Why composer Henry Jackman avoided ‘aspirational melodies’ and ‘archvillain music’ in ‘The Comey Rule’s’ score [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

The Comey Rule,” based on former FBI Director James Comey‘s book “A High Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” was the first dramatization of the Trump presidency, but the Showtime miniseries from Billy Ray was not meant to take sides — and the music had to reflect that.

“The most important thing about story, as I was talking to Billy, was really it was a story about a man — Comey — who has an idealistic love of the institution. He has a sort of romantic idea about the high and lofty ideals to which that institution should aspire,” composer Henry Jackman tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: TV Composers panel (watch above). “And just when he gets the post of his life, it happens to coincide with political events that are so difficult and impossible to manage that he ends up in absolutely extraordinary and impossible situations. So it’s not really supposed to be Trump-bashing or Trump-supporting or Comey-worshipping. It’s not a political polemic. It’s a glimpse into what it would’ve been like had you been forced into these impossible decisions, and it has an effect on music.”

Jackman has scored his share of action and superhero fare, including “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014), “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) and Disney+’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” earlier this year, in which those “bad” and “good” sides are pretty clear. But with then-Presiden-elect Donald Trump (Brendan Gleeson) and Comey (Jeff Daniels), Jackman didn’t want to play up the evilness of one and the heroism of the other.

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“My big pitch to Billy, which he didn’t need any selling on because he’s a very sophisticated writer, was, ‘Please, can we make sure — the last thing we want to do is to have adversarial archvillain music for Trump,'” he recalls. “Having worked on these ‘Captain America’ films, I’m very familiar with the vernacular of aspirational melodies, lofty, thematic writing that is patriotic and has a fantastical element to it. If we’re not careful and we start having a theme for Comey that’s sort of in the Aaron Copland ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ vernacular, it’s going to be really cheesy. You’re gonna think we’re trying to sell him as Captain America.”

Instead, for inspiration, Jackman looked to 16th century ecclesiastical church music that feels more official than valiant and triumphant for Comey. “By using music influenced from that period, you’d be able to hear a devotional and almost constitutional and the formality, but it’ll be stripped of the patriotic, jingoistic aspect that would’ve been a hazardous place to go to musically,” he explains. As for Trump’s cues, his initial pieces were “a disaster because it instantly felt like [evil laughter].” The challenge with Trump’s music, “was how to write disruptive and unsettling music in a diatonic scale, which took me a little while to figure out,” Jackman says. “It was about how to retain the sort of narrative neutrality.”

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