His Dark Materials makes its trek to the small screen this weekend, introducing the world of Phillip Pullman's iconic novels to a whole new audience. The series is set in an alternate world where humans live alongside daemons, animal companions that are physical manifestations of that person's soul. A young orphan named Lyra (Logan's Dafne Keen), discovers a dark secret, which ultimately leads her on a magical adventure across parallel universes. While this is the second attempt at attempting Pullman's trilogy of books into live-action (after 2007's polarizing film The Golden Compass), fans seem to be pretty optimistic about what this new interpretation has in store.
If the first trailers and promotional material are any indication, the series is setting out to be an epic and sprawling take on the original source material both in front of and behind the screen. One of the many integral figures working to bring His Dark Materials to life is Lorne Balfe, who serves as the series' composer. Balfe has established a significant discography over the years as a composer and score producer and has frequently collaborated with Hans Zimmer. Just in recent years, audiences have heard Balfe's work across everything from The LEGO Batman Movie to Mission: Impossible - Fallout to The Crown. But for Balfe - who is a lifelong fan of the His Dark Materials series - crafting the musical world of the television adaptation was both a tremendous honor and undertaking.
Ahead of His Dark Materials' series premiere, ComicBook.com got a chance to chat with Balfe via phone about his role in the series. Read on to find out his approach to the series' global scale, his thoughts on the legacy of Mission: Impossible - Fallout, and which animal he would want as his daemon.
Getting a Start
ComicBook.com: How did you initially get into the world of composing?
Lorne Balfe: I think I probably got into it slightly by accident, if that's a non-degrading way to describe it. I don't think I ever planned to get into it. My father was a songwriter and he had a studio, and I was always surrounded by musicians and people creating music. I think I just always believed that that was a normal job, and people waking up at lunchtime and working until late at night, that to me always just was quite a normal job. It wasn't until when at school, my careers advisor had asked what I was intending to do, and I said, "Something to do with music."
They said, "Well you can become a teacher or play in an orchestra." I thought, well, I could be in a band, but I then realized it was too hard of work carrying drum kits around everywhere. I just think I started off like many composers, just in different fields of music I was doing. I started doing a lot of commercials and jingles, and then that led to doing TV and then films and games and TV. There was no clear decision or plan. I just knew I wanted to create music, whether it was for myself or for visuals.
The thing is is that I think nowadays, the hours are kind of from morning until the following morning. I'm not really aware if it is lunchtime or not, but I think there's just a natural... Frank Zappa used to be like that. He preferred waking up in the afternoon and starting, and my father was very like that writing-wise. I think it's harder when you get older and you start having children because you've got to get up in the morning and you've got actual responsibilities instead of just writing music for yourself. And I think also being in a household of the arts, if I can say it that way, helped. Because I think that it's very difficult for people that, if your parents don't understand, wanting to get into the creative arts such as writing or composing or if it's literature, it's difficult for them to understand that lifestyle. Thankfully, they did. I was kind of encouraged to follow music. I didn't know the directions, but at least there was an encouragement to follow it.prevnext
Fan of the Franchise
Were you familiar with His Dark Materials franchise before you signed onto the project? Had you read the books before, or was the whole thing just kind of new?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. It was deeply in my life. It's kind of one of those jobs that when you hear about it, I had to be involved, and whether I bribed somebody to get me the job or turned up at their office, I knew I had to do it. It was with Mission Impossible. I was a massive fan and with Mission, it had been in my life for 20 years. I'd been basically subconsciously writing Fallout out in my head. Just that famous Lalo Schifrin theme, I had been trying to write it for 20-odd years. With Dark Materials, I think... When was the first one? It was in the '90s. '95, gosh, how old was I then? I'm 42 now... Oh well, I'll figure that one out and text you. However old I was, it was a long time ago.
But yes, it was the same heritage and folklore of the likes of Harry Potter and Star Wars to me. Basically, I found out about it and I just knew I had to be part of the team. It's always very intimidating, especially with literature, because the thing is that everybody has created their own soundtracks in their head when reading these books, and you don't want to mess it up.prevnext
What kind of inspiration and influences did you take into consideration when you were crafting the His Dark Materials score? Since it's the kind of source material that everyone interprets in a different way, what was kind of important for you in creating your take on it?
I always treat these books as steampunk. I was very aware of the different worlds and the fact that you weren't too sure of what the technology was, and if it's present or past. Musically, I knew right from day one I wanted it to be a mixture of organicness and electronic-ness, and have it so that the organicness was being manipulated, so sonically you don't know what you're hearing and you're not too sure if this is real or if it's not.
I also kind of wanted to always make sure that with Lyra --I'd never worked on a show where it has such a strong young female lead, and I just wanted to make sure that I wrote it so it wasn't patronizing to her age. She is the future and she's just strong. I think that I wanted to make sure that she dramatically was as strong and powerful as if it was Princess Leia, for example.
And also what I wanted to do was very clearly set out each character's themes. Before we even started, I really spent a long time just creating everybody's dramatical world. With Mrs. Coulter, it's powerful but also slightly sexy. I'm not too sure if I can say the word "sexy" for Mrs. Coulter, but the thing is that her character, the way Ruth [Wilson] plays her especially, it's very imposing.
There are so many sides to it. I just wanted to start off composing and just making sure all of our characters have very clear dramatical worlds, and also their own instrumentation. I think that color-wise, I wanted to make sure that they have their own performances. In the same way, I started thinking about who was going to perform the music. And ironically with Mrs. Coulter, I got Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the drummer, to come and play on it. Because it was like "This is serious now, and this is powerful." For some reason, I just kept thinking of Chad.
On other themes, with the Egyptian theme, I was lucky to get [violinist] Lindsey Stirling involved to come and play. Everybody's theme, I wanted to get musicians that I could work with, that would also be that character sound.
I'm just remembering now, the same with [cellist] Tina Guo's playing on the soundtrack. She's the main cellist for Wonder Woman. I'm probably forgetting names. I should have practiced. KT Tunstall, the singer, is on the score. Sarah Willis is a French horn player with the Berlin Philharmonic. I was calling her a month ago in Cuba, in Havana, because she's on tour. And then Rich Harvey, one of the top recordists... Recorder players? Is that a recordist? I'm not too sure. So yeah, I wanted to get that high cast of musicians as well as the show, the cast, their actors.prevnext
What's your favorite thing about the score for His Dark Materials? Is there a certain theme or a certain sequence that you're just like, "I can't believe I was able to pull this off"?
I wish I could have more faith in my own music. Unfortunately, I don't. What we're doing with the soundtrack is that when the show starts, we're going to release two albums. The first album is going to be a musical anthology to our world, and it's all of the character's themes and the show's themes. And then the second album will be actual cues from the actual show. I'm still writing at the moment, so I want to say that the best is yet to come because I'm still at episode eight. But I think everything has been a challenge, because I think with Lyra, I think very, very aware of thinking about the fans.
To me, it's a hard job. It's very like working on games, because there's such a heritage and loyal fan base, that you can't please everybody. It's just impossible. But you've got to be loyal. I tried to do some research to see what fans would be listening to, and I found some references to the music of Algar, so I took some inspiration from that. To me, I've tried to just do my best to what people might feel with these characters. And also everybody working on the show are fans of the books -- whether it's the costume department or the makeup department or the camera department, everybody's wanted to be involved with this because of their love of the books. It's apparently a team effort.
And I think that the opening sequence has been one of the hardest jobs I think I've ever had because you're trying to write a theme and a piece of music that represents this story, which is mammoth. I think [it's like] being asked, "Who's your favorite child?" It's impossible, but I think that the journeys through it is all fun. We're recording all over the world, musically. We've been recording in Los Angeles and Cuba and Vienna, and we've been recording an amazing female choir in Bulgaria. We're recording the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra in Wales. Just the recording of the music alone is mammoth. I'd say there is no favorite, but I hope the main theme of the show gets people excited.
I'm really excited about the two different albums. I always love it when shows or movies really let people experience the music of the show, outside of them actually watching it in the moment.
I think there's a lot on the first album that's not necessarily a written picture, but it's a listening experience. And because I wanted to try to, maybe for two and a half, three minutes, be able to clearly represent who these characters are without being interrupted by people talking on top of it, selfishly. I think that's been a fun part of this journey.prevnext
As we've talked about already, I know you've worked on so many different franchises and comic book movies and that kind of realm, but is there a franchise that you haven't gotten to do yet, that you would just absolutely love to do?
I think there is one franchise. Apparently it never happened, so I won't ever say it.
I think it's always a difficult one, but Mission was just an amazing opportunity. [Director] Chris [McQuarrie] and Tom [Cruise] really just did make, I'm going to remove myself from it, I do believe they made one of the best films ever. I still think that one of the best action sequences I've ever seen was that bathroom fight.
I agree completely.
And there's no music in it, so I should be upset about it. I can't. It just took that franchise to another level. I think that that's what I'm very proud of, is being invited into their family.prevnext
Going back to His Dark Materials, if you had to have your own animal daemon, what would it be and why?
Loch Ness Monster.
Oh, that's amazing.
No, it's pretty useless, but I think -- it's Scottish, it's a bit loose, and it doesn't like being in the limelight all the time. Loch Ness monster it is for me.
That's a perfect answer.
I'm actually also, at the moment, looking over the River Ness at the moment, so that's a sub-point.prevnext
And then just to wrap it up, what can you tease about your future projects beyond His Dark Materials? What do you have coming up that we can look forward to?
I've just finished working with Michael Bay, on a new movie called 6 Underground with Ryan Reynolds, which comes out in December on Netflix.
And then, another franchise which I'm actually doing, which comes out in January is Bad Boys [for Life]. I had posters for that first Bad Boys everywhere when I was young. It's great to be... I just realized, gosh I do do a lot of franchises, actually. I wasn't aware that I did so many.
That's the plan, but also I'll start the second season of Dark Materials, probably after Christmas. There won't be much of a gap. I'm on the last episode at the moment, so there'll be a few months, and then I'll start on the next season, which I'm very, very excited about.0comments
His Dark Materials premieres on BBC One on Sunday, November 3rd at 8pm, and on HBO on Monday, November 4th at 9/8c.prev