Mac Quayle talks to Awards Daily TV about scoring Season 2 of Mr. Robot and the challenges of scoring different TV shows like FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan.
This is the latest in a weekly series of interviews with the cast and creative behind USA / NBC Universal’s Mr. Robot.
Mac Quayle is one of TV’s busiest composers. Most recently, you’ve heard his work on FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan, but last year he won his first Emmy for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score) for USA Network’s Mr. Robot. Two very different scores for two very different shows.
“It’s definitely a different set of challenges,” says Quayle. “[Feud] is not a style I had done a whole lot of work in, which I would say is a period ’60s orchestral sound, so there was a little bit of a learning curve. Once we found a few themes and overall palette, then it sort of ended up being similar to Mr. Robot or the other shows I work on. Once there’s a musical universe to inhabit, then it’s just a matter of living in that universe and writing music that fits with the sound.”
In Season 1 of Mr. Robot, the highly talked-about electronic score was beloved by critics and fans alike for its ’80s nostalgia, which paired perfectly with the series’ throwback logo in classic Sega print. Naturally, there was some pressure when it came to scoring the sophomore season.
“The show got so much attention in the first season. All aspects of creating that second season had a little pressure. There were expectations of what it would be.”
When it came to the Season 2 score for Mr. Robot, creator Sam Esmail discussed a different composition approach with Quayle.
“We wanted to bring a little more of live instrumentation into the sound, instead of being purely electronic,” says Quayle. “I’m not sure there was a concrete reason for it. It was just more of that we wanted the music to evolve from Season 1, to bring in a different element.”
In the “Mind Awake, Body Asleep” montage of Season 2, the live piano is especially prominent, perhaps a metaphor for grounding Elliot (Rami Malek) into reality. Even though this piece of music is tied to this particular character in this scene, the scoring of Mr. Robot rarely has direct character connection, meaning there is no Darlene or Angela theme.
“There was a theme written in Season 1 that was pretty much attached to Elliot, but there isn’t a hard and fast rule with it. It’s more about what we feel is appropriate for a scene and what evokes the right feeling we’re looking for.”
Quayle admits that he gets to read the scripts ahead of time, but the twists like Elliot being in prison don’t really affect his creative process.
“The scripts aren’t necessarily the best indication of what’s going to translate to [the final cut] after being shot and edited. They give me a little idea, but really once every episode starts to come in, I get a real sense of what’s going to be taking place and where the music needs to go for it. It’s always once they’ve shot the episode and are starting to edit it that they send it to me.”
As the reigning dramatic score winner for Mr. Robot, Quayle will hopefully be defending his Emmy win this fall—and maybe even doubling his chances with Feud: Bette and Joan.
“I should be so lucky,” he laughs. “The good news is that if I were that fortunate, Mr. Robot is in the dramatic series category and Feud is in the limited series category, so they would not be competing with one another.”
One feud Quayle is happy to avoid.