Academy Award winner Gabriel Yared (The English Patient) chats with Megan McLachlan about reteaming with Renee Zellweger and how he captured the musical highs and lows of Judy.
The last time Gabriel Yared scored a movie with Renee Zellweger, it was for Cold Mountain, which went on to earn seven Academy Award nominations, including for Best Original Score (Yared) and Best Supporting Actress (Zellweger—for which she won).
With their most recent collaboration on the Judy Garland biopic Judy, clearly there’s a special movie magic between Yared’s music and Zellweger’s performance, as the score paints the playfulness of Garland’s on-screen persona underlined by behind-the-scenes heartache.
I had a chance to chat with Yared via email about what it was like working on this film and how he found the right tone for the music of Judy’s life.
Awards Daily: How much of the movie did you see while you were scoring it? What was the process like?
Gabriel Yared: I have always had a personal approach to film scoring since the ’80s, as I like to take my inspiration from a script and from discussing the film with a director. This is often before the film has been shot. I immediately start writing, and exploring various musical ideas, mostly to reflect the spirit of the film to come, rather than for each specific scene. This was my approach for many films including Betty Blue, The English Patient, The Talented Mr Ripley, Cold Mountain, and more. I think a good collaboration comes from establishing a proper relationship with someone over a long period of time. I feel that the music can also be inspiring for the actors and film crew, who otherwise would never get to hear it. Of course, when I have the film to work with, I then endeavour to craft my music to all the important details such as the pace, dialogue, colours, etc.
For Judy, however, I was hired once there was already a rough cut of the whole film. The process and collaboration with the director, Rupert Goold, was extremely rewarding. I already knew about Rupert, and mostly his work as a theatre director at the Almeida Theatre in London. When we first met, I told him that I would like to spend time with him to discuss what he expected the music would bring to his film. Even if a director doesn’t go into a musical vocabulary, they very often express the path for a composer to follow through their words. Rupert came to Paris several times, and we started a very close collaboration. There was a real understanding between us, as he is very musical and refined. If I played a theme on the piano, he had the imagination to extrapolate what he heard. Of course, I had to to adapt the orchestration, colour, and timbre (register) of all these pieces to each scene, as the editing was sometimes changing, but the spirit of the music was there from the start.
AD: Were you a fan of Judy Garland before taking on this project? Did you have to do any research before scoring?
GY: Yes, I liked Judy Garland very much, and I knew about her life and her tragic destiny. I didn’t feel the need to do research, in the same way that when I work on a film adaptation of a book, I wouldn’t read the source material, and instead I would let the film guide me. This happened to me on The English Patient and many other projects.
My research instead was focused on finding the right tone for the music, and adapting this to the images. It took me a while to come up with a main theme, which I thought reflected Judy’s character.
AD: Like Judy’s life, the score is bittersweet. What did you do to convey both whimsy and sadness?
GY: I composed only one overarching theme, which I varied and developed depending on the scene, conveying the different stages and emotions of Judy’s inner voice, such as whimsy and sadness. For example, the original theme is in a minor key and very nostalgic, but for a specific scene where Judy is getting dressed and her makeup is being done for her first concert in London, I transformed this theme into an uplifting ‘waltz’, as I felt the scene was very choreographed like a dance. Another example where I varied the same theme in a completely different way is when Judy is backstage, and she is trying to find the courage to go out and perform. For this scene, I wrote a piece for orchestra and female choir that gradually builds to its climax when she goes on stage, reflecting Judy’s inner strength. I believe that just one theme, if it is rich enough, could be a reservoir for all kinds of variations, and so could be suited to very different scenes and emotions. Just like leaves are different to each other, they all belong to the same tree.
AD: The score also really captures Judy’s highs and lows. Did you have particular instrumentation that you like to use to demonstrate either? How did you capture her larger-than-life persona while also showing a very lonely person?
GY: As there were many songs in the film, the score needed to find its own voice, and sometimes needed to be very discrete. Most of all, it needed to reflect Judy’s ‘internal voice’. For this, I used a small orchestra of strings and woodwinds, and I added a female choir to somehow convey this.
Furthermore, for all the flashback scenes, I worked on finding a very different texture that was more electronic and abstract. This new texture was not only there to make each of these scenes sound ‘synthy’, but to help find the right tone for these scenes, and place the audience in a different space.
AD: Did you pull any styles from her specific songs or movies?
GY: Not really, although at the very end of the opening scene, my music had to quote the famous octave of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, before going in a totally different musical direction.
AD: In addition to the movie, the score really tells her story, too, getting increasingly somber by the end. Did making the music increasingly somber have an impact on you in the creative process?
GY: In every piece of music I compose, all my emotions and my whole being are completely involved.
AD: You also scored Cold Mountain, a movie for which Renee Zellweger won an Oscar. What was it like seeing her again, after 15 years?
GY: It was such an inspiration, as Renée is completely amazing in whichever character she portrays. As I started working on the music after the film was shot, I took the essence of my inspiration from watching her performance and expressions. This helped me in composing and finding the right tone for Judy’s character, and ultimately for the whole film.
Judy is now playing.