Harry Gregson-Williams composes original score for “Total Recall,” opens August 3rd
August 3, 2012 by Dana Feldman
by Dana Feldman
Hollywood composer Harry Gregson-Williams has created film scores spanning the gamut of genres including action, drama and animation. With each distinctive note of music that he writes melding perfectly onto the silver screen, he’s of the top echelon in his field.
His latest endeavor is the futuristic psychological action thriller TOTAL RECALL starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho and Bill Nighy. Directed by Len Wiseman, this journey into the human mind blends fantasy into reality, thus blurring the fine line between the two and putting into question the very nature of memory versus perception.
“The movie opens in a calm, relaxed way and so the music reflected that in the beginning.” Gregson-Williams explains as he describes the five months he spent scoring the film. “A movie like this has a pulse running through it and the music has a pulsating beat that’s never at rest. The music had to be restless as it follows Colin’s character trying to figure out who he is.” Wiseman had given him a cut of the film months prior to the final edited version so that he’d have something to work off of. “That version was longer than the final cut, but all of the necessary elements were there. It was the perfect jumping off point where I could ask ‘What are we going to create here?’” Explaining that there is quite a lot of music in a film of this nature, he and Wiseman created a sort of shorthand between them. “Len would occasionally draw something that would represent what he wanted musically rather than verbalize what he wanted.”
In the film our future world consists of just two inhabitable areas for humankind after chemical warfare has destroyed the rest of the planet, The Colony and the United Federation of Britain. ‘The Fall’, an express elevator that travels through the Earth’s core, is the only connection and means of transportation between the two. “In The Colony it’s always raining and frantic. It’s a gray and hopeless place that no one wants to be in as opposed to the United Federation of Britain, which is a good place to be. The music had to portray this and reflect the place geographically. I also had to ensure that we see the character beats musically so I gave each actor their own musical theme that developed as their character developed.” Of Farrell’s character that’s in such a secure place as the film begins, Gregson-Williams adds, “His world is quickly turned upside down and he’s not even trusting his own instincts as to who he is. He’s so confused. This was an interesting character to follow and his music had to grow into something quite heroic to follow the arc of his character.” Speaking to his respect for Wiseman as an artist, he says, “Len’s work ethic is truly second to none. He’s such a nice guy. You don’t hesitate to follow him into the trenches. Even when he emails you at four in the morning,” he adds laughing.
Just finished with TOTAL RECALL three weeks prior to this interview, he speaks in regards to a business that’s unarguably demanding. “I’m trying to turn over a new leaf and not work like a vampire.” Acknowledging the inevitability of working long hours, he adds, “When you’re asked to get something done, you have to do it or you’re out. You develop quite a thick skin. If you’re not into working hard, this isn’t the business for you.”
Explaining how the music adds to the soul of a film, he says that his state of mind varies depending on the project he’s working on. “When I worked on Tony Scott’s MAN ON FIRE, it was challenging. The movie revolves around a little girl that we think may have been killed. She looks like my daughter and they were about the same age at the time, so the music really got to me. If it doesn’t then one’s head is not right.” Pausing momentarily he adds, “On the flip side when I worked on SHREK I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face.”
Saying that he’s never done a film he loved more than SPY GAME, he tells of the significance of this film in his career. “That film opened up so many doors for me. It was my second with Tony Scott and I’ve done several since.” The Oscar nominated GONE BABY GONE with Ben Affleck, he reflects, was very special as he adds that the first SHREK and NARNIA were also wonderful experiences. “All have had various challenges and each have asked different things of me as a composer.” Of the possibility of doing television, “I particularly love HBO and Showtime. It’s about finding the right project. This business is very much about relationships that are built over the course of time and so if any of the directors that I’ve worked with were to do a television show, I’d love to join.”
The England-born Gregson-Williams earned a music scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge at the age of seven and by the of age thirteen his singing had been featured on more than a dozen recordings. From there he moved to Stowe School as their top music scholar and subsequently gained a coveted spot at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama. He then turned his attention to teaching, initially in schools in England but later in Alexandria, Egypt, before starting his film career as assistant to composer Richard Harvey and later as orchestrator and arranger for Stanley Myers. He composed his first scores for director Nicolas Roeg, but it was the subsequent collaboration and friendship with composer Hans Zimmer that resulted in Gregson-Williams providing music for such films as THE ROCK, ARMAGEDDON and THE PRINCE OF EGYPT thus solidifying him as a much sought after film composer.
Included on Gregson-Williams resume are all four installments of SHREK; Andrew Adamson’s THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN; Mike Newell’s PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME; X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE; Antoine Fuqua’s THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS; Ridley Scott’s KINGDOM OF HEAVEN; Ben Affleck’s THE TOWN; Joel Schumacher’s TWELVE, THE NUMBER 23, VERONICA GUERIN and PHONE BOOTH; Beeban Kidron’s BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON; Bille August’s RETURN TO SENDER and SMILLA’s SENSE OF SNOW; Tony Scott’s UNSTOPPABLE, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3, DÉJÀ VU, DOMINO and ENEMY OF THE STATE; the animated ARTHUR CHRISTMAS, CHICKEN RUN and ANTZ; Jon Favreau’s COWBOYS & ALIENS, the documentary LIFE IN A DAY and the recent theme for Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS.
Upcoming projects for Gregson-Williams include the drama MISTER PIP, a film he describes as wonderful and very unusual, starring Hugh Laurie and directed by Andrew Adamson. The original motion picture soundtrack for TOTAL RECALL is now available via Madison Gate Records (Sony Pictures Entertainment).