Kris Bowers Interview: ‘Mrs. America’ composer
When Kris Bowers was drawing up the original score for the FX limited series “Mrs. America,” he found the task of composing music for Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) and the Stop E.R.A. movement to be the most interesting aspect of the project. “In reading the scripts, I felt like I was so taken aback by how they approached her character in this very unbiased way and treated her very much like a human,” he tells us in our recent webchat (watch the video above). He likened it to having people in your life who you may not see eye-to-eye with on the issues of the day but that you have empathy for so that people will be able to see the other side in a different way. “Being able to approach Phyllis with the score in that way was a very unique challenge that I really embraced.”
“Mrs. America,” which recently concluded its run on FX, chronicles the years long battle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment into the United States Constitution throughout the 1970s. It examines this through the newly organized forces to stop the ratification, led by Schlafly, and the those fighting to push it through to the finish line including Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Rep. Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks) and Rep. Shirely Chisholm (Uzo Aduba).
Bowers did encounter several difficult parts in finding the right tones in his compositions. One scene was when Schlafly’s husband, Fred (John Slattery), is trying to make love to his wife but Schlafly is not into it. Bowers had to change the scene’s score several times with one version emphasizing a feeling of danger and another having too much of a sad feeling. The other scene that was tough for Bowers was the epilogue of the final episode showing what has happened to the E.R.A. since the conclusion of the events being portrayed. “That was one where it’s such a long piece of music, I think it’s almost four minutes long and I’m trying to match every single shift with something that really just needed to be done to picture. I was finding that I really needed to do it to picture so that I could match every one of the shifts that help with the structure of the ark of the piece.”
Bowers was in the Emmy race last year for scoring “When They See Us” and won a Daytime Emmy in 2017 for Best Music Direction or Composition for “The Snowy Day.” Having been raised to be very competitive, he found himself moving away from that mindset as he discovered music. “I feel like my discovery of jazz is what made me feel most comfortable… I think at the end of the day, everything can be turned into a competition but when something is in its purest form it’s incredibly democratic. It’s all about sharing, about how you can communicate and that’s when I really started to fall in love with it,” he explains. Now, though, he likes to view awards recognition as a chance to appreciate everything that went in to making this work happen and as a way to get excited to dive back into the work he’s been doing.