Zim­mer steps out of shad­ows

The Dark Knight com­poser says his live show won’t be ‘a bunch of peo­ple sit­ting there read­ing the pa­per’, writes James Croot.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Hans Zim­mer might not be the first film com­poser to have his work played live, but he’s cer­tainly de­ter­mined to take a unique ap­proach.

The 59-year-old Ger­man-born cre­ator of mem­o­rable mu­si­cal back­ings for the block­bust­ing likes of The Lion King, Gla­di­a­tor, Pi­rates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight and In­cep­tion is bring­ing his crit­i­cally lauded stage show Hans Zim­mer Re­vealed to Auck­land in April.

How­ever, as he says down the phone­line from his home in Los An­ge­les, it’s not the usual orches­tra play­ing in front of a bunch of film clips.

‘‘Yes, I am us­ing an orches­tra, but I didn’t want to have a con­duc­tor. It seems strange to me to go out to see a show, which is ba­si­cally a man with his back to you all night and a bunch of peo­ple sit­ting there read­ing the pa­per. That sounds like a bad, old mar­riage and I don’t think that’s very en­ter­tain­ing.’’

And, keen to see if his mu­sic could ‘‘stand on its own two feet’’ with­out the gloss of Hol­ly­wood, Zim­mer en­listed the sup­port of old friend Marc Brick­man to come up with a light­ing de­sign that ‘‘rein­ter­preted the vi­su­als of the movies with lights’’.

While happy with the re­sult, Zim­mer ad­mits the 4000 light­ing cues do stop a cer­tain amount of im­pro­vi­sa­tional free­dom within the show.

‘‘Within that though ev­ery­body is al­lowed to do a solo each night – so ev­ery per­for­mance is a sur­prise. Some­times it’s a real sur­prise for me – ‘where did that come from?’. But that’s part of the ad­ven­ture.’’

Per­haps what’s re­ally sur­pris­ing is that Zim­mer signed up to do live per­for­mances at all. De­spite start­ing out his ca­reer as part of pop bands like Kraka­toa and The Bug­gles (look for him in the mu­sic video for Video Killed the Ra­dio Star), he’s been more than con­tent to stay out of the spot­light and let his mu­sic do the talk­ing on­screen.

Part of that is due to ‘‘crip­pling stage fright’’, some­thing he’s still plagued by. So why put him­self through such tor­ment?

‘‘It was re­ally Johnny Marr and Phar­rell [Williams, who Zim­mer re­cently col­lab­o­rated with on the Hid­den Fig­ures sound­track] who ganged up on me. We were hav­ing a chat and they were say­ing how much fun they were hav­ing play­ing live. I said to them, ‘I don’t play live be­cause I get re­ally bad stage fright’ and one of them said ‘that’s not an ex­cuse, even­tu­ally you need to come out from be­hind the screen and look the au­di­ence in the eye’. I ac­tu­ally thought that was a com­pelling ar­gu­ment and agreed to ‘test drive’ an idea if they would come and be my teach­ers.’’

To Zim­mer’s au­di­ble relief, the sky didn’t cave in during a cou­ple of trial shows in Lon­don, although that didn’t stop him con­tin­u­ing to feel in­cred­i­bly anx­ious.

‘‘I just re­mem­ber Jonny say­ing, ‘you can’t let fear stop you from do­ing things’ and I thought, ‘he’s right’. I sup­pose peo­ple will come to the show now to see if I can make it through with­out keel­ing over. That’s the en­ter­tain­ment – ‘will he make it?’.’’

Part of Zim­mer’s cop­ing mech­a­nism has been to sur­round him­self with old friends. ‘‘A lot of this re­lies on peo­ple I’ve worked with all my life. There’s a real his­tor­i­cal arc that goes through this band.’’

And they’ve all been a part of the live show project, from the first dis­cus­sions of what to play and how to ‘‘re­ar­range’’ it.

‘‘I wanted to get them all in a room and have them see what we could do with this mu­sic. What it evolved into was that ev­ery­one felt they could con­trib­ute a lit­tle bit, which led to some se­ri­ous ar­gu­ments. I didn’t want to in­clude Gla­di­a­tor, but ev­ery­one else said ‘you’ve got to do it’. I re­mem­ber one of them go­ing – ‘but they play it at ice hockey games!’ I don’t know why that con­vinced me, but it did.’’

The tour though, Zim­mer says, is less about the mu­sic and more about the mu­si­cians.

‘‘Ev­ery­body knows that voice at the be­gin­ning of The Lion King, but no­body knows who he is. He’s not an actor. Sure you can go and see the play or the movie, but I’m bring­ing you the real guy [Lebo Morake] and he’s bet­ter than ever.’’

And Zim­mer him­self is ex­cited about fi­nally get­ting to visit New Zealand, a place where he has a lot of friends and gets reg­u­lar fan­mail from.

‘‘Part of the rea­son for do­ing this was be­cause I was bitch­ing and moan­ing that the only way I was go­ing to get to New Zealand was if I had to go and do some work [un­like Tom Cruise, Zim­mer never got to visit our shores for his ‘‘role’’ in cre­at­ing 2003’s The Last Sa­mu­rai]. I’ve been to Aus­tralia to work a few times, but while my whole fam­ily have been to your coun­try I’ve been stuck back in this room – I don’t get out much.’’

He says he’s plan­ning to take time out and have a look around while he’s here, some­thing that ap­peals to him more and more by the day as he nav­i­gates the in­san­ity of awards sea­son. When we talk, he’d for­got­ten about his Golden Globe nom­i­na­tion for Hid­den Fig­ures, ad­mit­ting to be­ing con­fused by texts from friends con­grat­u­lat­ing him on the ‘‘GG’’.

‘‘I thought they were talk­ing about a horse,’’ he laughs.

Zim­mer puts his cur­rent de­tach­ment from the rest of the world down to work­ing on a project that he’s sup­posed to have fin­ished al­ready (the score for Christo­pher Nolan’s lat­est film Dunkirk). Although it’s keep­ing him up at night, he’s en­joy­ing the chal­lenge of some­thing unique.

‘‘I got a bit bored do­ing movies that have se­quels,’’ says Zim­mer, per­haps chas­tened by ex­pe­ri­ences on both Bat­man vs Su­per­man and Kung Fu Panda 3 last year. Re­cently he’s branched out into tele­vi­sion, pro­vid­ing the mu­sic for both Net­flix’s big-bud­get royal epic The Crown and David At­ten­bor­ough’s doc­u­men­tary se­ries Planet Earth II.

‘‘I love the long-form sto­ry­telling idea. I’ve known Peter Mor­gan [The Crown‘s cre­ator] for 24 years or so and we’ve done a few movies to­gether. So when he de­cided he was go­ing to go and fo­cus on this se­ries, it was just too tempt­ing not to be a part of this sto­ry­telling. I am guilty of binge­watch­ing my­self, es­pe­cially while I’ve been on tour with the live show. Ev­ery night I’d look for­ward to get­ting back on the bus to watch an­other episode or three of Peaky Blin­ders or Penny Dread­ful.

‘‘I’ve got West­world cued up now – I’m ready to go on that one. What’s in­ter­est­ing for me is the com­poser is my ex-as­sis­tant [Ramin Djawadi] and his stu­dio is in the same build­ing as mine. But be­cause we’ve both been so busy, I’ve no idea what he has been do­ing. Now I feel it’s part of my duty to catch up.’’

A plane trip to New Zealand might be the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to do just that. ❚

Hans Zim­mer Re­vealed will be per­formed at Auck­land’s Vec­tor Arena on April 29. Book at Tick­et­mas­ter.

Hans Zim­mer’s live show won’t be your typ­i­cal ‘‘clas­si­cal’’ con­cert.


Although be­set by crip­pling stage fright, Hans Zim­mer doesn’t mind stand­ing out from the crowd.

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