Mychael and Jeff Danna Interview: ‘Alias Grace,’ ‘The Last Tycoon’ composers
With the score for “Alias Grace” composer Mychael Danna wanted to “honor the period” in which the story takes place, while at the same time putting a “postmodernist shade” on it. He shared musical duties with his brother Jeff Danna on this Netflix adaptation of Margaret Atwood‘s novel, which has brought the duo an Emmy nomination for Best Movie/Mini Score. Watch our exclusive video interview with the Dannas above.
“Alias Grace” revolves around a servant (Sarah Gadon) in 19th century Canada accused of homicide. “We wanted the music to be something that wouldn’t be jarring to the characters onscreen,” explains Mychael. “It’s a very square, controlled period where there are distinct rules and borders for everything, so we wanted the music to have that really square feeling to it, very structured, very solid.” But to give it that postmodern spin, “we used a lot of repetition, a lot of minimalism, some almost trance elements,” giving it “an almost twisted period approach.”
One of the big challenges, Jeff admits, came from the main character herself because “you don’t really know right from the get-go who she is. Is she guilty? Is she not guilty? We don’t really know how she feels about everybody and whether she feels like she’s getting away with something … So the music had to often sit in this real middle ground,” embracing the story and character’s ambiguity within “this rigid, conforming society … We had a lot of fun with that once we cracked it open.”
On his own Mychael is also nominated for his main title theme for Amazon‘s limited series “The Last Tycoon,” an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s novel about Hollywood in the 1930s. “That era of writing, that noir movie music sound, is such a fantastic sandbox to write in,” he says. His work on “Tycoon” was “a more straight kind of approach” than “Alias Grace.” The Netflix series “has a modern viewpoint to it” despite its 19th century setting, while “Tycoon” “is a version that really is true to that time,” giving Danna the opportunity to capture “all the glamour” of Tinseltown’s golden age.
The Danna brothers previously competed at the Emmys for their work on “Camelot” (Main Title Theme in 2011) and “Tyrant” (Main Title Theme and Series Score in 2015). As a solo composer Mychael won an Oscar for “Life of Pi” (2012) and an Emmy for “World Without End” (Movie/Mini Score in 2013).