Jeff Beal Q&A: ‘House of Cards’ composer
As “House of Cards” composer Jeff Beal, tells us during our recent webcam chat, he is inspired to create by the cast of this Netflix drama series led by a two-time Oscar winner and current Emmy contender: "For me, there’s a few actors who have always been on my bucket list, and Kevin Spacey was one of those names. And so the idea that I’m scoring a Kevin Spacey performance, and not just a movie, but now 36 hours of that, that’s a real dream come true, to have that kind of person you’re in support of in this musical score.”
Spacey stars as conniving US President Frank Underwood, who climbs the political ladder with the help of his equally duplicitous wife Claire (Robin Wright). “I like to write chronologically,” explains the composer, “so the first scene I ever scored was the opening of the pilot, when he comes outside and a dog has been hit by a car. It’s a great little microcosm of the whole show: breaking the fourth wall; this very dark tone; this sense of metaphor. There’s a complexity in Kevin’s performance, and I really wanted to give this character that he’s created a sense of layers.”
He continues, “In a way, he is a creature of politics, and he kind of just does the rational, logical thing as his brain works, as his moral compass dictates. You don’t get very far by mocking a character, and as David Fincher and I talked about in the very beginning, it’s not like he’s a monster in the sense that he thinks of himself as a monster, that’s just who he is. That’s usually my general go-to place in all the work I do, is trying to find the sort of honesty of a character’s actions and emotional place — no matter how dark or twisted that might be — and sort of bring the audience there, let them make their own judgements or reactions to what’s happening.”
When it came to writing for Claire, Beal says, “she’s sort of like the flip-side of Frank. She is Lady Macbeth, so in a lot of ways her world is Frank’s world. But because of who she is and the journey that she takes, I always feel like there’s something mysterious about Claire. There’s always more going on in her head that she’s thinking. It’s sort of like the intuition of a woman: I love the way in which Frank will often defer to her or look to her for council or a validation of something he’s thinking. Often, she is the one really driving the train. She’s just this unbelievably relentless force of nature, and she’s also really sexy.”
He says those scenes of the power couple, especially the ones where they share a secret cigarette, are an inspiration. “I think something that’s been apart of their world musically from the very beginning is this sort of sophisticated, almost film noir-ish sense of harmony and melody, and slightly jazzy. It always felt like it fit their world in a fun way. They kind of remind me of the way characters in movie used to be. A lot of movie writing in the present day has gotten incredibly realistic and has sort of gotten away from that more stylized type of performance and type of scripts, and the way that Beau Willimon has written these people really inspires a lot of those types of choices.”
Beal has won three Primetime Emmys: one for Main Title Theme Music (for “Monk”), and two for Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special (for “Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King” and “The Company”). He’s been nominated an additional 12 times, including four and counting for “House of Cards;” he’s also nominated this year for his work on the miniseries “The Dovekeepers.” As for all this Emmy attention “as they say, ‘It’s an honor to be nominated,’ which is true. I look at all the folks I’m nominated with this year, and it’s just amazing."