When she was first offered the chance to work on “Joker,” composer Hildur Guðnadóttir wondered if she was “really the right person to score a superhero movie,” since nothing in her filmography bore any resemblance to previous “Batman” movies. But when she read the script, which touches upon “subjects that are so much deeper and quite current,” she realized she was indeed a perfect fit. Watch our exclusive video interview with Guðnadóttir above.
In the hands of director and co-writer Todd Phillips, the DC super villain is portrayed as a sad, deranged young comic named Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), whose isolation and resentment lead to a life of crime. For Guðnadóttir, “it was definitely not a superhero movie.” Rather, it was “a story about the emotional landscape and turbulence of someone who’s been grossly mistreated,” so she was interested in exploring the “inner journey of this character, figuring out his past and where he comes from.”
Because of this, “it was very important to me that the music would feel like being inside his head, and that the music would be the voice of his inner landscape.” So she began her work before a single frame of film had been shot, finding the right tone for Arthur’s “emotional journey” through the cello, an instrument she is classically trained in. “I knew that the cello had to be at the center of carrying this voice,” she explains. “So a lot of the music I wrote in the beginning, just from reading the script, ended up being the main themes of the movie.”
This work didn’t just influence the film as background music. It was also played onset as a way for Phoenix to get into character. “Joaquin told me a few weeks ago that he was having some problems finding this transition from Arthur to Joker,” she reveals, and the music “was a key part in that process.” In fact, “they shot large parts of the movie to the music. There are some scenes that didn’t exist in the script that are just Joaquin responding to the music,” including the moment when Arthur dances in a bathroom after committing his first act of violence. “What we see in the movie is him responding in real time to the music, and that’s the turning point of Arthur becoming Joker.”
Guðnadóttir won her first Emmy earlier this year for scoring the HBO limited series “Chernobyl.” Her work as a cellist can also be heard in such films as “Prisoners” (2013), “Sicario” (2015), “The Revenant” (2015) and “Arrival” (2016). As a composer, she has additionally worked on such titles as “The Oath” (2016), “Mary Magdalene” (2018) and “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (2018).
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