I caught up with the incomparable composer and former member of British alternative band Pop Will Eat Itself, Clint Mansell, for a chat on his process, influences, New Orleans, the challenges (and opportunities) in scoring the sublimely beautiful, hand-painted film about Vincent van Gogh, Loving Vincent, in 2017; what he has coming up – including a remake of Hitchcock's Rebecca, and a few more selections off his formidable and expansive list of credits: the Darren Aronofsky (he and Mansell work together quite a bit) debut Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, Black Swan, Smokin' Aces and more as it relates to his newest, the Carol Morley-directed neo-noir Out of Blue, out now in the US and out March 29 in UK cinemas.

Out of Blue stars Sharp Objects" Patricia Clarkson as New Orleans homicide detective Mike Hoolihan who is affected in ways she can't possibly comprehend when she leads the investigation into the murder of a leading astrophysicist. It is beautiful, somewhat surreal and very cerebral noir that is based on the novel "Night Train" by Martin Amis.

Clint Mansell. Source:Clint Mansell twitter.

Catch Out of Blue now, check out Mansell's soundtrack at this link, and enjoy the interview below.

Hello Clint! Welcome to The 405!

How are you?

Oh, not too bad. How are you?

I'm okay. Thanks.

Good. Getting right into it. You would be surprised, I don't get to talk to composers that often, as much as I do actors or writers or directors. And I was curious, what does your creative process look like when you're scoring a film?

Lots of absorbing it really. It takes me a while to sort of ... I like to sort of become ... I don't know. You sort of like almost, inhale the film on sort of a sub atomic level to a degree. You spend a lot of time with it. You watch it a lot. You think about it a lot, so it sort of takes over the thought process, really. And then so, when you experiment on some things, or you might even be not thinking about the film but something comes to mind will be sort of filtered through what you're getting to know of the film and so it becomes very all consuming, really.

You know, trying to find how the film moves and breathes and its pacing and the subtext and just the feel for it. You know, I find if I spend enough time with the project, you can kind of get to feel it. You know, I know it sounds a little bit out there but to some degree I kind of buy into the sculpture's in the piece of stone, I just got to get it out type of thinking. I kind of feel the music is kind of already there. I just gotta find it. And the film itself will guide me to get there.

Patricia Clarkson as Detective Mike Hoolihan in OUT OF BLUE. Source:RogerEbert.com

That doesn't sound out there at all. I can totally grasp what you're saying with the feel of a film, definitely.


Do you feel that your time in Pop Will Eat Itself colored your approach as a composer?

Well, yeah. Probably. In as much as everything that we do and we experience feeds into creating who we are in a certain kind of way. I think all of those experiences of rudimentary, even before I was in Pop Will Eat Itself trying to make up music, make up songs or whatever, all those ... I think there's a certain intuitive approach that's to some degree we might never lose. You might improve upon it, you might add other skills to it, but I think there's probably something in the individual.

But, you know, something sounds good to me, that might not sound to somebody else. You know, when I'm experimenting with something or I come across something that inspires me, I follow that path. Somebody else might not follow it because it might not speak to them. I think that sort of intuition is probably part of who we are from the start. So, yeah, I think it does.

I completely agree with that idea of intuition. What initially attracted you to Out of Blue as a project?

Well, I had seen a couple of Carol's other films, which I really liked. And then she got in touch with me just sort of randomly to see if I was interested in this new film she was working on. And I said, "Yeah. I'm a fan. I'd love to work with you." And she sent me a script. And I really liked the script. I talked to Carol. I really like Carol and I like her ideas. I like what she was trying to get at with the experience of the film. To be honest, everything about it was just yes, yes, yes.

That's fantastic. You know one thing that kind of struck me about Out of Blue was the similarity of subject to the first feature that you scored, Pi. You know with the numbers and physics and rules and laws of the universe kind of thing. But, that's kind of a diversion there but I did have a question. Any reflections on Pi at 21 years?

Well, it's still one of my favorite films that I've scored, to be honest. I think it really stands up. I haven't seen it in a few years now, having said that. But I did a sort of a talk for young composers, actually that's going back a couple of years now. But I rewatched it, sort of to talk about my first experience at scoring a film. And I was pleasantly surprised at its energy and its conciseness. It's really, really sharp, really strong.

Absolutely. And not just on your score: the whole film.

Yeah, you know, I mean, you kind of ... It's sort of the general thinking is that you get better with more experience and improve with age and all this sort of stuff. I listened to the score of Pi and you're like, well, you know, "Yeah, maybe I've done things better. Maybe I've done things worse."

I don't know, but if I'm still pretty happy with it and I think there's a certain ... again, not intuition and not naivety, really can be a strength, of just doing what you believe in without sort of not even questioning, it is not even knowing what the questions would be. You're sort of just into it and creating and following where the story leads without any sort of, I guess, regard for process of what more experienced people might know. You just do these things because they seem right and they feel right. And there's a real power and energy to that.

That intuition again. It worked really well. I watched it again actually last night and it blew me away again.

I'm glad to hear it.

Sean Gullette as Maximillian Cohen in PI (1998). Source:YouTube.

It's so frenetic and so cerebral at the same time. I just… Incredible score and incredible movie. But getting back to Out of Blue there. You know the score on that really kind of reminded me of Angelo Badalamenti's work with David Lynch specifically. I was just curious there, did you have any influences when you went into doing Out of Blue in particular?

Well, not specifically musical. There were things about it that really appealed to me that I felt I could somewhat draw upon. The fact that I lived in New Orleans for three years or so, was a nice thing to be able to sort of draw upon. The city was great to me. I had a really good time there. That felt good.

But, yeah, just trying to capture that mood, really, that sort of slightly surreal, slightly off, which is a place that I love really.

I love New Orleans. Part of my roots are there. And yeah there is a certain surreal quality to the city itself, I think due to all the history there.

Carol's film really allowed me to sort of, like I say, absorb it and just find ... it felt like it could hold such a lot of ideas. I was really, I don't know, I think back on it now and you sort of, well, no film score is ever really easy, this one just really flowed. It's just like it's so... I guess I failed to appreciate as much so as I had when I was doing it. It's just all moving and working. And then you look back and go, "God, I wish they could all be like that."

There you go. Most definitely, I mean, having Patricia [Clarkson] as the lead, too, with her New Orleans upbringing, was just fantastic. It all clicked very well.

The thing is as a composer, you sort of like, you know, you're last of the party, if you like. Everybody else has kind of done their work by and large. It's just me and the director and the editor and visual effects at this point. All the acting's been done and the script's been written. So really I'm joining in.

I'm joining in what's going on and if everybody is really sort of done their job well before I get there, then it really can make it almost plain sailing. You're not coming into fix something or shore something up. You're coming in to join in and enhance and support. When a film is working, it's almost like the hard work's done for you.

Yeah, absolutely.

And when you've got an actress, an actor of Patricia Clarkson's ability leading it, you know ... Say that old adage is... You don't have to be the best player on the team. If I'm the best player on the team we're in trouble.

[Laughs] I'd doubt that Clint considering your incredible output and creativity. But I definitely understand what you mean.

 If everybody... if I'm the worst player on the team, I'm going, "Great. I'm in good hands here 'cause these people are going to elevate me." And I think that's true.

Jennifer Connelly as Marion Silver in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000). This shot shows the extreme closeups in the film which were accompanied by numerous quick edits and Mansell's hip-hop influenced soundtrack to get the bleak picture of addiction that REQUIEM is. Source:TheConversation.

That actually kind of answered the next question I had, which was what were the challenges like on Out of Blue. Unless you had anything you wanted to add to that.

Well, it's really trying to, like I say, I'm helping sort of enhance or support the mood and the environment that's being created by the words and actors. I know that this is probably not exactly a straight forward sort of film for a lot of people. And then you talk about, obviously, David Lynch is difficult for a lot of mainstream audiences.

So, when you work on something that you know is… intriguing and you hope that it's going to hold an audience. You're kind of aware of things like that with pacing and stuff. And when I saw the film with an audience last year, at the London Film Festival, I mean it was fantastic. I mean, people were sort of literally draped on the edge of their seats throughout the film and I was just blown away that we could do that. It was great.

That is so cool how film has that power. Lynch is one of my favorite directors – think I got my taste for the surreal from his work. Noir and neo-noir are two of my favorite styles of film… Out of Blue was a great exercise in the style.

Let's see. Spin on a question that I like to ask everybody. What films, what scores, what other forms of art, would you consider to be most influential on you?

Music obviously is the big one. Working in film I'm very much influenced by the visual media in general. That's why it's so great that I got to do the Van Gogh film a couple of years ago. Just being influenced and driven by his art, caught in his creations.

God Loving Vincent was the most beautiful animated film I’ve ever seen. Sublime really.

But, yeah, film. Some TV. Not as many comic books as I used to read when I was younger. But reading in general I like to do. I like a lot of non-fiction. I like a lot of documentaries. I think these two things sort of tickle my brain waves, I suppose.

Well there you go. Hand painting every single frame of Loving Vincent in van Gogh's style… quite the undertaking.

Yeah. It really was a work. Amazing.

What were the unique challenges like on scoring that?

Well, to be honest, I always try to look at challenges as sort of opportunities really. I know that sounds a little bit hackneyed, but...

Not at all Clint.

I mean, for instance, obviously it took a long time for the artists to paint the entire film, so I would sort of have almost three goes at the scene, if you like. I saw the original acted version, then I saw the first drafted black and whitey, half-painted type of thing, and then I saw the full version. So within that development I got to develop the music alongside the paintings really, which is like a real luxury really.


Because obviously the film was made over a certain length of time but it meant that I could come back to pieces a month or two months later and reassess them and see where they're at with the way that the painting was developing. Not just the story, but as the painting becomes more developed, it would be the movement within them, the sort of transitions between scenes.

So there was a lot of stuff that you could sort of feed off musically. So for me it was really about like... because it was so detailed, it took so long to do, what opportunities did that present that I wouldn't normally get on a film? And one of those great things was time. Time is really what we all want, isn't it?

Absolutely. Time is the most precious commodity.

Still from LOVING VINCENT. Source:Variety.

Vincent van Gogh, "Le Café de la Nuit" ("The Night Café"). 1888. Oil on Canvas. 72.4 cm × 92.1 cm (28.5 in × 36.3 in). Yale University Art Gallery.

All of the other questions are kind of leading to this one that I had. And it's a spin on the question I usually ask, what makes a great film. What makes a great score to you?

Well, that I get lost in it so I'm immersed, that I'm in... whether I'm blown away by it or whether I hardly notice it. Either of those things can come through as to why it's really, really good to me. Like for instance, a couple of years ago the score to A Ghost Story, it was my favorite score that year. It just had ... it captured me in the film and it kept me there and I think that's sort of masterful.

But then, you know, I love stuff like, you know, things that influenced me growing up were like Assault on Precinct 13 by John Carpenter that's a very different sort of approach to scoring. You go back to things like Cape Fear, that is, that's a little bombastic by some standards but it's still immensely powerful and drives the film.

Mitchum in Cape Fear too… Scary good. Scorsese’s is great too but just not the original for me because it lacks Robert Mitchum.

I don't think there's a black and white rule, to be honest. I think it's about capturing what's on the screen, and it can be done in a number of ways.

Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers/The Swan Queen in BLACK SWAN (2010). Source:W Magazine.

Most definitely. And that's a fantastic answer. You know, getting to that core of losing one's self, suspending one's disbelief. A great answer.

That's what I want when I'm watching a movie. I want to be lost in it, whether it's Superman or whatever, you know. I wanted to be transported by the experience.

Oh, absolutely. Most definitely. I think that's why everybody goes to the movies. Actually the last question I have for you Clint was what's next?

Well, I'm working on the British TV show, Peaky Blinders at the moment. And then I'm gonna do another film with Ben Wheatley, which is a remake of Hitchcock's Rebecca, which I'm very excited about.

Definitely. Have to keep my eyes open for that. He's one of my favorite directors.

It's a big act to follow, that's for sure, but, yeah, I'm definitely excited about that.

Follow Clint Mansell on Twitter and like him on Facebook. Check out the track "Observation Changes the Result" from Out of Blue below, along with trailer from his catalog.

PI (1998) trailer.

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) trailer.

THE FOUNTAIN (2006) trailer.

THE WRESTLER (2008) trailer.

BLACK SWAN (2010) trailer.

LOVING VINCENT (2017) trailer.