Oscar-nominated composer Johann Johannsson says he was forced to step outside of his comfort zone to work on the crime drama “Sicario,” which reunites him with “Prisoners” (2013) director Denis Villeneuve. “I haven’t really scored a lot of action,” he explains during our recent webcam chat (watch below) about this new film that explores the war on drugs.
“The first scene that I scored was this long helicopter shot of this convoy driving into Juarez,” says Johannsson. “I wrote this theme which was a very slow, percussive piece that slowly crescendos, and grows into this very violent, distorted assault. It builds and builds with the sound of the helicopter blades, and it’s almost like the helicopter is an instrument as well in the piece. That really set the tone, I think, for the rest of the score.”
Through conversations with the director before and during shooting, the composer began thinking of “Sicario” less as an action-packed thriller and more like a war film. “We talked about creating this sort of subtle war music,” he says, “which is maybe a contradiction in terms, but that’s really something that I was trying to do: I was trying to create a war film score that avoids conventions in some ways and has this sort of relentless, obsessive quality almost.”
In metaphorical terms, he describes the score as being, “like a heartbeat that runs through the film, almost like the heartbeat of this beast that’s charging at you. I think that was always the idea, to have this kind of relentlessly minimalist approach to doing action music, and creating this tension through fairly simple and effective means.”
Johannsson received his first Oscar nomination last year for “The Theory of Everything,” and won the Golden Globe for his work. Check out our full interview below for more about his work on “Sicario.”