Film: Will movies kill the soundtrack star?

Hans Zimmer gets so involved with his movies he sometimnes fears for his life. But he's a happy man, he tells Nick Hasted

In a warren of Hampstead studios, Hans Zimmer is working against the clock to finish the score for the first cartoon feature from Dreamworks, the new studio which has made him its musical director. Jeffrey Katzenberg, its most feared chief, is flying in tonight. Orchestras and choirs play and sing to the movements of animated ancient Egyptians on banks of computer monitors. The lean, fortyish German, in a white T-shirt untypical of a composer, talks as he works, amusing everyone, performing. He's been here so many times before, on films from the Oscar-winning The Lion King to the execrable Nine Months, to next week's Oscar-nominated As Good As It Gets. He's "happy as a pig in shit".

"This is what I really enjoy, working with film-makers," he says later, sprawled and smoking during a brief break. "You form these short-term families, it's like going to war. The movie is a battle you have to fight and win, and it very much has a mind of its own. Once you start, it's like a speeding train, you're just holding on for dear life, seeing where it takes you, and you don't get a lot of sleep, but you form these incredible bonds with other film-makers, you get ideas, and the ideas are the adrenaline, they're exciting. You become morose when you finish. You're an adrenaline junkie."

Zimmer's route to his battlefield was twisting. He left Germany "as soon as I smelt authority". He rejected the classical music his background forced on him, embracing rock'n'roll, finishing up in England, "where at least I didn't try to burn down the school". He dreamt of America, where the music and movies he loved were made. But he thought if he ever went there, he'd be swallowed up. He thought of the last shot in Elektra Glide in Blue, a cop stranded on a highway, the camera pulling back into infinity, and saw himself, "a tiny ant". So he became a pop star instead. With Trevor Horn, he formed Buggles, and wrote "Video Killed the Radio Star."

But rock musicians bored him. He was meeting more interesting people writing jingles for ads, for directors like Ridley and Tony Scott. He was starting to work, too, with Stanley Myers, the composer of The Deer Hunter. Myers' talent was orchestral, Zimmer included guitars and synths, when he heard them in his head. The collaboration made him.

His first full assignment was Nic Roeg's Eureka. He asked Roeg what he wanted. "He looked at me like I was a complete idiot, and he said, `The sound of the earth being raped, dear boy!' That was when I knew I was in the right business."

Zimmer's career since has been almost exclusively for good directors, including both Scotts. But it is James L Brooks, the director of Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets, who he's closest to. They formed their bond on a film which almost no-one has seen. I'll Do Anything was briefly notorious, a musical which had its songs removed, a victim of disastrous test screenings. Sometimes, Zimmer still thinks of it. It almost killed him.

"One of those years that it took, I would come home every night holding my chest saying, `I don't think I'll see Christmas,' " he remembers. "It became so overwhelming. It became incredibly personal. Because you do not want to disappoint your director, and things are not working, and the audience hates what you're doing, and it ... gets pretty severe. You do take it personally, you do take it personally when 600 people in a room go `We hate this!' By the end of it I was completely obsessed about doing it well. I wrote three scores for that film. The night I finished the second score, I dreamt the beginning of the movie with a third. That was the one we finished with."

He hasn't seen it since. But he still hasn't let it go. "About two weeks ago," he admits, embarrassed, "Jim and I were talking about going back into it, maybe doing a laser disc, putting the songs back. We're still working on it, you know. We should let it go, but we can't. It's like a sore we have to scratch."

Zimmer's next project was The Lion King, which won his Oscar. Now, he's been nominated again, for As Good As It Gets, the first film with Brooks since their shared defeat - a hit, it turns out, with Jack Nicholson as a misanthrope in a twisted romance. "It's the antithesis of a Hollywood score, and I'm really glad that people have noticed it," he says with rare, real humility. "I wanted it to be this subtle thing."

The film had begun in a New Year's Eve power cut, Zimmer and Brooks trading ideas round a piano. It ended the night Zimmer's wife gave birth. He sees each film as a personal journey, the score as a side-effect. As he wrote As Good As It Gets, he had Nicholson's damaged character in his head. It's an identification which has sometimes gone too far.

"I had to move out at home when I was doing The Fan [a Tony Scott film about a stalker], because my wife was starting to get a little terrified," he remembers. "I didn't mind. I can't say it was fun. But it was cathartic. Sometimes you just have to write something to get it out of your system."

It's strange talk for a profession most still think of as hacks, whoring from job to job. Zimmer accepts the term happily. But with one proviso. "I am totally a hack. But what jobs! I write music strictly for myself and I use the Jims, and the Tonys and the Ridleys and the Nics to inspire me. This year I'm working with Terence Malick. We spent a year talking about the movie before he went out and shot it. It's a hellish commitment, for the director and me. You want to be damn sure it will be worth it."

`As Good As It Gets' is released on 13 March. Hans Zimmer's soundtrack is out now on Columbia.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    German & French Teacher

    £120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are curren...

    Experienced Cover Supervisors Needed

    £55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education have cover s...

    **** Calling All NQT's ****

    £90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a Newly Qualified Teac...

    Cover Supervising Roles Longridge

    £50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Preston: A mainstream secondary school i...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week