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Hans Zimmer Explains What Would Make Him Return to Superhero Films

Hans Zimmer Explains What Would Make Him Return to Superhero Films

Don’t hang around Hans Zimmer if he is scoring a tense film; you’ll regret it. During an early, zippy episode of Zimmer’s new Masterclass, the iconic film composer explains just how entrenched he becomes in his creative process: “You don’t want to be around me if I am working on the Dark Knight. I do become the Joker.” He finishes the thought with what seems like a friendly smile, but might be more of a self-aware smirk. He’s only sort of kidding.

For the man behind the severe scores for films like Inception, The Dark Knight, and Gladiator, Zimmer is a remarkably jovial teacher throughout his 31-episode seminar, in which he guides you through the world of professional film scoring, offering you sage advice, technical tools, and most importantly, ridiculous jokes and anecdotes about his life. A choice moment occurs early on–he explains the idea that good music is akin to the art of conversation. He translates notes to an entire scene (watch above) that perfectly encapsulate Zimmer as a brilliant goofball whose main focus is using every implement possible to envelope you in a new universe: “When we run out of words and when we run out of beautiful pictures, we have to resort to this other language called music.”

The truth in Zimmer’s remark about becoming the Joker is exactly what makes him a good teacher and a legendary composer. He believes firmly and preaches the principle of complete immersion in the craft, perhaps to a fault. In a discussion over the phone, Zimmer admits, “I am completely unemployable at any other job. People still say, ‘What do you do?’, and I say, ‘I’m a musician.’ And they go, ‘Great, but what do you do for a living?'”

But that has not stopped him from adding a few new things to his résumé. For the first time ever, Zimmer is taking his orchestra and scores on the road, with a notable stop at Coachella later this April. After his recent, rousing performance of Planet Earth 2 music on Colbert, I assumed that he was excited and ready to finally try out the mythologized life as a touring musician. “I’m going to be just in a perpetual state of hysteria and panic,” Zimmer says, before telling me he hopes to catch Kendrick Lamar at the festival if he isn’t too distracted by his own anxiety. Though I am surprised by his nerves, I am also relieved to hear about them. Even after a lifetime of creating classic music for beloved films, Zimmer is refusing complacence, opting for the uncomfortable, and letting the world see the act of taking that risk. He certainly doesn’t want to see the world burn, but he will always light a fire under his own feet.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Zimmer recently and talked to him about his new Masterclass, why he gave up on scoring superhero films, what we can expect from his live set, and who his favorite young composers are. Check out that conversation below.

Nerdist: I read that you are done with superhero films. Can you explain why?

Hans Zimmer: The three Batman movies I did with Chris [Nolan]–it’s only three movies to people, but for us, it was 12 years of our lives. And then I added Man of Steel, and then it suddenly became Batman v Superman, and I was going, “Oh my god, now I have to go and reinvent the Batman thing because I don’t want to betray the work I did with Christian Bale as Batman.” And I just thought, “No, I just need to have a pause here.” And I actually said I’m not doing anymore superhero movies.

And then Ron Howard sort of gently said to me, “You know, Hans, you should never say you never will do superhero movies, because if somebody turns up with an amazing script, you would be an idiot not to do it.” So yes, it’s just… I do think Chris and I sort of set the tone for superhero movies for quite a while with those Batman movies. It just felt like it’s important to go and … you know, look, do some other stuff. Hidden Figures is not a superhero movie. It was great to do that. There are other things I can do.

N: So a good script would be the thing that would make you return to the genre?

HZ: Yes, exactly. In other words, a script that would break the genre.

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N: In your Masterclass, you mention the desire for younger competition to be at your heels. Why is that?

HZ: Yes, absolutely. You want to have people–and I think I manage to be really good about this as well–the people who started out making coffee here now suddenly have amazing careers as song composers. There’s a duty to keep things alive, in a way, and to move things forward and to make things progress. You want to feel the pressure of the new breathing down your neck.

N: Are there any young composers that you admire particularly right now?

HZ: Well, I’m not sure how young they are, but Johann Johannson is a favorite, as is Jonny Greenwood. I think what’s happening right now is that the inventiveness, and the shackles have just been taken off. Not every score has to be a big orchestral something or the other. Hauschka, who goes and manipulates pianos and does crazy stuff like this, is sort of what I love. And it’s become more international as well. The one thing where the foreign acts seem to be okay in Hollywood is the music. Does that make sense?

N: How do you feel about Mica Levi?

HZ: She is a complete breath of fresh air. It’s just like somebody throwing a hand grenade into film composing in the best possible way, and exploding it all and making us all reevaluate how we go about telling a story.

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N: When you’re watching a show or a film, do you notice the music before anything else?

HZ: No. weirdly. No, I get completely immersed. If it’s good, I’m completely taken by the experience of it. And the only time I’m taken out of it is, if it’s a particularly great cue, or it’s a particularly awful cue. My sixth sense goes up and goes, “Aw, shit. Oh god, if you had only not played that note.”

I was watching something the other day, and I’m not going to say what it was, but I kept thinking, “God, you’re always ahead of the story. You keep being ahead of the story. You keep announcing that this is going to get scary before it actually does. You’re ruining it.” So yes, I notice those things.

N: Are there any TV shows you really enjoy?

HZ: Give me anything that is dark and moody and Scandinavian, and I’m a sucker for it. You know the series Broadchurch? It’s the sparsest, but it really hits me and I think it’s really good. Peaky Blinders, not bad at all.

N: Do you listen to music or watch other films while you are writing?

HZ: I go radio silent. We did this roundtable with Danny Elfman and John Powell was there. And the interviewer asked us what film scores we listen to. And John just bursts out, “You gotta be kidding me. Why would we be listening to film scores if there’s all this other great music out there?” Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 1.26.14 AM

N: What is the most painstaking score you’ve ever written?

HZ: Thin Red Line. It just stumped me. Everything about it stumped me, but in a really good way. Yeah, sometimes incredibly painful, sometimes huge big arguments with Terry [Terrence Malick]. But in retrospect, the most … He kept taking the dialogue out! When I read the script, people were talking forever. And then at a certain point, he decided it should be more like images and music, and I wasn’t quite ready for that. And that’s the thing, you learn. You get better at it. And that was a year of my life, trying to get better at it.

N: You are also going on tour and playing Coachella. Is that a nerve-racking prospect for you?

HZ: I get really bad stage fright. But my first show went great, and I thought, “Well, maybe I won’t have stage fright the next day.” And it was exactly the same the next day. So I’m just trying to come to terms. This is how I’m built. And you can’t have fear stop you from doing things in life. So, look, hey, if the audience wants to come and just see a man freaking out on stage, you’re coming to the right place. Bloody hell, I mean, who would have thunk it? Song composer at Coachella. Something inherently weird about that.

N: What era of work will you be pulling from?

HZ: Oh, I’m not telling you! I’m not telling anybody.

N: Oh really?

HZ: When we started working on Dark Knight, everybody knew Chris Nolan was making another Batman movie. And we didn’t tell anybody what we were doing. We just kept our mouths shut because nobody expected it to be that sort of a Batman movie. And that’s the joy of it: you want a surprise. You want to surprise people. So no, I’m not telling you. In fact, I’m still going back and forth and up and down and sideways trying to figure that out. But hey, it’ll be a surprise for me as well. But you know what I mean? I don’t want to go and preempt it right now, you know? Let’s live dangerously. Let’s go and be experimental and see what happens.

Images: Masterclass

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