Influenced by his classical European training and his passion for Hollywood movie scores, Alexandre Desplat rose to the most elite ranks of film composers. Dividing his time between A-list American and smaller European film projects, Desplat quietly became one of Hollywood's most prolific and decorated composers. Famed for his understated Gallic sensibility and deep reading of both character and theme which colored all his compositions, Desplat's music increased the richness and complexity of the films he scored rather than dominating them. His professional collaboration with the French director Jacques Audiard - including "Un héros très discret" ("A Self Made Hero") (1997), "Sur mes lèvres" ("Read My Lips") (2001), and "De battre mon c¿ur s'est arrêté" ("The Beat That My Heart Skipped") (2005) - brought him to international attention, and he broke into English-speaking film with his score for "Girl With a Pearl Earring" (2003). Showered with nominations and awards, he amassed an enviable filmography including among others, "The Painted Veil" (2006), "The Queen" (2006), "Lust, Caution" (2007), "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008), "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (2009), "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009), "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" (2010) and "The King's Speech" (2010). Lyrical, restrained and capable of wringing depths of emotion from every note, Desplat's music provided the filmgoing soundtrack for audiences worldwide, revealing his extensive range and showcasing a unique musical voice.
Born Aug. 23, 1961 in Paris, France, Alexandre Michel Gérard Desplat was the son of a Greek mother and French father who met while attending the University of California, Berkeley in the United States. Raised in France, the multilingual Desplat started playing piano at age five, and went on to master the trumpet and the flute. Movies joined music as the great passions of his life, as the classically-trained youth found himself inexorably drawn to American jazz and Hollywood movie scores. He studied music theory with Claude Ballif at the Paris Conservatory, enjoyed private tutoring from Ianis Xenakis, and visited Los Angeles to study with Jack Hayes, the arranger for Henry Mancini and Leonard Bernstein. A dedicated career musician, Desplat wrote the song "Oh! Mon bateau," a popular success for Éric Morena, and began composing music for the French cable station Canal +.
Breaking into European feature films, Desplat quickly made a name for himself with the purity and restraint in his scores, showing a remarkable ability to introduce his music as an additional vital character to any project. An extensive and impressive French filmography followed, highlighted by his groundbreaking work with the director Jacques Audiard, a collaboration compared to the synergy between Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann. Their first film together was "Regarde les hommes tomber" ("See How They Fall") (1994), a multilayered, twisting character study which featured flashes of quirky humor despite a neo-noir setting. Desplat's whimsical score offered the perfect complement to the film, and the partnership was set. The duo's next collaboration, the World War II-era "Un héros très discret" ("A Self Made Hero") (1997), earned Desplat the first of his many César Award nominations for his light-footed score, equal parts soaring melodies, plucked strings and mandolins. The powerhouse duo found success again with the unusual crime-tinged romance "Sur mes lèvres" ("Read My Lips") (2001), for which Desplat received another César nomination for his understated, luminous score.
With more than 50 European film scores under his belt, Desplat began to attract international attention for his ability to intuitively blend scores with scenes, adding subtle colors to the onscreen stories with his music. Director Peter Webber was struck by Desplat's lyricism in his Audiard collaborations, and hand-picked the Frenchman to score "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (2003), a romantic drama that imagined the story behind one of the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer's most famous paintings. Desplat's haunting score echoed the melancholy tale of impossible love, allowed release only through the drops of bright color on a canvas. Wistful and dreamy, his music managed to evoke the 17th century through a twenty-first century lens, and his work electrified his English-speaking peers who took note. For "Earring," Desplat was nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and a European Film Award.
Desplat delivered on his promise in spades, solidifying his reputation with an eerie, powerful score for the controversial reincarnation drama "Birth" (2004) starring Nicole Kidman. In close succession came the scores to the Joan Allen drama "The Upside of Anger" (2005), the Bruce Willis thriller "Hostage" (2005), and the George Clooney geopolitical actioner "Syriana" (2005), which earned Desplat another Golden Globe nomination. He notched an artistic high point, however, with his third Audiard collaboration, "De battre mon c¿ur s'est arrêté" ("The Beat That My Heart Skipped") (2005). The film, which depicted the relationship between two characters - an Asian concert pianist and her would-be young protégé, a French tough, who do not speak the same language - depended on music to be their common language, a challenge to which Desplat rose splendidly. Since the piano was pivotal to the story, Desplat composed a nuanced score based around its many moods, which resulted in his first César Award, a Silver Bear Award from the Berlin International Film Festival and an Étoile d'Or Award. After this breakthrough period, the composer's professional momentum proved unstoppable, and he found himself highly in demand from all circles.
Desplat wowed critics with his score for the Naomi Watts/Edward Norton literary adaptation "The Painted Veil" (2006). Skillfully evoking 1920s China through subtle touches such as delicate flutes and including surprising flourishes like an electric cello and multiple solos by the Chinese pianist Lang Lang, Desplat revealed a playfulness and ever-growing depth. That same year, he was brought in by director Stephen Frears to score "The Queen" (2006) when the first composer's work was deemed unsuitable. The Frenchman wrote and recorded a replacement score in three weeks. Again proving his innate talent for reading the tones and colors of a movie and its characters, Desplat brought an elegant, witty and even mischievous score to life to add just the right nuances to the Oscar-winning look at a turbulent time in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren). Pulling off an amazing one-two punch, Desplat earned a boatload of plaudits that year, with "The Queen" earning him a BMI Film & TV Award, a European Film Award and nominations for the Oscar, BAFTA and Chicago Film Critics Association. "The Painted Veil" also earned him a Golden Globe. For his work on both films, he earned the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award and was named Film Composer of the Year by the International Film Music Critics Association.
Perhaps the fastest-rising among Hollywood's A-list composers, Desplat was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2007 and showed no signs of slowing down, writing the music for the Dustin Hoffman/Natalie Portman fantasy "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" (2007), Nicole Kidman's fantasy adventure "The Golden Compass" (2007) and director Ang Lee's intense "Lust, Caution" (2007). The latter was a 1940s-era Chinese espionage thriller which focused on a group of university students attempting the assassination of a government official, and the emotional and physical devastation unleashed by their efforts. In his score, Desplat evoked the themes of love, desire and danger faced by the characters with restrained orchestrations - a string quartet, harp, vibraphone, flute, solo violin and electric cello - and again beautifully underscored the Chinese setting without using obvious Asian musical references. Critics adored his work and marveled at how, without betraying his own unique voice, Desplat was a musical chameleon, adapting effortlessly to each project's tone. For his "Lust, Caution" score, he earned a Golden Horse Award and nominations for the Asian Film Award, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award and Chicago Film Critics Association Award. Balancing his busy Hollywood schedule, Desplat always kept a hand in scoring European films, notching another César Award nomination for scoring the war film "L'Ennemi Intime" ("Intimate Enemies") (2007).
With a sterling reputation for a delicate touch with his music, Desplat was David Fincher's choice to score "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008) a prestige picture where a man (Brad Pitt) mysteriously ages backward. His glowing score, all shimmering tones and crisp orchestration, won the BMI Film Music Award and earned him nominations for the Oscar, Golden Globe, Grammy, Saturn Award and BAFTA among others. For his work on "Button," "Coco avant Chanel" ("Coco Before Chanel") (2009), "Largo Winch" (2008) and "Cheri" (2009), Desplat was again named Film Composer of the Year. A fixture at this point with American moviegoers, even if he lacked the name recognition of a John Williams or James Horner, Desplat scored the massive hits "Julie & Julia" (2009) and "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (2009), and earned nominations for the Oscar and BAFTA for his "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009) score. He also reunited with Audiard for "Un prophète" ("A Prophet") (2009), and added another César Award nomination to his growing résumé. Critics affixed another gold star to Desplat's layered score for Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" (2010), and named him Film Composer of the Year for 2010, marking the third time he received the illustrious honor.
Aside from his film work, Desplat wrote music for the theatre, including pieces performed at the Comédie Française. He conducted performances of his music played by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Munich Symphony Orchestra, and gave Master Classes at La Sorbonne in Paris and the Royal College of Music in London. Firmly secured on the shortlist of international film's most in-demand list of composers, Desplat continued his ascent to the ultimate summit of Hollywood success, scoring the crowd-pleasing successes "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" (2010) and "The King's Speech" (2010), earning Golden Globe and Academy Award Best Original Score nominations for the latter. Continuing to score some of Hollywood's biggest and most acclaimed films, Desplat worked with reclusive director Terrence Malick on his widely-hailed drama "The Tree of Life" (2011), collaborated one final time on "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" (2011), and scored George Clooney's political thriller "The Ides of March" (2011). After working on the screen adaptation of "Carnage" (2011) and Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (2011), Desplat earned praise for his stirring music on Ben Affleck's "Argo" (2012), Wes Anderson's quirky "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012), Kathryn Bigelow's harrowing "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012) and French director Jacques Audiard's "Rust and Bone" (2012). For his prolific work that year, he earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score for "Rust and Bone" and an Oscar nod for his work on "Argo." Desplat's scores the following year ranged from the Roman Polanski psychodrama "Venus In Fur" (2013) to "Philomena" (2013), a heartwarming biopic about an Irish woman searching for the child she had been forced to give up for adoption. Desplat reunited with Wes Anderson for the Eastern European-flavored score to "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (2014) and next scored two other high-profile films, the Alan Turing biopic "The Imitation Game" (2014) and Unbroken" (2014), Angelina Jolie's film about Olympic hero turned World War II POW Louis Zamperini. Two of those films were nominated for Best Original Score at the 2015 Academy Awards; Desplat took home the statuette for "The Grand Budapest Hotel" over "The Imitation Game."
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
First collaboration with director Jacques Audiard, "Regarde les hommes tomber"
Re-teamed with Audiard for the World War II-era "Un héros très discret"
Composed the score for the British comedy film "Sweet Revenge"
Again teamed with Audiard for "Sur mes lèvres"
Earned a Golden Globe nomination for the score of "Girl with a Pearl Earring"
Scored the controversial reincarnation drama "Birth"
Received another Golden Globe nomination for the George Clooney geopolitical actioner "Syriana"
Third Audiard collaboration, "De battre mon c¿ur s'est arrêté"
Scored literary adaptation "The Painted Veil"
Hired by director Stephen Frears to score "The Queen"; earned first Oscar nomination
Wrote the music for the fantasy adventure "The Golden Compass" and director Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution"
Scored the music for David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; earned Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy nominations
Wrote the music for "The Twilight Saga: New Moon"
Earned an Oscar nomination for his "Fantastic Mr. Fox" score
Fourth collaboration with Audiard for "Un prophète"
Composed the score for Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer"
Composed music for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1"
Nominated for the 2011 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score - Motion Picture ("The King's Speech")
Composed music for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"; final film in the successful franchise based on J.K. Rowling's best-selling novels
Composed music for "The Ides of March," which starred George Clooney, who also directed, co-wrote and produced
Composed the score for Terrence Malick directed "The Tree of Life"
Provided original music for "Carnage," directed by Roman Polanski and starring Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz
Composed original music for the 9/11 drama "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," Stephen Daldry's feature adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel
Composed music for political thriller "Argo" and animated adventure "Rise of the Guardians"
Composed score for Kathryn Bigelow directed "Zero Dark Thirty," a film based on the hunt for Osama bin Laden
Composed score for Roman Polanski's psychological drama "Venus in Furs"
Composed score for Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"