An Interview with Patrick Doyle by Jonathan Broxton
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.18/No.72/1999/2000
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Jonathan Broxton
Following his difficult (but, thankfully, successful) battle with leukaemia, Scottish composer Patrick Doyle returns once more to the film music breach with two new scores: EAST WEST (aka EST OUEST) and LOVE’S LABOUR LOST.
EAST WEST, directed by Regis Wargnier, tells the dramatic story of a married couple (Sandrine Bonnaire and Oleg Menshikov) who travel with their child from her home in France to his motherland, Russia, in the potent turmoil of life immediately following the end of World War II. Caught up in the jubilation of the wartime victory, the couple imagine that they will return to a utopian existence in a land free from tyranny, but quickly discover that one oppressive regime has simply been replaced by another. It is the story of a country and a relationship in chaos, a passionate love story set against the backdrop of social and political upheaval, and a burning desire on the part of the woman to return safely to the West.
LOVE’S LABOUR LOST is the latest work from famed actor/director Kenneth Branagh, for whom Doyle has scored half a dozen movies. The film is an adaptation of another of Shakespeare’s rapturous romantic comedies, and has an all-star cast including Nathan Lane, Alicia Silverstone, Adrian Lester, Matthew Lillard, Natascha McElhone, Geraldine McEwan and Alessandro Nivola.
Doyle’s career has spanned every genre – imaginable, from horror to comedy to fantasy and, of course, Shakespeare, and resulted in such well regarded and popular works as DEAD AGAIN, HAMLET, HENRY V, NEEDFUL THINGS and the crime dramas CARLlTO’S WAY and DONNIE BRASCO. On-location at Shepperton Studios near London, Patrick Doyle talks to Soundtrack about his new work, his relationship with the directors who continually entreat him to score their films, and his life in the film music industry.
First of all, I’d like to talk about EAST WEST. What kind of approach have you taken to the score and how did you first get involved?
Well, I’ve worked with the director before on INDOCHINE and UNE FEMME FRANCAISE, and as usual I became involved very early. In fact, before the script was written, Regis was in touch with me, telling me about the concept and delivered a copy of the script to me while I was ill in hospital last year. Then after filming began, as soon as I got the opportunity, I went over to visit the sets in Kiev and Sofia and I met with Regis, Sandrine Bonnaire and Catherine Deneuve.
A few months later in France, they presented me with a very rough cut of the film. Swimming plays a major part in the film – it turns out to be a possible means of escape for two lovers – and when I saw the various swimming sequences that Regis had filmed, it immediately struck me that this might be an opportunity to score sections in the form of a piano concerto. I actually gave myself a bit of a rod for my own back by doing so, because it is enormously difficult trying to pay respectful homage to the great historical Russian piano concertos.
The Red Army Choir are featured at one point in the story as well (although in fact on-screen they used the services of the New Ukrainian Army Choir), because one of the leading characters works in the costume department of the choir. Regis and I both agreed that if it were possible we should, for obvious reasons, endeavour to record the score using Slavic musicians, which we did in Sofia, Bulgaria. The end title sequence, which is a summing up of all the main themes, was performed by the Bulgarian National Chorus. The choir made a glorious sound and it was a thrilling experience hearing it for the first time, reverberating around this unique recording studio, with genuine Slavic voices and their unique vocal reproduction. The baritone solo was sung by Anatoly Fokanov. Anatoly is very well known in Europe and was absolutely terrific. He is one of the most musical singers I have ever worked with. It was a fantastic experience working with the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra, and their co-operation and commitment and musicianship was outstanding.
Something that struck me about your work is the fact that you are one of the very few English speaking composers who regularly work on foreign language movies. How does that translate when you are actually writing the music? Is it more difficult to score a movie when you don’t understand what they are saying?
Well, I do speak a little French and I’m learning all the time, so I am able to understand most conversations. And besides – the film company provide me with English translations for viewing the picture.
Will the score be released?
Yes, Sony, who are always very supportive, have very kindly taken it on board, and Sony Classical are distributing it in America. In fact, the film has recently been chosen to represent France as ‘Best Foreign Film’ for this year’s Academy Awards. The album is already out in France and across most of Europe, and will be available in Britain and the US in the near future.
The other movie you have coming out soon is LOVE’S LABOURS LOST, which is another teaming of you and Kenneth Branagh.
Yes, that’s right. LOVE’S LABOURS LOST is one of the most poetic of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s set in the 1930s, and it follows the fortunes of four young women, one of whom is the Princess of Aquitaine; they arrive on a diplomatic mission, and they are barred from entering the King’s palace because the King has decreed that there should be three years without any “earthly pleasures” and that his subjects should be studying and undertaking a completely academic existence – bizarre idea! (Laughs) But, as soon as the men see the girls it’s all up in the air, and it becomes a wonderful romantic comedy. It’s beautifully done.
I’ve heard a little about the musical approach you’ve taken for this, and I don’t know whether it’s an inspired move or just unusual, but you’re using the music of Cole Porter.
There are ten songs in the film by many famous American songwriters – not just Cole Porter, but George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and others. The songs are performed and arranged in a style very reminiscent of the old MGM musicals, which looks just spectacular.
In addition to the songs, there is extensive underscore, and the score has very separate thematic material. The music inhabits two worlds: the world of the songs, which are part of the story, and the world of the underscore, which is supposed to represent “the audience”. I have striven to make the songs and the score as seamless as possible.
Whose idea was it to use all the 30s and 40s tunes? It’s a very unusual way of doing it – mixing Shakespeare and Cole Porter.
That came from Ken Branagh. But as you know, the concept of having songs in Shakespeare is not unusual. Shakespeare has many songs in his plays. It’s a device that he’s always employed. What makes this concept unique is the use of existing songs with dance, and Ken’s idea was for the songs in LOVE’S LABOURS LOST to become almost like operatic arias. The songs tend to grab and highlight a moment in terms of the drama.
What’s your underscore for LOVE’S LABOURS LOST like?
It’s very English and very noble.
You have a very good relationship with Kenneth Branagh, having worked with him on so many films over the years. How musically literate is he? Does he come to each film knowing what he wants from the score, or is it a collaboration between the two of you?
He has very strong ideas about what he’s after. He knew what the film needed in terms of the songs, and where he wanted them, but as far as the underscore was concerned, and how it worked along with the songs; both he and I had no really strong ideas until we had seen how the songs worked in terms of the story. It evolved from there.
In the case of HAMLET he said “I want a strong theme for HamIet”, which we both agreed was a fairly obvious requirement, and in the case of HENRY V he described in detail the Non Nobis sequence which covers the scene immediately after the battle of Agincourt. He specifically asked for a solo voice, which finally builds to a powerful choral conclusion. He would very often say “I would like something that evokes this sort of feeling or that sort of feeling” and we both discuss this in terms of where the music should be. He generally trusts my judgement in the spotting of the film, which can be a tricky process. Most composers will agree that spotting is one of the most crucial elements before a score is written, and it is particularly tricky in Shakespeare. Ultimately it’s a choice of “When to play and when not play? That is the question.”
I’d like to take a little look back at your career if I may. Although you have always had a background in music, you actually started out as an actor. What was it that made you make the transition from acting to composing? Was it a conscious decision, or something that just happened?
No, it was a conscious decision. For many years, I had a undertaken a lot of MO (Music Director) work as well as performing, and I kept turning down composing work and MD work in the theatre because I was focusing much more on the dramatic side of things. I suppose I have always been fascinated with drama and the best way for me to learn was to try it and to do it, to see how it felt.
After a while, though, I had decided I really wanted to do something else, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had thought that I might be able to set my Sights on having a film music career because I had already written music extensively for theatre, but it wasn’t something that I really sat down and decided “that’s what I’m going to do” until Kenneth approached me to do ‘Twelfth Night’ for a theatre production. Ken’s version of ‘Twelfth Night’ was the first job for a long time where I had just focused on composing and musical directing.
The score for that play ended up being very successful, and the play was received well, so it finally convinced me that composing was where my future lay. Then the film of HENRY V came along, and the rest, as they say, is history.
When people think of Patrick Doyle, they often tend to pigeonhole you as “The Shakespeare Guy”, but you’ve had a much more diverse interesting career then that. You’ve done horror movies with FRANKENSTEIN and NEEDFUL THINGS, and leapt from genre to genre. Which scores stand out in your mind as the highlights of your career to date?
Well, obviously HENRY V was something I am terribly proud of, mainly because it was my first picture, but it’s actually very difficult to answer that because each film brings something unique to it. I loved scoring INDOCHINE because it was a huge epic of David Lean proportions. A LITTLE PRINCESS is an extraordinary film, and it gave me enormous pleasure scoring it. I loved working on DONNIE BRASCO, and I had an amazing experience working on Brian De Palma’s CARLITO’S WAY. It’s very difficult to say which one is my favorite. The reason I say that HENRY V is extra special is because it was my very first score, and was very successful. I still get tremendous feedback from it, and that is very gratifying.
You’ve had two Oscar nominations, for SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and HAMLET, but you didn’t win either of them. Are awards important to you? Did you feel disappointed that you didn’t win?
Obviously, it’s important that your peers give you some recognition in that respect. You can’t pull the wool over the eyes of those people. They know what makes a good score, and when your peers acknowledge you, it makes it even more worthwhile. I was delighted to be nominated of course, and I think that most composers would tell you the same thing. It was an honor, and of course it would have been nice to win, but I had a wonderful time on both occasions while I was there.
With thanks to Patrick Doyle, Vicky Quinn at Air-Edel and Vance Brawley.