Oscars: The Year's Busiest Composer Has Five Films in the Race

AP Images/Invision
Alexandre Desplat

Alexandre Desplat, whose credits include 'Imitation Game' and 'Unbroken,' is the only composer to be quintuply eligible this year — repeating a stunt he last pulled off in 2009

This story first appeared in the Jan. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Prolific composer Alexandre Desplat, 53, is not interested in imitating himself. "If I keep doing the same type of movie, I will repeat myself, and I'd be old -- and old very soon," he says, explaining his predilection for continuing to take on the small European films that were his first bread and butter as well as American indies and, just for novelty, the occasional Hollywood blockbuster. "I don't want to ride the same horse all the time."

The six-time Oscar nominee has five horses in the Oscar race (repeating a stunt he last pulled off in 2009). They are all so different that, from a distance, you wouldn't mistake any of them for having the same jockey. As the only composer to be quintuply eligible in this year's best score competition, he's represented by The Grand Budapest Hotel, Unbroken, Godzilla, The Monuments Men and The Imitation Game -- the last of which may be his lucky lottery card, if its Globe nomination is any harbinger.

Imitation Game might be the biggest grabber just by virtue of its multiple accomplishments: balancing exterior suspense and tragedy with the interior rhythms that churn inside the brain of a genius building a proto-supercomputer. "It could have been too on the nose to use [audible] electronics," says Desplat. "But by programming real pianos sampled from the Abbey Road piano bank and having them played randomly by the algorithms of my software, it creates this mechanical movement with an acoustic sound. On top of it all is the harp, celeste and woodwinds doing the swirling arpeggios and scales to bring out the way [lead character Alan Turing's] intelligence is always ahead of everyone. The rest of the orchestra gives the gravitas, the tenderness, the trauma and the ticking clock."

Desplat also avoided being too "on the nose" with Unbroken's muted heroics. "I didn't want to have this pompous, trumpet-like thing. It had to keep the human perspective," he says. "[Director] Angelina [Jolie] said from the beginning that she didn't want that type of score. I had the huge London Symphony, but they played very softly, and it gives an incredible strength to the sound." On the other end of the orchestral scale is Budapest Hotel's Eastern European folksiness. "Actually in my first feature score in 1986, I used a cimbalom, and there were the mandolins and other things that I did later in France," says Desplat. "So I could summarize all these things I had explored through the years and put them into one box, which was [director] Wes [Anderson]'s movie."