of The Guardians
What was it like working on something like "Rise of the Guardians," which is complete fantasy. Do you feel like you get to totally let loose?
I certainly had a huge canvas to paint on, because it's something like an hour-and-twenty minutes of music to write. And in animation, music has a predominant role because it tells you about the life of the characters, but also the production design, and tells you the world you're in. It's really part of the whole dream that an animation movie can give you. It is very melodic. There are many melodies, there are themes for characters, it's a great, fun, beautiful, moving picture. It's not a Santa Claus movie, it's a Christmas movie, because it's [a] very moving picture like "It's a Wonderful Life." It gives you things like Santa Claus but it's about something much, much deeper. Every person I see coming out of the theater is very moved. That's why I accepted that film; because there's a real heart to it.

One of your most beloved pieces from 2011 was for "Tree of Life." Can you talk about working with Terrence Malick and what that process was like?
Terrence wanted me to write the music for editing. So I started for a couple of years, sending him music. When I had a break between films, I would write some music and record it and send it to him. And then I would move forward until his next request. And that took two years. There always was, from the beginning, classical pieces that he was going to use. They were going to use my music as a link to all of that; a thread that would go through. 

The Tree Of Life
Did you see different versions of the movie?
No never. I never saw the film, but I saw little exerpts when I went to the editing room in Austin.

What did you end up thinking about it?
I thought it was a gorgeous movie. It was [a] very magical movie, like all of Terrence Malick's movies. He's a dreamer, he's a mystic; there's always something captivating about his films. It was a great moment.

Would you work with him again?
You'd have to ask him.

Rust And Bone Marion Cotillard
You also did the music for Jacques Audiard's "Rust & Bone." What was your approach with that?
Well I've scored all of his movies since he started working. It's almost 20 years of collaboration. So we know, very well, our territories. On this film, it had to be rather intimate because we didn't want the score to be romantic. It would have been really cheap and sentimental, which would have been wrong for this story. We had to find music that would be elevating but at the same time small and modest. That's why I did all these kind of hymns with harmonium and cello and guitar; we didn't want it to be too much like a score. We wanted to recall sensations more than anything.

What have been your favorite scores of the year?
Unfortunately, I am just starting to receive the screeners. So there's a few I've heard. I really liked "Skyfall," I loved what Thomas Newman does. Danny Elfman's "Hitchcock" score was really great. "Life of Pi" was good, too.

"Zero Dark Thirty" opens wide this Friday.

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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