Mychael Danna on getting ‘thrown into the deep end’ when he scored ‘On the Basis of Sex’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Mychael Danna got “thrown into the deep end” when he agreed to score Mimi Leder’s “On the Basis of Sex.” Leder had already shot the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic and temped it with Danna’s scores from “Moneyball” (2011) and “Capote” (2005) when she reached out to Danna, who immediately came onboard.

“I absolutely loved it and found it super inspiring from the moment I saw it,” Danna said at Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Composers panel, moderated by this author (watch the exclusive video above). “Often I like to start at the beginning of a film and work my way all the way through. I like the orchestra to play it that way to, so people discover the theme and it kind of unfolds naturally and I like to write it that way.”

But he didn’t get to do it this time because Leder was stuck on a pivotal moment in the drama, which chronicles the future Supreme Court Justice’s efforts to challenge and eventually overturn gender discrimination laws. The scene in question: Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) realizes, after an incident with her daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny), that the times have changed; it’s the laws that have to change with it. Leder asked Danna, who won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for “Life of Pi” (2011), to work on that section first.

SEE Felicity Jones plays the Notorious RBG in new biopic by Mimi Leder

“Normally I would really resist that, but for whatever reason, I kind of had that first energy you get. After four months or five months of working on a film, that energy might not be there, but I had that energy and that inspiration, so I dove right in and wrote that,” he said. “That ended up being a really smart way to do it because [the score] had that momentum and energy that I felt, like that lightbulb moment. Because as an audience member, you also kind of have this realization of what she’s saying. So that’s kind of how it happened. I’d gotten thrown into the deep end and went back to the beginning and kind of wrote my way.”

Ginburg’s theme throughout the film has a propulsive, drum-heavy beat, reminiscent of a marching band, from which Danna said he drew inspiration. The film also begins and ends with Ginsburg literally marching up steps. “There is that sense of march, of momentum, but also built into the theme [is a sound of] a glass ceiling,” Danna shared. “It keeps trying to break through. It’s kind of got both those qualities baked into it.”

The drum-based beat for the pioneering litigator was also important because it subverted expectations. “[There’s] the feeling of the Americanness of that sound,” Danna said. “In a lot of movies, you might make the ‘old white guy’ institutions have the brass and the snare drums, but we wanted to kind of flip it around and give Ruth that Americanness because she is truly reflective of what the true character of America is, a country that can change and develop.”

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