Composer Patrick Doyle: The RT Interview

The Harry Potter and Henry V scorer reminisces.

by | December 19, 2007 | Comments

Patrick Doyle - Lester Cohen/WireImage.comPatrick Doyle may be best known to younger audiences for his score to 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but the composer started his career with Kenneth Branagh providing the score for Henry V and beginning a collaboration that would see him deliver music for Branagh films through to this year’s As You Like It and Sleuth.

Away from Branagh, the composer has scored films like Brian De Palma‘s Carlito’s Way, Mike Newell‘s Donnie Brasco and Alfonso Cuaron‘s Great Expectations.

On January 6th the London Symphony Orchestra hosts a concert of film music selections, including some of Doyle’s, at the Barbican Hall, and Doyle and fellow composer David Arnold will be in attendance. Ahead of the event, in an exclusive interview, RT caught up with Doyle to find out more about his career.

How did you get started in the industry?

Patrick Doyle: My first job was with Kenneth Branagh in theatre, our relationship started with the Renaissance Theatre Company for their 1987 tour of the UK. I wrote music for their productions like Hamlet, As You Like It, Look Back in Anger. I became his film composer off the back of that. He asked me to write his score for Henry V in 1989 and that’s how my career in film music started.

I understand you started off as an actor.

PD: Well, I qualified from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and got a degree in music. A friend of mine at the drama college, which was in the same building, asked me to write music for a play she was putting on and appear in it too, a bit like Dudley Moore I suppose. I studied singing at the Academy of Music and learnt a bit about performance there. After that I was asked to do a play which was very successful and I met Robbie Coltrane on that.

Henry V

I decided, actually before I met Kenneth Branagh, that I wanted to get back to music. So it was quite coincidental actually, because having decided I wanted to do music we started working together.

Your relationship with him is more prolific than any other working relationship you’ve had, how is it to work with him?

PD: Oh it’s fantastic, hilarious, there’s never a dull a moment. He’s so sharp, so bright, so intelligent, so kind and so generous. All this annoying press he gets is infuriating because I know him very well and he just doesn’t deserve it.

Many people discovered your music recently through your score to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. What was that like?

PD: It was extraordinary and it was great to work with Mike Newell again. I’d worked with the producer David Barron before, though not with David Heyman. I’d worked with Mike Newell on Into the West and Donnie Brasco.

John Williams wasn’t available and initially the request was that I’d be working with John’s material so I was a little hesitant. In the end it was just the Hedwig’s Theme that I bought over. It was an honour to follow in the footsteps of such a great composer. If it had been non-stop thematic work it would have been a different story, but it was a very dark film, much darker than the previous ones, and I was able to address elements like Voldemort which kept things fresh. It was ultimately an opportunity for me to make my own stamp on this particular storyline.

Carlito's Way

There’s a great tradition of composers working on other composers’ material, so it was a great honour to work with John Williams’ themes.

Of course, if nothing else, had I not done it my kids would have killed me!

It seems to be the case that the producers of Potter are keen that the creators they bring on board are free to leave their own mark on the franchise.

PD: Oh absolutely, all the people involved were exciting. It was a legend and an honour. David Heyman is lovely in that sense.

Also, Mike’s very strong and direct and I love all that. He was open for all sorts of try-this, try-that. I was available on and off for a year and so I was able to give him various options and really experiment and that really helped.

What’s the most important job for a film composer?

PD: In order for a score to do its job you have to understand the characters in a film and the storyline, not to mention the back-story. Sometimes I wander if the people doing the job have actually watched the film. You have to really, really highlight the story and the narrative. Dialogue reigns supreme, what are they trying to say is what you should be trying to say in your score. That’s what you have to focus on.

How does it tend to work as far as your involvement in the process? Are you brought on early or late in a film’s production cycle?

PD: The latter can be the case very often but with me it’s usually the case that I’ll involve as early as possible. And sometimes it’s necessary; before Harry Potter started filming there was going to be music on-camera and so you had to start before filming. I had to work with the production team for Harry’s Waltz, Neville’s Dance and the Durmstrang boys’ introduction.

I could read a script and be inspired by just that. I prefer to get involved early, you can get comfortable and you get to try things out. I can do it in three weeks if I have to but ideally I’d like 16 weeks. The more choices you’ve got the better and you can start to call on your own experiences.

There are many schools of thought about musical scores; some would suggest that a score should have as much of a presence as any other part of the production while others prefer scores that you don’t notice, that heighten the film almost subliminally. Where do you stand?

PD: I believe a score should be there to bring another element to the whole artistic output. But a score shouldn’t stand-alone and should be created to collaborate with everything else going on and to morph its way into all the different ingredients of a film. Of course, there are occasions where there may be a flying sequence or a battle sequence, and it’s in those moments where a composer can come out and have some fun and sing an aria or something. The thrill of writing is to have those moments. But it’s equally satisfying to ease your way in, to provide a tone and a quality and colour that only music can provide.

Donnie Brasco

In a thriller, for example, music plays a huge part, most obviously in creating tension. Silence can be powerful but with music it can be twice as powerful. I’ve done movies when the score sits there and sometimes it just pulls you away. The job for the composer is to integrate him or herself into the heart of the picture and help to bring out the best in all the other parts; design, editing, direction and performance.

Are there any career highlights you’d be willing to share?

PD: The huge highlight, for me, was at the Royal Albert Hall on 20th October last year when all these great actors all came out to celebrate the world of film music in aid of Leukaemia Research. It was a sell out and all the proceeds went to that fantastic charity. Robbie Coltrane, Derek Jacobi, Dame Judi Dench… All these people I’ve known for years came out to support me, and it was a night I’ll never forget.

In terms of films, Henry V, as it was my first film score, was a highlight and Harry Potter was a great highlight. Working with Brian De Palma on Carlito’s Way was a huge honour. I wrote a piece for the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday at Buckingham Palace that was commissioned by the Prince of Wales.

Is there anything you’ve not done yet that you’d like to try?

PD: It’s a difficult question to answer because I’m a great one for just going with the flow. I’d love to do a science-fiction movie, just a big blitzy sci-fi job. Frankenstein was very sci-fi, I suppose. Honestly, I have no complaints. I’ve had a varied experience composing eclectic scores and fortunately I haven’t been typecast at all.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

What are you working on right now?

PD: I’m working on a film call Nim’s Island for Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin. Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin star in it. I’m going down to spend three days before Christmas with them tomorrow. And I’m doing an animated film straight after that. So with Sleuth and As You Like It this year has been very busy. But, God, I love being busy!

Can you tell us a little about your involvement with the London Symphony Orchestra event in January?

PD: I’ve used the LSO for ten films with Harry Potter, Man to Man, As You Like It, Sleuth, and many others. They’ve been performing pieces of mine over the past three or four years and I have a very close relationship with the orchestra. They’re performing my piece, Romance from As You Like It and they had a good time playing The Creation from Frankenstein at the Royal Albert Hall in October so they’ll be playing that to. It’s happening on 6th January at the Barbican Hall in London and I’ll be there with David Arnold to talk about the music.

For more information about the LSO concert on January 6th, click here for the full programme listing and booking information.

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