Hildur Guðnadóttir on Why Scoring Joker Was a New Professional Peak

Hildur Guðnadóttir
Timothée Lambrecq

Hildur Guðnadóttir 

After nearly 20 years as a composer, Hildur Guðnadóttir may earn her first nod thanks to 'Joker.'

Hildur Guðnadóttir, 37, has been composing for almost two decades, but in the past year, she has risen to the highest ranks of film/TV composers.

The Icelandic musician -- who is now based in Berlin -- won her first Primetime Emmy Award in September for scoring HBO’s Chernobyl; her first blockbuster film, Joker, has raked in $985 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo; and her cello-based score for the film is a strong candidate to receive an Academy Award nomination for best original score.

How did you get hired for Joker?

Todd [Phillips, the director] called me up and said he was working on a film and asked if I was interested in reading a script -- I loved it, I really related to it. [Then] he asked if I was interested in writing some music based on my feelings. I knew he had listened to my solo albums and was really drawn to the cello and wanted that to be a center voice in the score. So I wrote some music that ended up being the main themes in the film. They shot a lot of the film to that very early music; it really influenced the cinematography, acting, choreography. There are a few scenes that didn’t even exist in the script. The bathroom dance scene was added in response to the music. That’s actually [Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Joker and his alter ego, Arthur Fleck], dancing to this music [I made early on] that you hear in the film.

How did you approach composing the score for Joker?

I wanted to go into Arthur’s head. I wanted to explore his emotional side, maybe even a family-based approach to his turbulence. I was very empathetic toward the tragedy that he went through with his family. That’s something that I wanted to emphasize instead of scoring the action. [Maybe] because I’m a mother.

How has your career changed since your Emmy win and now with the Oscar buzz?

I’m definitely getting a lot of offers. I have been clear about not really wanting to take anything on at the moment; the last year was really intense. I just signed a contract with Deutsche Grammophon for a new record, so I’m going to try to create some head space outside of film.

With your scoring talents in such demand, how do you find time for more solo albums?

For me, it’s important that I have the space to do a variety of things because if I get too stuck in one box I feel limited by that. I have been working in film for about 17 years -- a lot of European productions [that I have worked on are] not necessarily films that have made it into this realm of the industry.

Hollywood is looking to increase the number of women hired across the board, including composers. How has that affected you?

[In the past], I definitely came across a kind of reluctance to trust me for projects. I always wondered if it’s because I’m a woman, and then I started talking to other female composers who experienced the same thing. In the last few years, there has been so much awareness about this -- people are starting to take the so-called risk of trusting women for these jobs and finding out that there’s no reason we can’t do it.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Billboard.