Talk about reinventing yourself.
In just seven years, Clint Mansell has gone from success in a popular British rock band to sought-after status as one of Hollywood’s fastest-rising composers of cutting-edge musical scores.
Perhaps best known for his music for Requiem for a Dream, in recent months he has also composed the large-scale orchestral-and-choral music for the Matthew McConaughey adventure Sahara and the rock/electronic soundtrack for the big-screen version of the videogame “Doom.”
Reached in New York, where he is working for the third time with Requiem director Darren Aronofsky on their forthcoming epic The Fountain, Mansell seems both modest and content.
“I’ve been really lucky,” says the 42-year-old Coventry native. “I’ve learned so much. Every film I do requires something different. I’m not yet experienced enough to knock out a film in three weeks, but I don’t really get offered those films anyway. The directors who come to me like the fact that I’m going to be dedicated to that one project for three, four or five months.”
In the case of The Fountain — which stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz and spans a thousand years, from an ancient Mayan civilization to the far-flung future — Mansell has actually been writing music for the past five years.
“Darren first told me the story before Requiem came out,” he says. “I’ve written music based on the ideas of the story, and the very first draft he gave me. So when Darren started shooting at the end of last year, we had a catalog of music that we could just start putting up against the dailies. Some of it worked and some didn’t. We’ve tried many different styles, different ideas, against the picture — and as often happens, your initial ideas are the truest.” Mansell expects to refine his ideas and record the final score (possibly with a “neoclassical rock band,” Mansell suggests) sometime in early 2006. Warner Bros. will release the film.
Aronofsky’s critically acclaimed 1998 indie film Pi marked Mansell’s entry into the film world. Formerly vocalist and guitarist with the groundbreaking British electronic rock band Pop Will Eat Itself, he was living in New York when he was approached to contribute music to Aronofsky’s first film. “We sort of fumbled our way through it, discovering what we liked and what worked for us,” Mansell concedes.
The director brought Mansell onto Requiem for a Dream — his 2000 film about drug addiction that won Ellen Burstyn a Best Actress Oscar nomination — before shooting began. One of Mansell’s 20-odd “demo” pieces, a haunting and melancholy minimalist figure, was so effective in the unfinished film that it became the main theme.
“We tried it against every pivotal moment in the film, and it just locked in,” the composer recalled. ”I said, `My God, this is amazing.’ There’s a sort of synergy between the way Darren edits and the way I write. I can only put it down to pure chance, really.”
They signed classical music’s renowned Kronos Quartet to perform the string segments of the score. “They breathed life into it,” says Mansell, still enthused five years later. “The performance is as important as the writing, and it was a wonderful performance,” he notes.
Requiem, hailed by astute critics as much for its music as for its imagery, opened doors for the composer. Director Barbet Schroeder hired him to score the Sandra Bullock thriller Murder by Numbers and Stephen Gaghan engaged him for the Katie Holmes suspense drama Abandon, both released in 2002. He even scored the pilot for CSI: NY, although he has mostly resisted the small screen, believing that episodic TV makes him feel like “a little laboratory rat just trying to get my piece of cheese at the end of the maze.”
Mansell’s resume has also included the Vin Diesel comedy Knockaround Guys, the Ben Kingsley thriller Suspect Zero and the upcoming Julianne Moore comedy Trust the Man. After scoring The Fountain, he looks forward to a reunion with
director Joe Carnahan (with whom he did a BMW commercial) on the Las Vegas action-comedy Smokin’ Aces.
For now, he is enjoying the diversity of the work. “I can do maybe two or three jobs a year that are substantially different from each other. I hope over the coming years that I can be true enough to myself to recognize the projects where I feel that I can flourish — so that the career becomes what I want to do rather than just where the career takes me.”