Ruth Barrett Interview: ‘Bodyguard’ composer
“What does panic sound like?” That’s the main question Emmy-nominated composer Ruth Barrett wanted to solve when scoring the hit BBC/Netflix political thriller “Bodyguard.” “I was trying to tap into what is that sound,” she explains, which became the key to unlocking the show’s dramatic underscore. “That’s how we distilled it, with these modular synth sounds and this muscular brass sound underneath,” Barrett reveals. “It heightens the experience. So you’re already terrified; I was terrified watching it without any music, and then I was like what can I do to this to heighten that?” Watch our exclusive video interview with Barrett above.
In “Bodyguard,” Golden Globe winner Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) plays Sergeant David Budd, a heroic army vet police officer thrown back into the front line, assigned to protect UK Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), a high profile politician that he despises. The series is a tense and riveting portrait of a man suffering with debilitating PTSD in a world plagued by terrorist threats. It has been a huge success locally and internationally, as it twists and turns over six dynamite episodes to a conclusion that many do not see coming.
“Bodyguard” opens with Madden’s character on a train right before a terrorist threatens to detonate a bomb. The show explodes out of the gates and the tension is ramped up to eleven from the get-go, aided perfectly by Barrett’s propulsive and often eerily tense soundtrack. Barrett agrees that music is often critical to the audience’s ability to understand and empathize with the characters. “It pulls everything together and gives you that subtext about what a character is feeling,” she says. “This had to be real to tell this story and make it authentic and really connect with him as a character.”
The score is often most effective in quieter moments when audiences are working out who to trust and who root for in a plot that twists and turns quite unexpectedly. “I went for something really tight and minimal that draws you in. A crazy sound that is in his head, like an electric cello; a scratchy sound,” Barrett explains. “That’s David, that’s him. It gives you this inkling that he’s actually quite disturbed.”
Barrett says that it took little time to land on what sounds and musical cues she was going to feature in the soundtrack. “That’s always a good sign, when you get inspiration quickly. When you’re blown away by the scene,” she says. “The inspiration came quite quickly at the beginning because I was so excited about the show.”
“I thought, OK what’s inside this guy’s head. He has PTSD and his face doesn’t give away that much and the relationship he has with Julia is really complicated. And you learn pretty quickly that he can’t stand the woman, can’t stand her political beliefs and yet he has to protect her. So there’s a big conundrum there, which is really interesting for the music. Then he soon discovers that he’s weirdly attracted to her,” she explains. “You’ve got his tension, but you’ve also got this relationship between these two people, which is like a paradox.”