'Philomena': Alexandre Desplat discusses inspiration for Oscar-nominated score

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Image Credit: H.Wallace/Photomundo International

EW was on the scene Sunday night as the Beverly Hills Hotel played host to an intimate Q&A session with Academy Award-winning composer Alexandre Desplat. The famed French composer touched on some of his more notable bodies of work, and also discussed his inspiration for his work on this year’s Best Original Score nominee Philomena.

One of the most surprising things Desplat revealed about his latest Oscar-nominated score is that it took him merely two days to compose what would end up being the theme for Philomena. Despite the short turnaround, the composer also revealed to moderator and president of the Society of Composers & Lyricists, Ashley Irwin, that he struggled to come up with a score that would do Philomena the film and Philomena the person justice.

“Philomena Lee, in both the movie and in life, is a person who’s very strong but at the same time doesn’t show it — you can feel it if you get close to her, you can feel a great strength and a great dignity,” explained the composer. “[It was] very difficult to score because of that because I was worried that I would hurt — that I would be intruding, that I would be in the way.”

Right off the bat, however, Desplat said he knew he wanted something very simple in melody and in range to symbolize the feeling of restraint that comes across in the film. Above all, the composer says he was specifically inspired by the fairground moment in Philomena’s story. In Desplat’s mind, that single moment serves as a catalyst for her whole story.

“I orchestrated this melody in a way that reminds us, or echoes this sound of a fair organ using recorders, bass clarinets, strings, and harmonics, and it gives an eerie and haunting sound as if this music was a ghost all long in the film, ghosting her,” Desplat said. “This [melody] is reminding her of what happened and the pain and the loss and actually reminding us, the audience, to share in the pain and the tragedy.”

As for what the real Philomena thought of the film, Desplat said, “She thinks that maybe the film is a bit silly” in comparison to who she really is as a person. Regardless of the film itself, however, Desplat said she gave his score a big thumbs-up.

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