When you see Danny Elfman’s name in the credits of a film, you pretty much know what to expect.
Best known Tim Burton’s spooky-magical worlds to life, his tinkly, string-heavy compositions have a way of piquing your curiosity and easing your way into a world often very much unlike our own.
Which made Elfman the perfect, though still surprising, choice to created the scores for the BDSM-centric romance trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey, whose last chapter Fifty Shades Freed comes out Feb. 9.
“It was just kind of out of the blue,” he says about getting called up for Universal Pictures’ film adaptation of the popular book series back in 2014.
“I met [director] Sam Taylor-Johnson and had an immediate affinity for her — she’s an artist, I like her photographs, I knew who she was, and I wanted to be there for Sam.”
Though Taylor-Johnson didn’t stay on for the two sequels, Elfman enjoyed the challenge the movies presented.
“Also, I did like the fact that it was a genre that had no musical guide,” Elfman adds. “It’s very difficult to find a film that has no musical predecessor that can be used as, ‘This is the kind of music that it is musically.’
“When I started out with Tim Burton, almost everything I did was like that: Pee-wee, Beetlejuice, Nightmare, Batman, Edward [Scissorhands] — these are movies they couldn’t temp [the preliminary mix of dialogue, sound effects and music] because there was just no music to put in there.”
Though trying to describe what genre a BDSM-centric romance falls under, exactly, remains elusive. “The unique thing about Fifty Shades is that it’s kind of like popular… I don’t know how to put it. I mean it’s not porn, it’s an erotic film but it’s like a Hollywood — it just was a genre that didn’t exist.”
Musically, the series may be best known for Beyonce’s sexed-up remix of Crazy in Love. But Elfman’s score deserves credit for keeping the (often overwrought) drama on screen grounded. A blend of iconic romantic and spy film elements, it provided another way of understanding Anastasia’s perspective as she explores the world of the millionaire masochist Christian Grey who’s taken over her life.
And unlike lead actors Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, Elfman didn’t need to pregame with whiskey or push-ups to go into the recording studio.
“Really, scoring them was fun,” he says. “It was real good people to work with. They were all real fun, stressless scores — they’re not all like that. The filmmakers, the studio, everybody was on the same page. I really enjoyed it.”