Three years after James Horner’s passing, we thought we would bring together three interviews on The Mask of Zorro, whose soundtrack album was released twenty years ago, in October 1998.
The rather short first interview was the introduction to a lengthy talk with the composer on Titanic. That discussion took place on 28 November 1997 during the recording sessions of the first Zorro score and the transcription was published as The Words of James Horner #4.
The second interview dates back to the fall of 1998 and coincided with the album release.
The third interview finds James Horner reminiscing about The Mask of Zorro at the time The Legend of Zorro was released in 2006.
Reminder: These interviews were conducted by Didier Leprêtre and Jean-Christophe Arlon between 1997 and 2006 for the magazines Dreams To Dreams and Cinéfonia.
Unfortunately, the English-language audio tapes of the interviews are now lost, so we decided to take the French-language publications and retranslate them into English as faithfully as possible. We are immensely grateful for the chance we have been given to publish the colossal work done over the course of an entire decade and to give the interviews a new lease on life, all the more since we think they are an invaluable and unique window into the oeuvre of James Horner.
PART 1: Fall 1997 – During the recording sessions of The Mask of Zorro
JH) And all of that is danced by people that don't read music, who are dancers. So we had to do that for 5 days, 6 days, and then the orchestra – actually we’ve been here 10 days – with the orchestra 10 days and then a week with the flamenco people. A lot of music.
DtD) And so, as we said when we arrived, for this particular scene – it must be one of the last fights I suppose.
JH) It’s not one of last fights. You see that’s the problem, it’s one of many. And what I wanted to do in the film was, at the beginning of the film, I didn't want to use an orchestra for the main title, when the Z of Zorro gets done. I wanted it to be something that was… musical, exciting, but didn’t immediately say “big orchestra”, because to me that’s… as soon as you hear an orchestra you know the kind of movie you're gonna see. It just says already: old-fashioned movie, entertainment; but it paints a picture, so I very much wanted at the beginning to have this flamenco, very passionate sort of dancing which we’re doing. And then the film opens. The first scene of the film starts, but the dancing is over the opening titles where it says “Amblin / Steven Spielberg Presents” and this man comes out of the shadow with his cape, he throws his cape back and goes like that and it burns on screen, it's all black with red, it’s beautiful looking. I just didn’t want to do it with oboes and violins, it just felt terribly old-fashioned to me. So, the problem is: OK, it looks great there, it sounds great there, now, where do you use that in the film so it makes sense ? And there are about five places in the film where I use the dancing feet as percussion. And the orchestra which you've heard a little bit of later in the cue, the orchestra comes back and that dancing…, all of that stuff.
DtD) The castanet…
JH) Yeah, exactly. And then there are two sequences that are just again flamenco, and then the end… near the end there's a sequence like this one. So there are about five sequences. And it’s just me trying to find a way to make it a little different than all the other Zorro things that have come to the fore.
DtD) Not conventional…
DtD) It's quite difficult just to convince people from the production that sometimes being non- conventional is good for the movie.
JH) Yes, well, I like to try lots of unconventional things in film, but I'm always very responsible to the people I work for, and to an audience. Not all audiences are avant-garde audiences; some of them are very conservative, I'm not doing good for the film if my ideas are too progressive for an audience, they have to be very accessible. So the director's been great and he's loved everything, and he loves the flamenco. You look at this and the first thing you think is a big orchestra, and it takes a little getting used to the fact that we're not gonna do a big orchestra on this little sequence, we’re gonna do it with a flute. And he hasn't quite accepted that. So I may end up having to put orchestra on it, which will spoil the effect, but you know, that’s the way it is.
DtD) Give and take.
JH) Yes, give and take. So far he's been very good 'cause I've done things that are pushing for a big American audience movie like this sort of Indiana Jones, it’s pushing what an audience is expecting to hear, and he's gone with it.
DtD) Yes, that’s right, it’s good if he agreed with some other unconventional things.
JH) He has. if he gets too nervous, then I'll just do it in a more regular way, or try to find some other solution, but we'll see where we go with this.
DtD) Is it the final version or could it be…
JH) No, it's the final version, but it's not the final sword fight. At the end of the film there's this big sword fight, and that is very conventional – as it should be. There’s no other way to do that. But in this one, this was one that is more disposable, that I can take a chance with it.
Source: Interview with James Horner – Didier Leprêtre – Dreams to Dream…s – 1998
Part 2 : Fall 1997 – during the recording sessions of The Mask of Zorro
DtD) How did you acquaint yourself with the Hispanic folklore and flamenco ?
JH) Tony, Tony and Tony again. Every time I score a movie that has a certain couleur locale, I try to surround myself with competent people who do not go for the typical Hollywood clichés. That was true of Thunderheart and Bopha !, among many other examples. In the case of The Mask of Zorro, Tony Hinnigan was the most competent person on the face of the planet. He has Hispanic folklore down to a fine art and he knew all the dancers and singers I needed. He organised the whole thing, becoming sort of a second orchestrator and a music editor in the process. And what’s more, Tony had never applied his vast musical knowledge to a score with Hispanic and Mexican influences. On The Mask of Zorro, he was able to showcase this immense talent of his.
DtD) Tony Hinnigan is a friend, but he’s also become a vital part of your oeuvre.
JH) As you say, he’s a friend. The rest is just the rest.
DtD) Let’s go back to Elena and Esperanza. Even though there’s a dark, even tragic side to it, the cue beautifully mirrors the wedding of musical cultures.
JH) Before we talk of wedding, we need to address the opposition between Elena and Esperanza. The tragedy of Elena’s life means there had to be some degree of darkness. That’s one color. Then, there’s Esperanza, the symbol of Spanish traditionalism, and that’s another color. So either you bring them together like in Titanic’s Rose, or you present them in parallel. That’s what I did on The Mask of Zorro. On the other hand, I made sure I didn’t just create an opposition between them, that would have been banal and obvious scoring.
DtD) What do you mean by presenting them in parallel ?
JH) I do not create oppositions between the characters, the melodies and certainly not the instruments. I don’t bring them together either. Yes, I have them exist together harmonically, but that’s basically it.
DtD) How does that work musically ?
JH) Melodically, it’s very simple. There’s a motif for strings, guitar and woodwinds. Every development brings a new nuance rendered by the strings, rather oriental-sounding. The Zorro theme, in fact. The motif is repeated again and again to show this parallel, you see. Only later, and this is where you really should see the movie, does the theme pan out, finally dying in a crescendo that is both atonal and macabre. Esperanza’s traditionalism is expressed by a musical anticonformism. This is how a parallel can become an opposition, but initially and nearly throughout the score, it remains a parallel.
JH) « Joie de vivre » [pronounced in French] is probably not the best word here. You say that because the music has very lively rhythms and tempi, which in fact it owes to the flamenco idiom, and that often gives the music an impetuous intensity. Just think of the dancers and the way I used them. If you look at them very closely, you’ll see that they display an almost violent enthusiasm, especially in the way they create rhythm with their feet, this rhythm of the heels.
DtD) Yes, those dancing feet are almost percussion elements in and of themselves !
JH) That’s right. That’s one of the things I wanted them to do. But not just that, I also wanted the dancing feet to determine the tempo of the piece.
DtD) When we last met, you mentioned a certain anticonformism in The Mask of Zorro. Was that part of it ?
JH) Oh yes, absolutely. Hollywood has a certain tradition in Hispanic music that is typically American. It takes the original and pure Hispanic sound and changes it into something too symphonic, too American. To the best of my memories, only Miklos Rozsa’s El Cid managed to respect the Hispanic folklore, even though that term is not entirely correct. By incorporating all those sounds and those rhythms, I drop the western nature of the orchestra, especially the percussion, and I replace it with an authentic Spanish sound.
DtD) What’s surprising here is that you speak of anticonformism whereas you are very respectful of tradition.
JH) Hollywood has disregarded those traditions and their origins in order to make its own version of them, whereas I try to go back to those origins.
JH) To go back to your first question, I don’t think « joie de vivre » should be confused with brightness. There are very lively cues like The Plaza of Execution or The Ride. But there’s also a somber, even dark side like in Elena and Esperanza. You see, the two are equally present and there’s a delicate balance.
DtD) Still, we hadn’t heard a cue as full of panache as The Ride since The Pagemaster or The Rocketeer.
JH) True, but then again, The Ride is just one cue in a score that is about far more. That cue reflects just one of the things I wanted the score to be.
DtD) It’s a showstopper of a cue !
JH) Maybe. But more to the point, it’s « my » cue.
DtD) What do you mean ?
JH) The Ride appears on the album exactly as it appears in the film, and it is the version I had in mind from the start. While we were in London recording the score, Martin Campbell and Doug Claybourne tried to make me change this cue. They wanted to tone down the Spanish rhythm, asking for less guitar and castanets and then they wanted me to drop the tapping feet that the cue starts with. Ian Underwood and I replaced the sound of the feet with percussion and then we dropped the castanets and the guitar in favor of typically
western strings and brass. We did a demo on the spot and Martin loved it a lot. Doug Claybourne wanted to do away with my version of the cue altogether. From a musical perspective, they liked the new version a lot better. So we put it up against the visuals.
DtD) What happened then ?
JH) We ended up coming back to the original version, which was my version ! Because you see, the added orchestral instruments overpowered the film, and robbed it of the « joie de vivre » you mentioned before. And stuff like that happened a lot. Afterwards, I was asked to replace instrument by instrument so that we didn’t end up with anything as overpowering as the revised version of The Ride. That happened on The Fencing Lesson, for instance. You know the film version, which is the same as the album version, but imagine all the ways the cue could have gone. With Ian and Tony Hinnigan, we experimented the hell out of that cue. We dropped the castanets, we added a string line … it was like a pyramid. You go up and up. And the more we went up, the less it worked against the visuals. When we had gotten to the top of the pyramid, Doug Claybourne said : « Stop, let’s go back. » And we added the castanets instead of the string line etc. After several hours of experimentation, we came back to The Fencing Lesson as you now know it.
DtD) You got what you wanted. You’re something of a clever fox, aren’t you ?
JH) If you want to put it like that.
Source: James Horner, Le renard masqué – Didier Leprêtre – Dreams to Dream…s – 1998
PART 3 : Fall 2005 – around the time The Legend of Zorro is released
CF) We’ve missed your flamenco dancers, your guitars and your castanets ! Are they back for the sequel score?
JH) Everyone’s back, from Tony Hinnigan to Kazu Matsui, from the dancers to the castanet players. Martin must have told you how hard we had tried to find an ideal mix in the first score. We wanted this score to go into different directions, but we were never going to abandon the textures we had such a hard time finding.
CF) Hot on the heels of Titanic, wasn’t The Mask of Zorro a bit of a departure for you ?
JH) It wasn’t a departure as much as a refreshing break from everything that had played on Titanic, from the writing of the music to its success. I wanted to compose something different and also compose differently, and The Mask of Zorro was like a breath of fresh air. Steven Spielberg really wanted me to score the movie even though I don’t know all the details. I wanted to be part of a « real » Zorro, an undertaking that was ambitious and spectacular at the same time, and really everything took off when I met Martin and Steven. Martin was obsessed with The Mask of Zorro and Steven generously offered ideas and concepts. They trusted me and they always respected the decisions I took. We always got along very well and we proceeded through trial and error. If the music is colorful and effective, it’s also thanks to them.
CF) The Mask of Zorro often flew in the face of Hollywood’s conventions in terms of Hispanic music. You wanted to harken back to the original tradition, a bit like Miklos Rozsa had done in El Cid (which you mentioned) or George Antheil in The Pride and the Passion. Would it be fair to say that the success of your first Zorro album set the record straight, so to speak ?
JH) Whenever I’m scoring a project that is steeped in a certain locale, I try to be as authentic as I can and not just provide a watered-down Hollywood version. The original tradition, whichever form or shape it takes, is a constant in my writing, and The Mask of Zorro allowed me to take the « western » sound and transform it into a purely Hispanic composition, the only valid one as far as I am concerned. I always look for truth and authenticity, and I treat the conventions with humor or disdain, depending on the project. I am only interested in orchestral fireworks if the project’s backbone is well-conceived and honest, which best enables me to work on aspects such as rhetoric, expressiveness and symbolism. The first Zorro’s screenplay offered me that backbone and without being too nostalgic about it, this score is an homage to the past with the freshness of
the present. You mentioned two great composers who were always respectful of musical traditions; I feel honored to walk in their footsteps. And there’s also the influence of the repertoire, from Prokofiev’s Mexican period to the masters of Hispanic music like Albeniz.
CF) In The Mask of Zorro, there’s passion in every form and shape, the orchestral flamboyance of The Ride, the delicate guitar playing of Elena and Esperanza… And the tone of the music is really the result of the underlying intention: seemingly soft music can in fact be extremely violent. Would it be right to say that parallel is one of the foundations of your art ?
JH) Frankly … yes [laughs]. In every score, you need to be aware of the structure and the musical foundations, so that you can go on to play around with things or turn everything on its head. Without the structural work, your music goes off into all kinds of different directions and, in this case, would appear to be Hispanic without actually being Hispanic. Martin and I wanted to create more diversity, we wanted the score to breathe and to be well-articulated. You mentioned The Ride and that’s a very good example of the development that I wanted. There’s this power of the orchestra which constantly plays off contrasting colors, like light versus shadow. There are orchestral outbursts but they are offset by Hispanic inflexions. It’s the kind of sequence where the exuberance needs some kind of counterpoint. I wanted something dynamic and intellectual, because I had to keep the whole thing from playing like a farce.
CF) The aggressive scherzos are a perfect symbol of that parallel and you handle them with incredible idiomatic ease.
JH) The cue is as aggressive as it is nimble and every time the orchestral and Hispanic textures are intertwined, I wanted to achieve both a scale and a balance of raw orchestral frenzy and delicate exoticism that would serve Martin’s visuals. We talked a lot about whether or not The Ride needed the presence of traditional Spanish touches. I sincerely think that Martin was right to go back to the « lighter » version of the cue, which features playful nuances and rhythmic touches while still satisfying the audaciousness of the visual material.
CF) Did The Mask of Zorro give you an opportunity to take your four-note theme of death to the next level ? It’s pretty much the first time you have presented it as violent and monstrous shrieks (prior to The Perfect Storm), and obsessively (before Windtalkers and The Four Feathers).
JH) Martin and Steven gave me instructions and those notes were part of them. Having been given free rein, I decided to use them where they would fit, harmonically and tonally, in the storyline. The four-note motif is often the backbone of my music, as you know. I like to adapt the motif to new situations and new contexts and give it new meanings ; the revenge exacted by Diego De La Vega, and indirectly, by Alejandro Murieta, is one of the areas where I thought I could use the motif in meaningful ways. There’s nothing gratuitous about its use, but again, it’s a parallel between what the notes mean to me intellectually and Anthony Hopkins’s thirst for vengeance. Both are of a pretty obsessive nature.
CF) Which shade of punishment and evil do they represent in The Mask of Zorro ? How is their use here an extension of what they represented in Willow ?
JH) Willow, like The Mask of Zorro, needed a vast and versatile sound palette. To balance the elaborately ornate nature of the movie, I needed a dialogue of sorts, in this case between the Hollywood sound and the Hispanic and Mexican-American tradition, that would yield a degree of contrast and rivalry. It’s this contrast that the entire score is built around, down to its smallest motifs. One of those motifs symbolizes death. In this score, the motif takes no new meaning as such, but its malicious aura is heightened. Death gives me its notes and I use them again and again for their suggestive power.
CF) You didn’t compose a specific theme for Anthony Hopkins / Antonio Banderas, because the characters were seen mostly through their feelings, which basically means through Elena and Esperanza. Is this a way of saying that men have a tendency to hide their feelings behind a mask, and that the music is there to take the masks off ?
JH) I’ve always told you that The Mask of Zorro is a movie about Elena [laughs]. True, there’s a theme for Zorro but, if you listen closely, it’s a bridge to Elena’s theme. Your remark is correct, even though it wasn’t what I had in mind in the first place. Martin wanted an orchestral theme that was equestrian in character, and also grandiose, spectacular and athletic. I wanted the theme to be more than just full of energy, because that would not have done justice to the movie’s Zorros. I came up with different melodic sketches that you can hear in the final scenes and I submitted them to Martin without being completely convinced. Zorro stands for a lot more than just heroism and florid trumpet notes. So we pulled off the mask, so to speak, and came up with a theme that was far more « adult », with Germanic harmonies : brass and strings in counterpoint, like the romanticism of Tristan and Isolde, and Straussian « proportions » : modal textures, a balanced tone, symphonic ornamentation, languishing strings…
CF) It’s not every movie that allows its composer to let rip with orchestral fury. And when the opportunity arises, the music is often drowned by sound effects. The second part of Leave No Witnesses… and especially its moments of great fury (between 10 :18 and 10 :44) would not be amiss in a concert hall. How do you approach these rare opportunities ?
JH) With more measured exultation than I used to. I love lengthy cues because of the musical coloring it allows me to do but I especially love to do them when they bring something deeper, stylistically and intellectually, to the score and to the movie, like in The Four Feathers and House of Sand and Fog. Musical accompaniment for its own sake is a matter of technique rather than composition and there have been movies I would score differently today. In this case, I defined a set of goals that would turn the climactic battle cue into something of a challenge. It was a bit like Willow: Martin, Steven and I micromanaged the entire sequence, down to the smallest attack and the tiniest pulse. One of my goals was to bring into play all my attempts at Zorro “themes”, all the cells that hadn’t been fully developed. It’s up to you to find them, there are quite a few. From a conceptual point of view, I worked hard to use them in the appropriate harmonic settings. Also, the finale’s tone is pretty complex and I burnt through various musical concepts. I used themes wherever appropriate, I used counterpoint and I kept the rhythm section very busy, all the while making sure that I didn’t overplay my hand. And there was a third challenge: I wanted the melodies to soar at certain moments, as per Martin’s request for flamboyance and a richness of sound, without being overly emphatic. I had to find a delicate balance, and when played well, that game of tonal precision is very rewarding.
CF) You probably preferred working on Stealing The Map. Martin Campbell told us about the cue’s genesis. And how about the wonderful Ravel-influenced Fencing Lesson ?
JH) The Hispanic ornamentation offers endless opportunities and vast amounts of exotic textures. A swordfight without shrieking brass and sweeping strings, imagine how noble and proud and refreshing that could be ! Of course, that was great for a fencing lesson, but not so much for actual combat and in the end, Martin asked me to compose Stealing The Map as a suite of different sections. I liked the final result a lot because it mirrors the structure of the sequence very well. That’s why I love these two cues so much : they forced me to pay attention to details in a way I had probably never done prior to 1998. I wanted Maurice Ravel as an influence in The Fencing Lesson and the music often bordered on atonality. It’s a bit of the Bolero done like Ravel’s Waltz, with long pauses and interrupted chords and intervals. And that goes for both cues : Stealing The Map is Spanish music the way I understood it, augmented by my version of it. It’s torrid, it’s Latin, it has an energy to it that is beyond what the world’s largest orchestras could conjure up and it has a stylistic purity that I was only too happy to revisit in The Legend of Zorro Really, it’s a sight to behold when you see dancing feet as impressive and appropriate to the story become a part of your score !
CF) When we talked in 1998, you mentioned how important it was to have Tony Hinnigan and his vast knowledge of Hispanic folklore music at your disposal. Is the same true of The Legend of Zorro ?
JH) Without Tony, the orchestrations of The Mask of Zorro quite simply would not have been as rich as they were. More than just his knowledge, his forcefulness encouraged me to make my writing more complex and more imaginative and he urged me to provide endless rhythmic variations on polyphonic and heterophonic textures. The latter is very present in Stealing The Map : feet tapping and hands clapping, the castanets and the flutes, either just laid on top of the orchestra or used for rhythmic variation. I really wanted to do more of that in The Legend of Zorro, and I did.
CF) Other than the derring-do, the chases and the romantic involvements, Diego’s Goodbye is perhaps the most surprising cue, and certainly the most emotionally overwhelming one. Again, you displayed a measure of anticonformism there, and it was another opportunity for you to deal with love, death, remembrance and communion. How did you keep this fragile and intimate scene from being ruined by the underscore ?
JH) Martin was astute enough to consider Diego’s Goodbye as the opposite of Leave No Witnesses… and give Tony and me the freedom to look at the movie and its characters with a combination of nostalgia and restraint. Anthony Hopkins dies but lives on in Elena and later in her son. The torch is passed in two ways, actually : a father’s legacy transmitted to a daughter and a mask passed from one generation to another, which leaves Alejandro as the « only » Zorro. I composed a version based on the scene’s original edit, but Martin had to reshoot the last scenes, with more emphasis on the newborn child, after unfavorable previews. Tony and I liked the revised edit better and we scored the newborn heir with Elena’s theme. Again, things became complicated. After the scene was locked with Steven’s agreement, I asked some of the soloists and members of the London Symphony Orchestra to fly over to Los Angeles, we put them together with LA- based musicians and we recorded the shorter film version of the cue. However, I wanted the album to feature the complete version of Diego’s Goodbye. Fortunately, both versions display the emotionality I tried to achieve and especially, they cap the film with appropriate statements of the Zorro theme, the « adult » theme and Elena’s theme, which sounds warmer and more fragile here, because it comments on the arrival of a baby in these characters’ lives.
CF) Which brings us to Elena. Could you talk a bit about the lullaby which sounds a bit French to our ears ?
JH) I first composed the theme’s « chorus », so to speak. Then I saw Martin’s visuals and little Elena’s cot and I decided she needed to have her own theme. So I brought in a guitar that played the first notes of Frère Jacques. It’s a lullaby I learnt while studying music and I love it because it is as simple as it is universal. Then I developed all the bridging material that leads to I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You. I thought this thematic material that surrounds Elena was essential, because it follows her throughout the movie but especially because it gave way to all kinds of delicate variations, like in Elena and Esperanza. You don’t see Catherine Zeta-Jones in this sequence, and yet it’s all about her, and right from the exposition scenes, I wanted the music to explain what the next two hours were going to be about. The cue needed chromaticism and various crescendos on the way to either peace or anguish. I also liked the way torment and beauty were expressed through the gloomy orchestrations of the atonal section as opposed to the eloquence of the modal part. It’s hard to put into words, but these moments were among the finest of the movie.
CF) This question may surprise you, but when we think back to The Mask of Zorro, I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You spontaneously comes to mind. Between your music and the passion and sensibility Tina Arena and Marc Anthony bring to the table, we think it is one of the most beautiful duets ever heard. Do you realize you composed something of a hymn for all those lovers out there, a hymn that goes beyond the film and its success ?
JH) Martin and Steven wanted to emphasize the romantic nature of the relationship, whereas I wanted to bring out the poetry and by focusing on Elena, I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You becomes her own hymn, and by extension the theme of the lovers in the movie, or other lovers if your definition of the song and its success in France is anything to go by. It’s really one of my favorite songs because it has healthy doses of lyricism, tragedy and suffering. By the way, the lyrics were designed to be as much about the passion between lovers as about the love parents have for their child.
CF) Why did you never release the version that was used during the end credits ?
JH) You know, at first there wasn’t even going to be a song, until Peter Gelb from Sony Classical asked me to compose one for the album, after the success of Titanic’s My Heart Will Go On. Of course, I never thought the song would be such a success, but I did what I could to respect the poetry of Elena and the aestheticism of the romance. For the end credits, I recorded « my » version with the London Symphony Orchestra and Jim Henrickson and I made sure the singing by Tina and Marc was slower, more Latin in fact. Since the song was also going to be marketed as a single, I worked with Jim Steinman to make it more accessible, more appropriate for radio broadcasting. I am happy with that version too, because we preserved the tenderness of the song and the essence of my version. I had proceeded pretty much the same way on Titanic and Céline’s album contained a version that was different from the original soundtrack. We ended up not releasing both versions of I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You, so you’ll have to listen to end credits again and again [laughs].
CF) Seven years ago, we used the term « joie de vivre » to characterize The Mask of Zorro, but you preferred to call it impetuous intensity. Is there also a dark side to Zorro’s new flamboyant adventures ?
JH) Oh absolutely. Martin has kept the irony and the panache of the first film but he replaced the profoundness of Anthony Hopkins’s character with two fleshed-out parts for Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I also feel that Antonio has more of a Latin quality here than in The Mask of Zorro, and Catherine exudes more eroticism. That has given way to funny scenes and very touching scenes because they’re working from a very good screenplay with plenty of twists. The music features plenty of what you call « joie de vivre » but also dark and troubled material. Balancing these elements was once again something of a juggling act, so there are moments of grandiloquence, there are parallels between the two scores, but also a couple of new elements, which you’ll have to find out for yourself. We’ll talk about that when we discuss The Legend of Zorro, but I think you’ll like it.
CF) A lot has happened in your career since The Mask of Zorro. Lots of scores and experiences, lots of colors and emotions, and a couple of missed opportunities as well. What did you think when after seven years you jumped back into a genre that added to your popularity and esteem, but that you hadn’t explored since ?
JH) Without Martin and Steven, I would never have done The Legend of Zorro. The Mask of Zorro was a self-contained score that was finished and did not need a sequel. And I was not really interested in doing a sequel. So we decided we’d do a couple of new things, even though we really wanted to revisit the colors we had worked on so hard. I don’t think there have been many missed opportunities, it’s really a matter of the choices you make and the projects that come your way. I loved House of Sand and Fog and Iris for the intimate movies and scores they were and for the satisfaction I got from them. They allowed me to do things I probably wouldn’t have been able to do in other movies. With The Chumscrubber, Flightplan and The New World, I continue to work on my style and code, which you decipher so well. You have to focus on what exists and not on what might have been, or you’ll grow bitter. At the risk of disappointing some of your readers, I never use my music to achieve popularity and you know, the chances of my ever scoring a movie as successful as Titanic again are very slim indeed. I don’t regret a certain orchestral grandiloquence, but that’s never been my first goal. Apart from exceptions like The Mask of Zorro and The Legend of Zorro, I prefer to take on projects which are more personal to me and which force me to take greater risks. If you’re not ambitious as a composer, you lose your edge.
CF) Jamie Richardson told us that you will be teaming up with Kate Winslet again shortly…
JH) When we talked about Iris, I went on about Kate Winslet for at least fifteen minutes after you had turned off the microphones [laughs]. Everything depends on The New World and the musical challenge that film represents, but yes, I might score Steven Zaillian’s All The King’s Men next.
CF) In The Mask of Zorro, Martin Campbell and Douglas Claybourne first wanted you to tone down the Spanish rhythms in The Ride and then came back to your original version because the orchestral bravura hurt the balance between the music and the visuals. Did the fox’s lessons pay off in the sequel score ?
JH) You have to be a sly fox to break into this business and a clever one to stay in. Once those steps are behind you, you can hope to be respected as a composer and I am fortunate enough to have friends and patrons like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, who are very encouraging. And I have learned a lot from them. I paid my dues like everybody else and I learned my lessons, but now I can confidently talk about my art to everyone involved, I can do new things, I can do the same things in different contexts and with different meanings, it’s become so much easier.
CF) The Mask of Zorro displayed a perfect and rare balance between the score as a narrative tool and its emotional and spiritual dimension. There are the notes and there is what lies behind the notes, the joy and the musical discourse functioning in perfect parallel. Have you tried to find the same balance in the sequel score ?
JH) I try to do that in all my scores since Titanic, so yes, in this one too. But it’s true that working with colors I had established for the first film left me with a huge challenge : paint with the same brush but instead of going for a simple copy, try to paint a new picture with new emotions and a fresh version of romance. The sequel score should be equally spectacular, but in a somewhat different way. I try to find novelty in continuity, that’s always been my creed, and this is doubly true of The Legend of Zorro: extend, invent, recreate … you know, compose !
CF) Did Beyond Borders change your relationship with Martin Campbell, and did that score influence The Legend of Zorro in any way ?
JH) Yes, but we’ll talk about that next month [laughs].
CF) Just between ourselves, don’t you have the soul of a masked avenger ?
JH) I didn’t try on Antonio’s suit, so it’s hard for me to answer that question [laughs]. But seriously, my music only wears masks for people who don’t understand it, and in that respect, I sometimes indulge in a delightful bit of vengeance. Let’s meet again soon to talk more about the fox.
Source: Zorro, du masque à la légende… (Part 1) – Jean-Christophe Arlon and Didier Leprêtre, Cinéfonia – 2005
Special thanks to Didier Leprêtre, Kjell Neckebroeck and John Andrews.
Translation by Kjell Neckebroeck.