Composer Alexandre Desplat Talks RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, Collaborating with Directors, ZERO DARK THIRTY, ARGO, THE MONUMENTS MEN, and More

     November 23, 2012

With Rise of the Guardians opening this week, I recently got to see the finished film and it’s really well done.  Not only is the animation great to look at, it’s got a strong story that’s character driven and it doesn’t rely on stupid jokes.  In addition, unlike most superhero films that spend half the time introducing characters by explaining their origin and showing off their powers, what’s fantastic about Rise of the Guardians is that we join almost everyone in the middle of the story.  If you’re not familiar with the story, it  revolves around the rebellious Jack Frost (Chris Pine) teaming up with other mythical figures North aka Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), E. Aster Bunnyman aka Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Tooth aka The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the Sandman to battle the evil Pitch (Jude Law).  Here’s my video blog review and all our previous coverage.

To help promote the film, last week I got on the phone with composer Alexandre Desplat.  We talked about how he got involved in Rise of the Guardians, his extremely busy year, his collaboration with the director on animated movies versus live-action features, and more.  In addition, we also talked about some of his other projects like Ben Affleck‘s Argo, Kathryn Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty, George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, other possible future projects, and a lot more.  Hit the jump for what he had to say.

alexandre-desplatSteve: I don’t think you’re working hard enough.  I believe this only you’re, like 22nd movie this year.

Alexandre Desplat: Something like that, yes.  I know, I can’t behave.  I’m sorry.  I’m being offered great movies by great directors and that’s what I love that’s what I’ve dreamed to do, and that’s what I do all day long.  So I have to do it.

Totally.  What was it about Rise of the Guardians-how was it pitched to you? Why did you want to do it? What was the process like?

Desplat: Gorgeous, gorgeous drawings that I saw two years ago.  Fabulous little moments of 3D that I was shown, absolutely striking.  A team like I’ve rarely met before of filmmakers totally on the same page, always trying to be creative and challenging, always happy about the music I am bringing to the film, always the desire of more surprises musically.  All of this together, are you kidding me? A big animation movie where I can have a piece orchestra, The London Symphony playing under my baton.  There’s many good reasons to do it.

I’m curious your collaboration with the director on animated movies, is it different on a feature? Is it more collaborative?

Desplat: Well, it is not different because I think that this was not directed different than a live-action movie, funny enough.  To me when I think about it I just think about a film, I don’t even think it’s an animation film.  Because it’s so incredibly virtuoso in the way the camera moves and the camera plays.  The characters are so real, so full of soul that it’s like living with real people.  So the conversations with the director and the producers, cause he’s created a team of people Christina Steinberg, Peter Ramsey, Bill Damaschke, Nancy Bernstein, Jeffrey Katzenberg that just really it was- it’s different because as a team the desire was so strong with them to do something special that it was the most exhilarating, exciting picture I’ve done in a long time.

I know that you work very fast or can work very fast on scores, how long did it take you to do this one? And were you working on it for the whole two years, or was it more in the last six months?

Desplat: Oh no, no, no. All together writing and recording is a three-month stroke.

For Rise of the Guardians?

Desplat: Yeah, from mid-June to mid-September.

That is a very fast process. I love your work in Argo and Moonrise Kingdom, you’ve had a really, really good year, but the one that I’m really looking forward to that no one has heard yet is Zero Dark Thirty.

Desplat: Well it has nothing to do with any of these other scores, which of course was a challenge for me to do something very, very different.  It’s a war movie about two parties killing each other, and so I wanted the score to be very archaic and dark and never brutal because it doesn’t have to be loud.  I know it sounds like an action film, but it’s more like a Japanese Kurosawa movie.  And the way I approached it was very organic and I used a very strange lineup at Abbey Road studios.  I decided not to use the instruments of a higher range and wrote the score for 12 horns, 12 trombones, 3 tubas, I had strings but I had no violins, 12 Violas, 12 celli and 12 basses.  It’s a very strange sound, very deep, very dark, but as I said very archaic as if the sound was coming from 2000 years ago.

I actually have not spoken to anyone who has seen the movie, obviously you have. Can I ask what your thoughts were when you first saw the finished film?

Desplat: It’s the best thing that she has ever done.  It’s absolutely fabulous; she’s a master director.  She’s a genius; it’s a film that’s incredible.

Can I ask how fast you did the score, or was it a long process?

rise-of-the-guardians-poster-santa-clauseDesplat: I think it was embarrassingly fast, so we’d rather not speak of that.

(Laughs) Okay I understand.  My next question for you is I believe you are already attached to do George Clooney’s The Monuments Men?

Desplat: Yes.

So what is it about that project that made you want to be involved?

Desplat: I met George the first time on Syriana where he was acting and producing, and then there was Fantastic Mr. Fox and we met again.  Then he called me for Ides of March.  And the incredible thing with George he was raised—you know his aunt [was Rosemary Clooney]—in a very musical environment so he loves music.  He loves music in films and he likes my music very much, so…(laughs).  And he’s a great director, a great person to be with.  So I will do all his movies from now on unless he changes his mind.

What are you thinking about for next year? Are you planning on slowing down, or do you think you can beat this year’s record?

Desplat: Oh, I’ve beat this year’s record before.  Two years ago I did ten movies.  Yeah, I’ve decided to slow down, but now I can already see that there are six or seven movies aligned, so it will be a bit of a challenge.

Can I ask what you’re already thinking about doing or is it not finalized yet?

Desplat: No, we’ll wait a little bit more.

I understand.  When you look back on the scores that you’ve done, are there one or two that stand out that you’re just like, “I really nailed it on these.” Like they’re all your babies, but are there any that really stand out for you that are your favorites?

rise-of-the-guardians-poster-sandmanDesplat: Well I never play back my music, just so you know, it’s there sitting in my drawers and what I remember is that, what I can say is that there are steps, you know, moments in my life where I know that one score was a new chapter.  I can say that Read My Lips, by Jacques Audiard, Sur Mes Levres was a chapter.  I can say that The Luzhian Defense by Marleen Gorris was a chapter.  I can say that Girl with a Pearl Earring, Birth, that Benjamin Button was a chapter.  The first Harry Potter I did was a chapter.  So there are chapters like this but in terms of liking or not liking them or having an opinion, I don’t approach it.  The next project is more important than the previous one.

Who has been the one director that has left you the most alone and who has been the director that has worked the closest with you?

Desplat: Maybe the closest, there’s two of them I would say Florent-Emilio Siri, the French director who did Hostage with Bruce Willis, we did many movies together, we did four or five.  Wes Anderson, maybe.  And two of the ones that maybe have left me alone the most, funnily enough, I think you will be surprised, Roman Polanski and Stephen Frears.

Polanksi and Frears that is an interesting two, I would not expect that.

Desplat: Yeah, well, you see.

Also, while I have you on the phone, I really loved your work on Argo.  Talk a little bit about how you worked on Argo and what it was like collaborating with Ben Affleck.

Desplat: It’s a movie which has two cycles, you know, there’s the Hollywood cycle where we have to be a bit lighter, and there are all the spy Iranian settings.  And I guess the challenge was to be able to keep the tension until the very end of the film and release when at last the hostages are released and on the plane.  I have to navigate all that, you know, and find the tone, but Ben was really a great driver there.  He knew where he wanted to go.

Click here for all our Rise of the Guardians coverage.

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