Paul Leonard-Morgan returns to Limitless and creates an Emmy-nominated television score
NZT-48, the pill dramatized in both the film and television versions of Limitless, does not exist in real life. Sure, a half-dozen internet ads or late-night informercials claim the opposite, but the pill as rendered in CBS’s now-cancelled freshman series is a work of fiction. Still, after a 20-minute conversation with Limitless‘s accomplished composer Paul Leonard-Morgan, you may wonder if that pill doesn’t exist after all. At the very least, you start questioning how you’re spending your day.
“I feel so lucky to be writing music. There are so many people writing music out there. Some part-time, some full-time, and some full-time but not getting enough work,” Leonard-Morgan said. “For me, this month alone working on four different projects… You’ve always got to try and push yourself as a composer and a producer to do something different. Otherwise, it’s going to be the same old the whole time, isn’t it? But that’s why life is fun.”
Leonard-Morgan composes scores for film in addition to television in both the U.S. and the U.K. He tackles marathons in kilts while designing the soundtrack for Epcot’s revamped Test Track ride. He’s also scoring an Errol Morris film. In his spare time, he’s even taking on a massive score for the upcoming Dawn of War III video game.
How did you spend your year?
On returning to Limitless
Paul Leonard-Morgan originally scored the 2011 film Limitless, which starred Bradley Cooper as a struggling writer who takes NZT-48 to enhance his brain function. After the film raked in around $160 million on a $27 million budget, producers decided to continue the story in 2015 with a television series sequel. Leonard-Morgan jumped at the chance to return to the world he scored for film. The result garnered Leonard-Morgan his first Emmy nomination.
“Who wouldn’t want to work with [director] Marc Webb,” Leonard-Morgan laughed when asked why he returned to the property. “Neil Berger was originally going to be doing it, the director of the original Limitless film, and he phoned me up and asked me if I wanted to do it. If I wanted to join the ride. I said, ‘I’ve never done American television before. I don’t know what I’m doing!’ ”
Scheduling conflicts with Showtime’s Billions caused Berger to back out, so enter Marc Webb who encouraged Leonard-Morgan to eschew the original score. It also helped that the series itself would be tonally different from the original film. The possibilities involved in creating a new score for effectively the same world intrigued him, including the opportunity to work in the American television system.
“It’s a different process in the sense that you have almost no contact with the directors. You have your series producer and the showrunner, and I was fortunate enough to have an incredibly supportive crew with me,” Leonard-Morgan said. The producer and showrunner’s eclectic tastes in music allowed for Leonard-Morgan to employ a range of musical influences in the series. At any given moment, the soundtrack ranges from orchestral to heavy metal to electronic.
“It was just schizophrenic. One minute, you’re having comedy. One minute, there’s incredibly dark drama. The next minute… There’s just lots of things happening,” Leonard-Morgan said. “It was just a great opportunity to get to do lots of different styles of music while, at the same time, there’s just this really hardcore electronica underneath it.”
On his first Emmy nomination
Paul Leonard-Morgan discovered he received an Emmy nomination for his Limitless score after an all-night scoring session in his studio. When the phone calls started rolling in around 8:30PT on Emmy nomination Thursday, he greeted a well-wisher with a rousing rendition of “Good Morning!” from Singin’ in the Rain. It was the lack of sleep talking. He had no idea of the good news.
“They asked me what day it was, and I said, ‘Well, it’s Thursday,’ ” Leonard-Morgan said. “You’re the only person in Los Angeles who doesn’t know what day it is, they told me. It was really surreal and fantastic. I thought they were for other people, not for me.”
On the kilt
“What is the big deal with the kilt???” Leonard-Morgan exclaims. “Everybody’s obsessed with it!”
Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, Leonard-Morgan is a true Scot and carries forward the traditional Scottish kilt in several aspects of his life. He even participates in a hospital fundraiser where he marathons 26 miles in a kilt. The drive for this Scottish dedication stems from a personal and endearing source: his newborn daughter struggled at birth but was saved by a talented hospital staff. He walks this marathon once a year in his kilt.
But don’t worry. He’ll wash the kilt before the Emmys.