Nathan Johnson interview: ‘Glass Onion’ composer
“We’ve been working on this movie for the last couple years and it’d kind of a giddy feeling to finally get it out in the wild and to let people start responding to it,” reveals Nathan Johnson, the composer of “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” on Netflix. His soundtrack is one of only 15 that made it onto the Oscar shortlist for Best Score, which means he’s one step closer to a potential nomination. He continues on, “In a way, just seeing people’s response to the movie kind of feels like when [director Rian Johnson] first sent me the script and I just read it by myself here. I was so excited about it, so it’s really fun to see other people responding in that way as well.”
We talked with Johnson as a part of Gold Derby’s Film Composers Oscar Shortlist Panel Q&A event. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
When Johnson was scoring the original “Knives Out” back in 2019, he was “not thinking” that it would one day become an ongoing megahit franchise. Daniel Craig returns in “Glass Onion” as Detective Benoit Blanc, who solves the most complicated of whodunnit murder mysteries. “It’s a testament to Rian because when he did send me the script, I was so excited,” Johnson tells us. “Not only is it a whole new cast, but it’s a whole new structure even. Tonally, it feels so vastly different from the first one. For me, that means we get to play in the same sonic world that we set up, but essentially we get a brand new score for this.”
The way he went about keeping “Glass Onion” in the “Knives Out” world was “sonically,” Johnson explains. “We were talking about, let’s do a full orchestra, but let’s have precision be the defining thing for this. Every section we can hear the players, but also we can hear the imperfection — we can hear the scratch of the bows on the string, we can hear the breathing of the wind and the brass players.” He adds, “I love, love imperfection in music and that’s been something just since I was a kid that I enjoyed. And so it feels really rewarding to be working with some of the best players in the world, but to kind of take approaches and use techniques where it feels very, very human.”
Music-wise, the composer wanted to “put a flag in the ground” that “Glass Onion” would be “welcoming everybody on this lush, old Hollywood, grand classic journey.” He gained inspiration from “classic Italian composers who really put melody and thematic writing at the forefront.” Johnson admits, “To me, that just kind of is the most exciting sandbox to get to play in with these worlds.”
Diehard “Glass Onion” fans will love hearing from Johnson that one character actually “steals” another character’s music cues during a pivotal scene. He confesses, “I suggested to Rian, I was like, what if Miles’ [Edward Norton] character steals Andi’s [Janelle Monáe] theme here, sort of in the way that he stole her company, and also because he’s kind of spinning this tale to Blanc?” It made perfect sense for Johnson since Norton actually claimed at one point that his character “never had an original thought.”
Also in our exclusive video interview, Johnson talks about Detective Blanc’s music motifs, how he had fun with the concept of the Bach fugue, and how it took him “a while” to lock in the main “Glass Onion” theme.