Conversations with Composers: Alexandre Desplat

Composer Alexandre Desplat.

(Photo credit:AnnaMaria DiSanto)
Composer: Alexandre Desplat
Credits: "Philomena"; “Zero Dark Thirty”; “The King's Speech"
Up next: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"; "Godzilla", and a Lance Armstrong biopic

"Philomena" is the fifth collaboration between composer Alexandre Desplat and director Stephen Frears. The film is based on a woman’s search for the son taken from her when she was an unwed teenage mother in Ireland in 1952 and the journalist who assists her.

Dame Judi Dench and the film itself have received universal acclaim, three Golden Globe nominations and Oscar buzz. Desplat was impressed by the performances from Dench and Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the screenplay.

“This lady can make us think she is so fragile on the outside,” Desplat says of Dench. “Steve Coogan, I must say, plays cynical really excellently.”

After years in which he has had multiple films in contention during awards season, Desplat has but one score from an English language film this year. During arecent visit to Los Angeles from his native Paris, Desplat discussed “Philomena” and his work.

What was the starting point for this score?
In the beginning, it’s all about her, her apparent fragility and the words she has not heeded, the sin she has committed. How could I could capture all these elements in a single melody and have the orchestra remind (the viewer) of her beginnings. The melody is trying to resonate that way.

While the action moves between decades and locales -- England, Ireland and the U.S. -– the score maintains a consistent tone. Was there ever a thought of having the core reflect the time and place?
One of the first conversations I had after stepping out of a director’s cut screening was with Stephen (Frears) and the producers. In one unison voice we said ‘no Irish music.’ It was just to get rid of that idea early on. No Celtic harp, no bodhran. (In the story) we have a pregnant young girl and it could be any time. It could be any country -- an Islamic country, an Asian country -- any place where religion rules. What is important, and this is a great quality to strive for, is that it’s universal. Can we feel the impact of the way (the story) spills into the culture?

Have you ever approached a film the way you did here?
"Girl with a Pearl Earring." The melody is played very early in this film and is recurring to the end. As the movie gets moving, it evolves and it’s much more flowing with a very gentle theme that’s haunting. The music has to back up what you see on the screen –- will the investigation lead to an answer?

There have been years when you have spent November, December and January bouncing between L.A. and Paris promoting four or five eligible scores. How different is it with only one this year?
Maybe it’s a lesson. This is my only English language film. I’m not able to spread myself around when I have four or five movies. All my bets are on "Philomena."