Alexandre Desplat talks 'Philomena' and a busy decade full of Stateside success
It was 10 Decembers ago that a French composer named Alexandre Desplat burst on to the Hollywood movie scene with his gorgeous score for "Girl With a Pearl Earring." He earned his first Golden Globe nomination for that work, and after continual quality achievements on films like "Birth," "Syriana" and "The Painted Veil," he earned his first Oscar nomination seven years ago for "The Queen." It has been nothing but up since then, as he has now earned five Oscar nominations and worked with directors ranging from Roman Polanski to Stephen Frears, Wes Anderson to Stephen Daldry, Terrence Malick to Tom Hooper, Kathryn Bigelow to George Clooney and David Fincher – and that’s just in the English language.
His latest score is for the newly released and highly regarded "Philomena." The chance to catch up recently was particularly meaningful for me, given that we first spoke the year Desplat earned his nomination for "The Queen," which was both his first Oscar nomination and the first year of In Contention's Tech Support column.
We began, of course, by looking at the past decade, which Desplat admits has been an incredibly lucky one. "Hollywood has opened the gate for me and has kept it open," he says. "It is a very fragile world where doors can open but can close very quickly. Many Europeans, not only composers, have tried to break into Hollywood but only get one attempt. I’m very lucky to have continued to work [in the US] while still doing work in the UK and France."
Of course, luck is not all that Desplat is riding on. Talent and a sheer love of film music has also driven him. He would hardly be so prolific otherwise, turning out an average of six feature film scores per year since that first Oscar nod, and sometimes as many as nine. "You have to believe in what you do and do it with passion," he says. "It’s what I’ve always wanted to do – write film music. By being a crazy cinephile and being able to talk cinema with my directors and because of my passion for music, I am able to show that I can offer anything that the history of music has to offer."
This of course requires significant discipline. He admits he still needs to work and train after 10 years of improving his range, "to be able to approach a wide range of films and wide range of scores – 120 piece score like ‘Harry Potter,’ or big successes like ‘The Ides of March’ or ‘The King’s Speech.’"
And yet he confesses he still, always, frets about landing his next job. That’s the thing that occupies his brain. All these doubts and fears that a composer has – opening a new chapter and new history and millions of notes. The blank page is as terrifying for him as it must be a screenwriter.