With We Need To Talk About Kevin one of the most powerful films of the year, we speak exclusively to director Lynne Ramsay about her collaboration with Jonny Greenwood on the score.
In cinemas now, it’s a breathtaking, radical adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s book, featuring two stunning performances from Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller. Swinton plays a woman ostracised by her community, living with the guilt of her psychopathic teenage son’s actions. Using shifting time frames to show the strange and terrifying relationship between a mother and son, it’s a devastating, modern and all-too-real horror story that chills to the bone. Read our full review here.
Along with the stellar acting, bold direction and striking cinematography, the score is highly unusual. After his spine-tingling work on There Will Be Blood, the Radiohead guitarist was robbed, robbed of an Oscar nomination on a technicality (the percentage of pre-existing music was just over the allowed limit). Greenwood may not have a gold statue, but he can be assured that his evocative strings helped turn an already brilliant film into a masterpiece.
Greenwood used similar, unsettling themes on this year’s Norwegian Wood, but as we learn at this year’s London Film Festival Awards, strings were not an option for his assignment on We Need To Talk About Kevin.
We grab an ecstatic Ramsay following her win for Best Film, and - representing DIY - we give her a chance to talk about something other than Tilda Swinton. She also reveals more about her planned sci-fi adaptation of Moby Dick.
Despite being married to rock musician Rory Stewart Kinnear (who incidentally wrote the screenplay with Ramsay), the director reveals she’s only getting into music herself following her work on Kevin’s score. ‘I was interested in sourcing the music,’ she tells us. ‘We found a lot of the strange tracks that are quite upbeat and uplifting - like chaingang tracks.’ The director knew exactly what she didn’t want for the score: ‘…rather than go the obvious strings way - which I hate.’
Enter Mr Greenwood. ‘I sent him a rough cut of the film, and he got back to me very quickly, saying he loved it, but was terrified by it as he’s got children!’ Not wanting dramatic strings, she points out: ‘Jonny’s wasn’t a horror score at all, but about bringing layers and tones.’
‘Jonny was a pleasure and a genius,’ Ramsay continues, adding with a laugh: ‘Really the genius, for my mind, behind Radiohead - sorry Thom Yorke!’ Would she work with him again? ‘I would love to do more with him. He’s a very modest man, and an amazing musician.’
With Swinton’s character Eva a famous travel writer, it was natural to have an international feel. ‘We had a Chinese classical musician called Wu Fang, who was invited to Jonny’s studio, and she was amazing. Her track’s called Ambush, which is about love and war, which really fitted into that subject matter.’ You can watch said track here.
‘Doing the soundtrack to the movie was probably my favourite part,’ she admits, reflecting on the 30 day shoot. ‘Although hanging out with the cast was amazing. John [C. Reilly] is a musician, and he bought me a beautiful guitar, and he was jamming a lot. I think it was decompression from Kevin - you felt the atmosphere on set, so we had to chill out a little bit!’
Despite the intense material, Ramsay remembers the atmosphere fondly: ‘I’ve never been on a shoot where I’ve hung out with the actors after 14 hour days - that’s the first time. There was a lot of love in this, because it was a labour of love.’
We ask Ramsay, whose previous films include the acclaimed Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar, about her next project. With Kevin such a hit, all eyes on the Scottish director’s next film, which she recently revealed as a sci-fi inspired by Moby Dick. We want to know what inspires her in sci-fi.
‘I was a big sci-fi buff when I was a kid - I read a lot of Ray Bradbury, I was into comic books as well. So for me, tackling the genre is really interesting. It’s not in a straight genre way - for me the interesting thing is taking the psychology into different places, spaces, without the baggage of social realism, which I’ve done before.
‘It’s challenging myself. It’s like making art, you don’t want to make the same painting every time - I started as a painter and photographer. Moby Dick is a huge book, and it’s really about man being the monster, with really huge themes. A lot of people haven’t read that book as it’s a lot about whales [laughs]. It’s not a straight adaptation. Being a film director is like going on a ship, and taking your crew there. You could take them to a bad place, or a good place, and Ahab is on a mission. You have responsibility as a captain. This is the really interesting thing - not that the alien is an alien, but that the alien is man, as a captain.’