Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans interview: ‘Ozark’ composers

[WARNING: The above interview and following story contain spoilers about Season 4 of “Ozark.” Watch and read at your own risk.]

There is no doubt that the fourth and final season of “Ozark” was going to be the show’s most ambitious undertaking yet. For composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, who received their career-first Emmy nominations for the Netflix drama’s third season in 2020, this meant they would have the chance to go bigger with their score — or so they thought. “I remember us saying, ‘It’s the fourth and final season — I wonder if we can push [the score] to get a little bigger than usual,'” recounts Bensi in a new webchat with Gold Derby (watch our exclusive video interview above). “I remember the answer coming back to us [being] like, ‘No, stay in the same world and add some new things, but really stay in the same world. We don’t need to depart from what we’ve been.'”

Even though the composers were denied on the aspect of going bigger, Bensi admits that their ultimate assignment provided him and his colleague with the fun challenge of finding “a new way to have the score grow ever so slightly and go somewhere without it sounding like a whole new score.” Building thereon, Jurriaans explains that there was a lot of pushing of existing sound, revealing, “Darker stuff got even darker, more distorted — we reran things through distortions.” He also shares that there were more strings in use and generally just more emotional compositions, especially toward the end of the season.

SEE our interview with ‘Ozark’ cinematographer Shawn Kim

A major turning point of the season is in the eighth episode, titled “The Cousin of Death,” which chronicles the aftermath of Darlene’s (Lisa Emery) and Wyatt’s (Charlie Tahan) tragic deaths and follows a grief-stricken, vengeful Ruth (Julia Garner) as she travels to Chicago to hunt down their killer, Javier “Javi” Elizonndro (Alfonso Herrera). After she shoots him dead in the office of Clare Shaw (Katrina Lenk), the CEO of Shaw Medical Solutions, she descends to the company building’s parking garage, accompanied by a haunting score from Bensi and Jurriaans. For this sequence, the composers made use of a preexisting Ruth-themed composition and “deepened” as well as “darkened” it, divulges Jurriaans. He expands, “Most of Ruth’s material had an innocence to it, even though… she’s conniving, she’s wheeling and dealing — but in her kind of fun Ruth way. But when she then kills Javi in that episode, that turns into something much darker… The wheels of inevitability are turning and she’s not going to come back from this one.”

Indeed, Ruth does not come back from it. Instead, her vindictive act comes back to bite her after Camila Elizonndro (Veronica Falcón), Javi’s ruthless mother, learns that Ruth killed her son and shoots her dead in the series finale, titled “A Hard Way to Go.” After the shot is fired and the scene cuts to the Byrdes (Jason Bateman, Skylar Gaertner, Sofia Hublitz and Laura Linney) at their fundraiser, triste, mellow score kicks in, capturing the devastation felt owing to the tragic loss of Ruth. “We’re allowed to exist in this space where we can be with Ruth,” says Bensi, who highlights that the score is neither “outpouring” nor “too constrained.” He continues, “It’s just a place, like a little oasis, where the cello can be free and the piano can be free. And we can express and grow and move around — and it’s like one of the only times on ‘Ozark’ that we had been able to do that.” Jurriaans adds, “There’s a lot of space in these pulses of music, and then there are moments of quiet where there’s really just you and the image — I think [that] in general is a trademark of the ‘Ozark’ score that has always been powerful.”

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Of note, Bensi and Jurriaans also served as composers on HBO Max’s new miniseries “The Staircase,” which dramatizes the real-life events covered in the French docuseries of the same name created by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and explores the life of Michael Peterson (Colin Firth), his sprawling North Carolina family and the suspicious death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson (Toni Collette). Other recent TV credits of theirs include “Night Sky,” “Outer Range,” “Pieces of Her” and “Tokyo Vice.”

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UPLOADED Jun 16, 2022 3:30 pm