Hans Zimmer Talks INTERSTELLAR, Breaking Away From the Sound of INCEPTION, Working With Christopher Nolan, and Hypnotizing the Audience

     November 7, 2014


Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is finally in theaters.  And I loved it.  I can say that and at the same time I acknowledge that it is, in some ways, a flawed film.  But I think I love it even more because of those flaws.  It’s brazenly emotional and goes places I didn’t quite think it would have the balls to go in that regard.  It’s nice to see a director making something so hugely idiosyncratic with such a big canvas and I can’t wait to check it out again.

A big part of the film’s appeal is composer Hans Zimmer‘s score.  Zimmer has been working with Nolan for years, but here they come up with something unlike anything we’ve heard from them before.  It’s ethereal and driving and almost religious, it’s the opposite of Inception.  I recently hopped on the phone with Zimmer to discuss the score and the marked departure it represents in his collaborations with Nolan.  Hit the jump for the interview and be sure to check out Interstellar this weekend, preferably in IMAX or 70MM.     For more on the film, watch these featurettesclip, or click here for all our coverage.

christopher-nolan-interstellarQuestion: I really liked the movie.  It was so much more specific and idiosyncratic than I thought it would be.  It went to unexpected places. 

HANS ZIMMER: I want to start with something I don’t think it gets mentioned enough.  I think it’s fantastic that we have someone like Christopher Nolan who says, “I’m going to make my movie the way I want to make my movie.  We’re not going to have a car chase, no one’s going to draw a gun on anybody.  We’re just going to go celebrate science.  We’re going to be like kids sitting on the lawn looking up at the stars.”

I’ve been a fan of your work for some time, so I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was by how different the score is than on Inception.  That film was such a landmark score for you, but you’ve gone off in the complete opposite direction and have made another landmark score. 

ZIMMER:  Here’s the thing, we’ve spent a long time working with each other.  On Batman Begins we came up with a sound that spread like a virus over all of his other movies.  The driving drums and driving string figures.  The first thing we said was, “let’s not do that anymore.”  We wanted to widen our palette.  Let’s do things we’ve never done before.  Let’s go get a crazy large woodwind section.  We’re doing a new movie, we’re starting fresh.  Let’s switch up the vocabulary.  We didn’t want to betray the past 10 years worth of work we’ve done but at the same time we had to ask, “aren’t we bored?”  Chris gave me a watch and on the back of the watch it said, “this is not a time for caution.”

interstellar-matthew-mcconaughey-john-lithgowWhich is evident in the movie.  What’s a typical spotting session with him like? 

ZIMMER: There is no spotting session.  We work in parallel.  This movie started off two years ago with Chris saying to me, “I’m not going to tell you what the movie’s about.  But if I write one page will you give me one day and write something?”  Not only is Chris a brilliant writer, he writes beautifully.  He gave me this envelope with a very personal outline about a father/child relationship.  He knows me well enough to push my buttons and there was enough in it to work with.  I went off and wrote it and he came down to listen to it.  I said to him, “what do you think?” And he goes, “I suppose I had better make the movie now.”  Then I asked him what the movie was and he began to describe this idea of space as a huge canvas and the science of it all.  He knows I’m a complete geek and am science obsessed, as is my son.  And that piece that I wrote is the first piece that you hear when it cuts to black at the end of the movie.

It conveys the epicness of space travel but it’s also hugely emotional.

ZIMMER: Weirdly there is a huge, big early 20th century love theme that keeps going through the movie but is never used as a love theme  The most romantic music in the movie is the music about science.

A few of the sequences — the worm hole, the black hole, and the wave — I found myself almost having a panic attack.  And the music is a big part of that.  Can you talk about those?

ZIMMER: It’s quite simple because I don’t move harmonically.  Going chord to chord, you sort of know where it’s going to go.  And by staying monochromatically, you don’t know what’s around the corner.  Rather than doing a lot… I’m hypnotizing you.  That’s what I’m doing.  One of the things that’s really important is that the music gets to occupy its own space and time, it’s not tied to the mechanics of the cut.  We work slightly differently.  The music is written on the story, not so much on the cut.  And there’s a juxtaposition that creates a certain unease.  I work really hard at keeping the emotional signals [of where the music is going to go] hidden.


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