On a late November day in the shadow of London's Albert Bridge, the composer Lorne Balfe is speaking to Billboard and breathing a sigh of relief. The day before, he finally wrapped work on the music for the epic fantasy series His Dark Materials. Scoring the show was a massive endeavor that matched the scope of the big budget BBC/HBO co-production based on the Philip Pullman books, with Balfe recruiting an eclectic cast of musicians (including Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith) and recording in far-flung places ranging from Cuba to London to Thailand to Vienna.
"I wanted to write a musical letter to the creators of the show," he explains of soundtracking the show which stars James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda. "You begin with sheer fear and you don't sleep a lot. It was a mammoth task and the biggest project I've ever worked on, that's for sure." It's quite a statement from Balfe, a composer who has built a career on a string of gargantuan productions. In the past couple of years alone, he's composed the scores for blockbusters ranging from Mission: Impossible - Fallout and Pacific Rim: Uprising, and collaborated with his mentor Hans Zimmer on Dunkirk and Ad Astra. Most recently, he was behind the music for Ang Lee's sci-fi opus Gemini Man and this December he'll also see the release of the Michael Bay-directed action thriller 6 Underground.
"There used to be a tier system: first it was film composers, then television, then jingles, and then computer game composers were right at the bottom because there was a snobbery about it," he says with a laugh. "Now, everything has turned on its head and every A-list composer is doing video games and television." His Dark Materials was a project he put his heart and soul into as a longtime fan of Pullman's source novels, the first of which was published in 1995. "The fortunate thing about it is that I was able to start early on and I was a fan of the books. I knew the material and lived in it."