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.
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.