‘You’ve got to live dangerously’

Hans Zimmer, PA Photo
Hans Zimmer, PA Photo

Cinema may be a visual medium, but it’s almost impossible to imagine some of the biggest films without their iconic scores.

Think of Christian Bale and Heath Ledger duking it out as Batman and Joker in The Dark Knight. Their performances were already hugely powerful, of course, but undoubtedly wouldn’t have quite the same gravitas without Hans Zimmer’s music as a backdrop.

The same could be said for Thelma & Louise, True Romance, The Lion King, The Thin Red Line, Gladiator, Inception and Interstellar - all powerful films, all enhanced by Zimmer’s music.

The German composer has crafted more than 100 film soundtracks and scores, with around 50 of them nominated for various awards. Among his wins are an Oscar for his work on The Lion King, two Golden Globes, four Grammy, four Satellite and three Saturn Awards, and three Classical Brits.

“I’m just very lucky,” he says, relaxing in his garden in Los Angeles, looking - admittedly - luckier than most. “It’s nothing to do with the brief I’m given or anything like that. It’s the directors I’ve worked with - I always have such great freedom.”

Zimmer is about to take his famous music on tour around the UK. Despite composing for more than 30 years, he’s performed only a handful of concerts and has never toured.

“It’s all Johnny Marr’s fault really,” he says, of the former Smiths guitarist and collaborator, who will also be joining Zimmer at select dates throughout the tour. “He talked me into doing a concert, then another, then another and now a tour. There I was, trapped away in my little room with no windows for 30 years, and now I’m playing arenas.”

He says he lacks live experience, but more than makes up for it with enthusiasm, bolstered by great people around him in his band, choir and orchestra.

“We do have a couple of tunes, too, and we are doing things slightly different to your normal film music concerts. I don’t know why but my rock’n’roll roots are showing.”

Zimmer stresses, despite the boom in concerts where orchestras perform scores in-sync with a projection of the film, he’s not interested in merely playing along with visuals that way.

“It’s always bothered me,” says the 58-year-old father-of-four. “The film is projected on a screen above the orchestra. For the first 10 minutes, the audience think, ‘Oh great, look at the orchestra’, and then forget about them. That’s a weird sort of compromise.

“It can be emotional, but...” he trails off, perhaps stopping a rant breaking out.

“Essentially, I love the musicians I’ve recorded with, and I actually think they deserve to shine, not the film. I just think every once in a while you have to shake these things up and go out there. I have to do this myself. You have to go out there and look people in the eye and play, and say, ‘This is my music, does it move you or not?’”

He’s still working out the finer details of his live show, but chances are it’s going to feature some incredible lighting, courtesy of a friend of his, Marc Brickman, renowned in the industry for his work with Pink Floyd.

“I’ve told him to come on tour and pretend he’s a musician,” he says. “Basically, I want him to play the lights live on stage. I want this tour to be a very different way of looking at things. And we don’t have any pesky dialogue to contend with, there are no quiet bits; it’s just me, my band, choir and orchestra. I don’t think many screenwriters will be coming to these shows,” he adds with a chuckle.

Zimmer’s biggest problem, however, is not how to summon up the imagery of a film without actually showing it to the crowds at his concert - but putting himself in front of them in the first place. The composer suffers from crippling stage fright.

“I always had it, and it was Johnny making me go on stage that got me out there each time we’ve performed,” he says. “He was always saying, ‘Come on, you can do it, you’ve got to’, and I got out there. You can’t not to do something in life just because you are afraid of it.

“You cannot let fear rule your life, you just have to throw yourself at the mercy of humanity. If I mess up, people will be kind about it.”

He says when he performed two consecutive dates in London’s Hammersmith Apollo a couple of years ago, he got through the opening night’s first half, enjoyed the second half, and believed himself to be cured. It was only when preparing for the second night that he realised nothing had changed; he was just as anxious as ever.

“That’s how I’m built, it doesn’t get any less. I have conquered nothing. But you know, that doesn’t matter, you have to have healthy respect for these things, this is not supposed to be casual.”

The music on the night might end up sounding different to how film fans remember it. The fact he doesn’t have to recreate anything exactly as it was in the film, will allow him to inject more character into the pieces, he notes.

“Some of it will be played as it was always intended to be. Pirates Of The Caribbean, for example, was always supposed to be rock. The Dark Knight was more punk than anything else, and The Thin Red Line is built from experience, it’s very different.

“Right now we’re figuring out the impossible one, which is Interstellar. There’s a different energy involved, because we’re creating something live, on the spot, and there’s an energy and a danger that comes with that.

“But I can’t worry about how to do these things,” Zimmer reasons. “You’ve got to use your imagination. You’ve got to live dangerously.”