Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer has had a fruitful partnership with filmmaker Christopher Nolan, to say the least.
Having worked on Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy (alongside James Newton Howard) and the Nolan-produced Man of Steel, Zimmer reunited with the director for another cinematic journey, Interstellar, which opens Wednesday nationwide.
Speaking briefly with Spinoff Online at the film’s Los Angeles premiere, the composer revealed this collaboration required an unusual leap of faith. And then there’s the matter of Zimmer’s novel approach to returning to the Dark Knight for the score of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Spinoff Online: If I understand something Christopher Nolan said earlier, there was an unconventional way he started you off on Interstellar.
Hans Zimmer: Well, [laughs] I don’t know. Maybe we have an unconventional way of working – it also just feels very natural. I remember Inception started off with him phoning – and we’re nearly neighbors – and he’s going, “Hey, do you want to take the kids to the beach?” And us both sitting there watching our kids play. And Chris telling me the tale on this one was, “I’m not going to tell you what the movie’s about, but if I send you one page. Whatever comes to you from that page, give me one day and write that.” And so this envelope appeared. It’s just beautiful – and, I want to emphasize, typewritten, not word-processed, and on rather thick paper, so I know, to this day, there’s no carbon copy, and I’m the only one who has this piece of paper. And it was a fable. It was really a fable about what it’s like to be a parent, and other things in it which – Chris knows me very well – were very pertinent to my son, who is going to be a scientist, etc. And I wrote this piece, completely from the heart, completely personal. Phoned him up that evening, and said, “I’ve done it. Do you want me to send it over?” He says, “Can I come down?” He sat down on my couch and had a listen to it. And I said, “What do you think?” He goes, “Well, I better make the movie now.” And I’m going, “What is the movie?”
And he starts telling me this huge canvas, this huge adventure. And my first reaction was, of course, I’ve written you this incredibly personal thing. And because it was – there’s a handmade quality about somebody sending you a typewritten or handwritten letter. I mean, when you get a note from Chris, it’s usually handwritten, beautifully handwritten. And that piece of music that I had done was incredibly handmade, etc. And here we were doing this vast space movie. But I really quickly realized – I don’t know if people ever think about this – but all science fiction movies are inherently nostalgic and intensely personal. It’s some weird way we get to find our way back to ourselves. And that’s how we carried on. We just carried on. It was like the two of us talking, playing music. I don’t mind playing in front of Chris. There has to be a level of trust. When I speak, I find it not difficult speaking to you right now. But if you ask me to play a piece of music, that would be a different thing because the only time I truly reveal myself is in a piece of music. So you have to trust him. You have to trust the man.
Next, you’re doing another superhero film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, featuring the Superman you’ve scored before for Man of Steel, and also a character that you’ve approached before in a different cinematic context, Batman. Are you doing a different take on Batman, or drawing from your established theme, or something else?
You know something? I have agonized over it. I agonized over it, so much so that finally, I went, I don’t want to betray what Chris, James Newton Howard and I did. And so I asked Zack [Snyder] if it would be OK if I called a friend in. And I’m going to be working with Junkie XL, who really is a great friend. He just finished the Mad Max score. I said to him, “You take care of Batman. I’ll do the other guy.” And Zack loved that idea. It’s a way out.