“I've been so lucky,” composer James Newton Howard says. “I've done over 140 movies at this point. Things for television, record and producing. I’ve been so lucky to get all these ideas writing concert music. I may have checked all the boxes that go on a bucket list with music, and I just want to keep going. I guess that's my bucket list: It’s to have remaining and continuing passion for what I do.”
Newton Howard is a composer and pianist who made a name for himself in the late ‘70s by touring with and orchestrating for Elton John. He made his way into film score composition at a time when the field was wide open. He’s scored more than 140 movies, from Pretty Woman to the Hunger Games franchise. His latest passion project features eight suites from all the films he’s scored for M. Night Shyamalan, a director known for his emotional thrillers.
How would you describe your signature style?
“Strong melody is part of my signature. But I think also, and I say this with tremendous humility — although it may not sound like humility — that I'm very versatile. I think I've done a lot of successful romantic comedies, from Pretty Woman to My Best Friend's Wedding to Dave and all that. So when you do that, you become the ‘rom-com’ guy. And then I did The Fugitive, and I became the action guy. I suppose the clearest thing that I get back from people is my more emotional interior music.”
In an interview that you did a few years ago you admitted to being a little arrogant on occasion early in your career, and then you said you became a good listener. What happened that allowed you to become a good listener?
“Yeah, I was arrogant because I was always coming up with ideas and then I was just running into situations where I was getting a lot of rewriting requests from the director. And some of the rewrites that were getting made were really good ideas. And then it just occurred to me that the director might actually have important things to say to me. I'm much more collaborative now, and that's really the nature of the game; it's all down to being part of a team.”
You’ve collaborated with director M. Night Shyamalan on at least eight films, and you've now taken music from those films and turned them into suites.
“Night makes films that are about things that really interest me, such as revelation, catharsis, love, courage and triumph. There's always an element of these very strong emotions. That's what really appealed to me. But, surprisingly, all these ideas and feelings took place in movies that were somewhat creepy. But then there’s a very emotional core to it. I had never encountered that before.
“And so, I took the scores, I took out all the scary bits and made it quite meditative. I got Jean-Yves Thibaudet to play the piano on every track. Hilary Hahn came in and revisited my score for The Village and played the beautiful violin solos throughout that piece.
“But what I love about Night was the closeness of our collaboration and his appreciation for what I was doing. We just ended up having this connection from the very beginning where I felt challenged and I felt inspired and he felt inspired, and we worked so closely together that it just was kind of a dream relationship.”
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
James Newton Howard – Night After Night (Amazon)
James Newton Howard – Night After Night (Sony Classical)
James Newton Howard (official site)
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