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The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix’s blockbuster limited series about an orphaned pill-popping chess prodigy, is not known for knee-slapping humor. But there’s a scene early in episode three, titled “Doubled Pawns,” that delivers a laugh-out-loud moment thanks to a one-word line delivered by a character who, upon finding out he must square off with Anya Taylor-Joy’s Beth Harmon, immediately knows his fate. “Shit,” he says.
The 27-year-old actor who utters that line, Lukas Frank, is perhaps better known for his musical résumé (the indie singer-songwriter goes by the moniker Storefront Church), which is why he also contributed in a bigger way to the show’s fourth episode with an original song and score that play during an emotional scene involving the fate of Beth’s mother. Oh, and he is also the son of The Queen’s Gambit director, writer and co-creator Scott Frank.
During a joint Zoom interview to discuss another one of their collaborations — they teamed to co-direct the music video “Us Against Us” off Lukas’ newly released album, As We Pass — the father-son duo opened up about how they thought nobody would watch The Queen’s Gambit, the relative ease of their musical collaborations, and where Scott goes from here.
Lukas, how did your musical collaboration on The Queen’s Gambit come about? Did you present a track to your dad? Or did your dad say, “I have a scene that I need this type of music for”?
LUKAS FRANK Well, we did it for Godless, and it ended up working out pretty well. Did you tell me what scene you needed something for?
SCOTT FRANK I did. I gave you a spot.
LUKAS FRANK So, both times he’s given me a scene in the script, and I read the scene and I just tried to write to that scene like I was scoring the scene myself. I would just picture it in my head and be like, OK, well, what’s the tone of what’s happening here? What would I want to hear? In both cases, it was used as punctuation to the scene, which I really liked.
SCOTT FRANK In the case of The Queen’s Gambit, it was a very sad moment and I was looking for something. I just knew Luke would be able to play against it, in a way. Not in a cheerful way, but in a way that was unexpected. The trick was to do something that felt different, but not modern. We, again, took his music and started playing it as score earlier in the episode. In this case, it was right before the very end, but it segued from [Carlos Rafael Rivera’s] original score into Luke’s music and then into the song at the end, which was great. Watching a full orchestra record his song was really fun.
It’s episode four, correct?
SCOTT FRANK Yes, it’s after her mother dies and she’s in a farmacia in Mexico and you hear Luke singing a cappella and the music comes in while she’s on the airplane at the end. It’s a really gorgeous piece of music.
LUKAS FRANK I read that scene on the plane, and immediately wrote the chorus melody afterward. I’ve never really had an experience like that where I read the thing and got the melody immediately. I find it really easy to come up with things that my dad would like. There’s such a specific musical language that he uses. He likes dramatic statements, and I like that, too. He played guitar in the house growing up. And writing “Shame” [a track for Godless featuring Phoebe Bridgers], I wrote toward what I would hear coming from his office. I think the one note that he gave me before writing “Shame” was “No jazz chords.” I was like, “OK, cool, no jazz chords for the old Western track.”
About The Queen’s Gambit, the word “phenomenon” doesn’t even properly capture how big it has become. How does it feel to have contributed to that, because I’m told that you both sort of thought that nobody would watch?
LUKAS FRANK Well, I have a responsibility to deflate his head at every possible turn. But it’s so cool. It’s cool to see a passion project of his that he wrote, directed and worked on for so long get this much attention. It’s awesome and it’s well-deserved validation. To have a small part in it makes it that much cooler. And to be the first person nominated for an Emmy for a one-word line in a miniseries, it’s an honor and I’m moved. (Laughs at his joke.)
Scott, how did it feel to sit back and witness the phenomenon take hold? Did it affect how you want to approach your work going forward?
SCOTT FRANK I’m glad I’m the age I am and not, say, Luke’s age when this happened, because I’m not sure how it would have affected me then. I was confused and then bemused. I remember saying to my wife, Luke’s mom, when we finished cutting it, that for the first time ever in 30-some years of doing this, “I’m just so glad I got to make this. I never thought I would get to make this one. I honestly don’t really care what anybody thinks.” Then I forgot about it.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Steering the Ship (And Doing Everything Else, Too)
These creators wore multiple hats on their limited series, writing and directing their critically acclaimed projects.
The Moonlight director created and helmed all 10 episodes of Amazon’s adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s novel, a tale of a runaway slave whose journey is peppered with fantastical elements as she escapes using a literal railroad.
I May Destroy You
The British breakout wrote all 12 episodes of HBO’s widely acclaimed limited series, inspired by her own experience of sexual assault. She stars as the main character, Arabella, and co-directed several of the episodes.
A five-part series centered on West Indian immigrants in London, Amazon’s Small Axe was inspired by Steve McQueen’s own upbringing. The 12 Years a Slave director helmed the entire series and co-wrote all of the episodes.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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