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Composer Marco Beltrami Talks ‘Logan’, ‘First They Killed My Father’, Minimalism, Westerns and More

I’m going to make a bold assumption and assume you’ve heard about Logan.

James Mangold’s definitive, haunting swan song for Hugh Jackman is a subversive, singular achievement, not merely for comic book adaptations, but the legacy they’ll leave behind. This moody, Western-influenced finale, filled with sadness, regrets and longing, isn’t what many expect from a multi-million studio project, and that’s not accounting for its R-rating. Indeed, it’s one we’ll talk about for a long, long, long time, and its influence should (hopefully) not be taken in vain. And while Jackman and Mangold deserve a huge heap of praise, Logan wouldn’t be the stunning cinematic achievement it is without Marco Beltrami.

The Oscar-nominated composer is among the most diverse and active in the business today. Returning to work with Mangold for the third time, after 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma (his first Oscar nomination) and 2013’s The Wolverine, Beltrami might be the composer behind Scream, Blade II, The Hurt Locker, Hellboy, Snowpiercer and more, but he’s a shockingly humble gentleman.

In a brief phone interview on Friday, March 3, the day of Logan‘s U.S. release, Beltrami discusses his minimalist score, his relationship with superhero movies, his work on Angelina Jolie’s upcoming Netflix drama First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, his appreciation for the Western genre and more. Be sure to check it out below.

CutPrintFilm: First, congrats on the film! It’s getting a phenomenal response.

Marco Beltrami: Oh, yeah. It looks like it’s positive so far. It’s encouraging.

CPF: *laughs* Yeah. I got the chance to check it out a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. Especially your score…

MB: Oh wow. You actually saw it already?

CPF: Yeah, I did!

MB: Oh yeah. Cool … Did you like it?

CPF: Oh yeah. I liked it a lot.

MB: Oh. Good.

CPF: So, this is your third collaboration with James Mangold — all within the past 10 years or so. How would you describe your working relationship with him?

MB: Every relationship is different with each director. With Jim, it’s great to see that he has a very innately musical sense. And he’s really good at exploring, or encouraging, of exploration. I’d say that’s where the creativity comes from. It’s, you know, his encouragement to stretch a little bit.

CPF: And with [this score], it took a more minimalist approach, especially compared to your average superhero film. Was that something you approached him about, or did he come to you and ask for something like that?

MB: So, there [are] a few different things he wanted in this score. One of them was a simple minimalist idea, which is the piano thing at the beginning, for Logan, which is because, you know, he’s on his own, but also to set up the mystery. You’re not really sure what’s going to happen. So I persuaded that. When I started on this, Mangold played me some scores and he encouraged me to listen to some scores, like Taxi Driver, which he liked a lot. And the first thing I did was try [something like] Taxi Driver, but it didn’t quite have the right feel. But that was what I was trying to capture, was some of that intensity. So, you’re right, there is a minimalist feel in certain areas, which allowed me to explore in different areas.

CPF: And as far as the Western feel is concerned, how deliberately were you trying to recreate that feel in your work?

MB: There’s definitely Western overtones to the picture and to the score itself. Not in a traditional manner with orchestration or anything, but yeah, definitely. I think that every score I do is a Western. Maybe the homage elements lend itself a little bit to the feel of that. That alone hero type of thing, which is something I use a little bit sparsely throughout the score, but it’s also processed, in certain respects.

CPF: And considering this is also your third superhero film within the past 10 years, is it safe to say you enjoy this genre? Or is it more of a happy coincidence that you ended up working inside this genre so often?

MB: Well, it definitely falls under the mold of “superhero movie,” but I wouldn’t say the material is necessarily of the superhero genre. There’s no strong theme for Wolverine or anything; it’s more about the bond, the motives that develop. Yeah, I can’t say I’m a huge comic book movie fan. I like some of them when they’re done well. But I think the thing that I really responded to with this was the originality and the fact that there are a lot of different layers to explore. It functions on different levels.

CPF: You came onto this project not longer after Cliff Martinez [the original composer] left. Did that abbreviate your process?

MB: Yeah, it was pretty short. I got started on this right around Thanksgiving time, so it was a pretty quick schedule. I would’ve had…  in the beginning, I did get a little bit of time to explore, for different things. There was initially a recording session in west L.A., in a small studio, with six musicians, and it was just trying to keep it in that vein and see what I could come up with. It almost had an indie-movie kinda feel. But, you know, all these experiments sorta take time, and it would’ve been great to have another month.

CPF: To switch gears a little bit, I’m really excited for one of your upcoming movies, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father. I was curious if there was anything you can tell me about what you’re working on for that film.

MB: I actually scored that one a while ago. In fact, it actually just had its premiere in Cambodia. But it’s a very textural score. Even more sparse than Logan. It doesn’t really reference Cambodia, but it’s more supposed to be seen through the eyes of this six-year-old girl that’s in the movie. So, yeah… that was.. boy, I don’t even remember. That was probably close to nine months ago. Maybe six months ago.

CPF: Sorry, I didn’t even realize it was that long ago. What do you remember working with Jolie?

MB: It was good. She really wanted to score stuff. She had some ideas about what she wanted to do, musically. To her, it was all about seeing it.. you know, because she’s an actor, seeing it through the point-of-view of this girl who’s in the movie. So, everything should be felt in that emotional response. It’s a little bit abstract. The music was mainly to carry the emotional experience of this girl.

CPF: Just before I wrap up, are there any other films or projects that you’re working on that you can talk about?

MB: The only thing that I have coming up is this movie I did with John Erick Dowdle called No Escape. They’re doing a six-part series for TV based on the events of Waco, TX. And, yeah, I just finished speaking with them about it, and I’m really excited about it. It’ll be a lot of fun exploring with them. So… that’s it for now.

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Will Ashton is a staff writer for Cut Print Film. He also writes for The Playlist, We Got This Covered and MovieBoozer. He co-hosts the podcast Cinemaholics. One day, he'll become Jack Burton. You wait and see.