Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross interview: ‘Empire of Light’ composers
Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were brought onto “Empire of Light” well before the cameras started rolling. “[Writer-director Sam Mendes] got in touch with us, which was incredibly flattering. And what started was a probably four-month conversation,” Ross remembers. “He shared some very personal stuff about what inspired the script. We knew the stakes were high.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Reznor and Ross above.
Partly inspired by Mendes’s upbringing, “Empire of Light” follows Hilary Small (Olivia Colman), who works at a movie theater in an English seaside town. She bonds with a young new employee (Micheal Ward), but all the while she is trying to manage her mental illness. “We felt the music needed to not be showy, not overwhelm, not be not be attention-grabbing, but really support that story and help deliver it,” says Reznor. To do that, the composers settled on a piano-based score.
“Often I’d mock up something on the piano with the intention that maybe that gets adapted into something else because it’s the instrument I’m most familiar with, or I can be the most expressive on,” Reznor explains. But as the process went on, “I don’t know how it couldn’t be a piano … It felt emotionally in the right place. It had the right level of subtlety and vulnerability.” Then around that piano, “Sam was very open to something that kind of became less traditional” and made the piano feel “a little wondrous.”
Ross agrees, “I think there’s an intimacy and a fragility that spoke to Hilary’s journey that one couldn’t really imagine another instrument speaking in the same way.”