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Immersed in Movies: Composer Alexandre Desplat Talks 'Argo'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood January 28, 2013 at 2:45PM

With "Argo" seizing momentum in the Best Picture Oscar race after its impressive SAG and PGA victories over the weekend, there's also potential spillover in other categories, including Original score. Alexandre Desplat is a five-time nominee, at the top of his game in "Argo" and long overdue for Oscar gold.
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'Argo': John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck
'Argo': John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck

With "Argo" seizing momentum in the Best Picture Oscar race after its impressive SAG and PGA victories over the weekend, there's also potential spillover in other categories, including Original score. Alexandre Desplat is a five-time nominee, at the top of his game in "Argo" and long overdue for Oscar gold.

But even though Desplat is one of the industry's most prolific movie composers (he had more than six last year, including "Zero Dark Thirty," "Moonrise Kingdom," and "Rise of the Guardians"), "Argo" is a very special score: For the first time, Desplat was able to personalize his love of Middle Eastern music by mixing indigenous instruments into a classical orchestra, recruiting half a dozen musicians from Turkey and France along with sexy Persian pop star, Sussan Deyhim.

"My mother is from Greece and my father is from France but traveled a lot and loved Egyptian music and spoke Arabic, and there was always something about my brain that heard all these sonorities," Desplat recalls. "And in my training, I was always interested in world music. And through the years, I've learned to write with instruments and to understand their rhythm patterns because it's a very sophisticated music. And this was an opportunity to work with Sussan Deyhim, who I've admired for many years. So, yes, this was an exciting project, and I knew that in the end I could put musicians together in a studio from all around the world and blend a sound that only could belong to this film."

Desplat views Ben Affleck's acclaimed Iranian hostage thriller/comedy as three movies in one. There's the Iranian story in which he was able to weave an otherworldly sound to underscore people surrounded by danger who don't know how to cope with it. Then there's the wacky Hollywood story in which he uses a combination of period rock music ("When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin) and more humorous cues in keeping with the escapades of John Goodman and Alan Arkin, as they pull off a fake movie as cover for Affleck's bizarre escape plan. And then there's the thrilling and improbable airport escape, which has a more symphonic sound.

This article is related to: Immersed In Movies, Argo, Interviews , Features, Oscars


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.