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Composer Mac Quayle On Scoring FX’s ‘Versace’

Emmy-winner Mac Quayle scores Ryan Murphy’s latest epic limited series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.

Mac Quayle’s partnership with Emmy-winning writer/director/producer Ryan Murphy resulted in some of the finest compositions of the last decade in television. An Emmy winner for USA Network’s Mr. Robot, Quayle’s work with Murphy runs an enviable gamut of television genres. American Horror Story‘s gothic and often romantic horror themes. The electronic interpretation of 1980’s era horror in Scream Queens. The classic Hollywood sounds of Feud: Bette and Joan. Each product delivers memorable themes that immediately orient the viewer in Murphy’s latest product.

Mac Quayle
(Photo: Cat Deakins)

Quayle’s most recent Ryan Murphy productions include Fox’s star-studded 9-1-1. His latest contributions to the American Crime Story series, however, has critics standing at ovation. His delicate and haunting themes for The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story evoke classic cinematic thrillers. Quayle spoke with Awards Daily to reveal his on-going process with Ryan Murphy and to talk about establishing the sound for the gripping drama.

You continue to work with Ryan Murphy on a variety of projects. After so many properties, how is the creative process working between the two of you?

I think it continues to work. He keeps coming back to me. [Laughs] He keeps asking me to write music for him, so I take that as a sign that it’s working. The process is pretty similar even though the projects are quite different. We start with a conversation about what he thinks would make a good musical direction for that season, and then based on those preliminary discussions I start writing music.

What cues did he give you for approaching the Versace material?

Well, we talked about the tone. Part of this story is about a serial killer, so we talked about how the music should help tell that story. We looked at things like Silence of the Lambs – that sort of creepy, serial killer-type genre – and thought that would be a nice partial influence for what we wanted to do. The story takes place in the 90s, and we felt like an electronic sound would be appropriate for it. Aside from those two elements, we paid attention to the Italian aspect of the story with Versace and his family. I’ve been calling it Silence of the Lambs meets Giorgio Moroder in an Italian villa.

What are some of the recurring themes viewers should look out for throughout Versace?

There’s a theme for Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) – a melodic motif and signature sound that follows him around. There’s a theme for Donatella Versace and for Gianni Versace. Those are the three main musical themes. Characters sort of come and go in this story, so there may be a theme for a single character in the story that we don’t really hear again.

In the pilot, the first 7-8 minutes are largely wordless and are underscored by your arrangement of “Adagio in G Minor.” Talk to me about using that for the pilot.

Well, that piece is an amazing piece. It was proposed as an idea, and when we sat down and watched it, it was beautiful and seemed like it had potential. Yet, there was something about the version we were using that didn’t have what I thought was needed to pull the viewer in the show. I convinced them to let me do a new arrangement of it and try to create something that would pull the viewer in and keep the attention going for 7-8 minutes. It needed motion. So, I did an arrangement. They really loved it, and we ultimately ended up recording it with an ensemble.

What’s next for you in the Ryan Murphy world?

Ryan, of course, is creating another show called Pose. I’m told that any moment I should receive something to work on there. I’m looking forward to the next challenge. The next creating a musical universe from nothing.

Have they started the second season of Feud yet?

I know that they’re in pre-production, but when they’re going to start shooting, I don’t know.

So this is the Diana and Charles season, and you haven’t done anything regal or grand like that before. Are you looking forward to that challenge?

Oh man, as you say that I’m getting terrified, which is kind of like how I felt with Feud: Bette and Joan. I love that era of music, but I’d never done anything like that before. It was pretty terrifying, but my confidence is bolstered a little that I was able to meet that challenge. One of the great things that happened with Feud was the amount of preparation I had to craft the sound for that world. I was able to spend time working on the main title theme, and that ended up being quite the blueprint for a lot of the score to follow. It would be wonderful if that same opportunity happened for Charles and Diana. It would help ease the terror a bit.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story continues tonight at 10pm ET on FX.