Your youth might have been touched by movies like Girl with a Pearl Earring, the Golden Compass, the curious case of Benjamin Button, the Twilight Saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or the King’s Speech. Then you were ravished by Moonrise Kingdom, Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Unbroken, Godzilla, the Danish Girl or the Shape of Water. More recently films like, Little Women, the French Dispatch or Pinocchio might have caught your eye.
What do all of these movies have in common? One great film composer. These are just a few of the movies to which Alexandre Desplat has brought his art.
You might not know his name, but you surely know his music. Alexandre Desplat, is one of the brightest film composers of our time. He won two Oscars: one in 2018 for The Shape of Water and an earlier one in 2015 for The Grand Budapest Hotel.
He won two academy awards, had ten Cesar nominations, ten BAFTA nominations (winning three), eleven golden globes nominations (winning two), and ten Grammy nominations (winning two).
Desplat's father was from Southern France and his mother from Greece, who both met in the United States. His multicultural descendance is evidently displayed in his compositions. Desplat has expanded his U.S. career whilst also remaining popular among his European counterparts.
He admitted in an interview: “Over the past 15 years, I’ve been able to build a voice, something that looks like me. I don’t know if that’s a “new” voice as some say, it’s not within my ability to say – but I write what I like! So It’s “me”. I come from France, I have worked here, and in England, and Spain, and I’m not going to dump the past 15 years of my life when I come to Hollywood. I will still improve by doing a European movie once in a while, because there’s a different approach to film scoring. Even a film with a small budget – I don’t car, as long as I can be creative. And being creative is the way to move forward”.
He plays by the rules, admiring his idol's movie compositions from the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski and Francis Ford Coppola. Desplat confessed his desire to compose a number of their films, saying in an interview “I’ve always been a film lover – that’s why I’ve always wanted to write music for films. But if I had to choose three films: Barry Lyndon (1975), Chinatown (1974) and The Godfather (1972)."Surely, there is a multicultural perception in those authors’ works too, which he might be associate with. Even more so since the music directors for those films were also from foreign backgrounds: Leonard Rosenman, Jerry Goldsmith and Nino Rota.
Piano, trumpet and flute forged his youth, with flute being his main instrument. Among his main inspirations include composer's such as Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. He embraced his classical music education by studying Brazilian and African music thanks to Claude Ballif’s analysis class at the CNSM.
He became interested in film scores because of Hitchcock movies and made up his mind as to his career because of the Star Wars theme.
After attending the conservatoire in Paris and in Los Angeles as a young adult, he then joined a theatrical troupe in his twenties to finally later on produce film soundtracks. In 1986, during the recording of his first feature film he meets his future wife Dominique Lemonnier, a brilliant violinist. This gives rise to a great collaboration as she becomes his favourite soloist and artistic director
While composing for Cinema and Television he started writing a lot for Theatre companies such as ‘La Comédie Française’, which allowed him to understand the importance of dramaturgy and how to adapt carefully his music to actors’ performances.
He has composed for French cinemas of course. For any of the Francophile readers here, he composed the music of Largo Winch, based on the Belgian comic, Coco before Chanel, and Cloclo a biopic on Claude François. He has also composed individual songs sung in films.
What made his career turn around, was the movie Girl with a Pearl Earring, in 2003. He was then only 42. In 2007 he received his first Academy Award nomination for Stephen Frears’ The Queen which earned him his first European Film Award.
2010 was a huge year for him. He won a second César and a second European Film Award for Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. He wrote the music for Twilight-New Moon by Chris Weitz, a platinum record, Anne Fontaine’s Coco Before Chanel and for Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech for which he won the BAFTA, the Grammy Award and receives his fourth Academy Award nomination and his fifth Golden Globe nomination.
He was a member of the jury of the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, and he also became the first composer to ever be President of the jury of the Venice Film Festival. He highly collaborated with the London Symphony Orchestra which then led him to direct a concert for his own works in December 2014 ate the Barbican Theatre in London.
The most prosperous year for him though was 2014. Desplat composed the music of the blockbuster Godzilla. He received two Oscar nominations one for the Imitation Game and the other for Grand Hotel Budapest, which he won. This marked the first time a composer had won against another of their own scores since John Williams for Star Wars. He then also won him his first academy award for Grand hotel Budapest. Years later he’ll win his second Academy Award for The Shape of Water.