Jeff Russo interview: ‘Fargo,’ ‘Oslo,’ ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ composer
“That may actually be the longest piece of music I’ve ever written,” reveals composer Jeff Russo about the nearly 12-minute track that he composed for the season four premiere of FX’s Fargo. Set in Kansas City in 1950, the fourth installment of the anthology series used Russo’s “opus” to tell the backstory of 50 years of mob family warfare, and Russo drew on the city’s “jazz and blues flare” to situate the audience in the show’s particular time and place. Watch our exclusive video interview with Russo above.
The process of creating the score for that epic opening sequence took months, and Russo began long before showrunner Noah Hawley began shooting. “Once I read Noah’s work, I’m always inspired to just start going,” Russo says, because Hawley’s “scripts are so visually evocative that my imagination just starts to go.” Russo also discusses working on “completely different instrumentation” for the standout, black and white episode “East/West,” which required a “slightly Western, slightly old-timey sound.”
Russo had to pivot from 1950 to the year 3188 to score the third season of “Star Trek: Discovery” on Paramount+, which is the most distant setting in all of the “Star Trek” canon. Despite the new ground he had to cover, Russo aimed to maintain the “underlying feeling of hope” and “connection” at the heart of “Star Trek,” and cites the connection between characters Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio) and Gray Tal (Ian Alexander) as a highlight to explore musically.
HBO’s forthcoming film “Oslo” brought Russo back to the twentieth century and a collaboration with Zoë Keating to help translate the Tony Award-winning play by J. T. Rogers to the small screen. Based on the 1990s peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians that resulted in the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, “Oslo” features, for Russo, many “unexpectedly heartbreaking” moments that he and Zoë wanted to score in a “grounded” manner despite the occasional moments of “heightened reality” throughout the film.
Russo won an Emmy in 2017 for composing the third installment of “Fargo,” which followed on his two earlier nominations for the anthology series. In addition to “Fargo,” “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Oslo,” Russo also scored Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy” and “Cursed” and CBS’ “Clarice” this season, amongst others.