'That's quite a challenge to know that every single note that you write will be heard,' Alexandre Desplat tells MTV News of global 'Potter' audience.
By Kara Warner
With "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1" continuing to rake in major box-office cash, the fan appetite for all things Potter has yet to be satisfied. Here at MTV News, we're doing our part to serve the public's Potter thirst by getting fans as close to the action as possible. First with juicy interviews and fun videos, and now with a few behind-the-scenes features that highlight the nuts and bolts of Potter filmmaking.
In this latest installment, we turn our attention toward what is heard, not seen: the film's score, created by celebrated and highly sought-after composer Alexandre Desplat. When MTV News caught up with the very busy man (in the past five years, he has composed scores for at least four films per year, including "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox," to name a few), we talked about incorporating John Williams' very distinct theme into his own work and how the fantastical elements in the world of Potter allowed the introduction of new, unique instruments.
MTV: With so many projects on your plate, when do you sleep?
Alexandre Desplat: Well, because I was expecting your phone call, I was on the edge of actually taking a five-minute nap, because it's been a long day and I don't sleep much, honestly. It's a crazy life because I've always dreamed of being a film composer. I've never dreamed of being a concert composer or an opera composer; I wanted to work for movies, and now I have all these incredible projects coming towards me. ... And all these films, of course, they collide because they're late or they're early, and so I have no life. I just work 18 hours a day, every day. And I don't go on holidays. And so, I guess I will die young. [Laughs.]
MTV: In jumping on a "Harry Potter" film, which has had several different composers over the course of seven films, how do you go about incorporating John Williams' very distinct theme, while still making it your own?
Desplat: My education as a film composer, you can't not — if you like the orchestra like I do, if you are a symphonist like I am — you can't not listen to John Williams' work. So I knew, of course, his work on the "Harry Potter" films, on the early films that he did, and when it came to the theme, which is the old theme, it became just a conversation to have with the director where and how we could use it. And actually, there was not so many opportunities, just because this movie is different from the previous ones. It's not in Hogwarts anymore. It's not in the school, and they're now young adults. And the only moments where we could use it was when we wanted to refer to their childhood and to this loss of innocence, which is actually the main theme of this film. These three young adults are losing childhood, and they're moving forward to dangers and adulthood. So we've just very carefully used it here and there; not much, sadly. And actually, when I was thinking about the score and anticipating what I had to do, I was playing with this theme, because I really love it and I was happy to be able to arrange it differently.
MTV: In taking on a film like "Harry Potter" and its fantasy elements, does that enable you to bring in new musical sounds or sounds that you might not use normally? Do you have a favorite kind of unique instrument that you were able to bring in that you might not normally bring into a film score?
Desplat: Yes, there are two things that we tried to bring. It is a way of using a lot of strings, sometimes doubling the string orchestra, on top of the first one, with different lines or adding more weight to some lines. Some pieces are really literally handwritten by string players, on top, all together. Of course we use the brass and the percussion and all that. It doesn't make the sound louder, but deeper and more string-oriented. The other thing is a few elements here and there. I played some jazzy flute in a piece I wrote, and one of the percussion players, he plays this new instrument that was invented a few years ago, which is kind of in-between a steel drum and a -- what could I compare it to? -- and a gamelan that you play with your hands or with mallets. You can hear it in the "Lovegood" piece and it's also blending instruments, which I like to do, that you hear there in the score.
MTV: How many musicians did you work with on this undertaking?
Desplat: The London Symphony, which was at the peak of 105, I think. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios.
MTV: How was this experience different from the films you've done in the past?
Desplat: It was different because it was "Harry Potter," and "Harry Potter" is a global experience. It's not just a movie that your friends will see or just the French people will see or just the Brits will see. No, it's a global thing, and that's quite a challenge to know that every single note that you write will be heard. Even though I always try to make sure that my first listeners, who are actually the players and musicians who are going to perform, I want them to be challenged. I want them to respect what I write, so it's for them that I write before anything. Actors, of course, have been tailored to musically, and with the director. It's with them that I want to have this exchange, this musical bonding. So it's a big challenge to achieve, and again, it's number seven of the franchise, so it was a big thing for me.
Check out everything we've got on "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1."
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