Glass Onion Composer Nathan Johnson On Making The Knives Out Sequel’s Score ‘A Lot Bigger’ [Exclusive Interview]

How did you find the emotional balance in the musical score for a film like “Glass Onion,” which is thrilling in one scene, hilarious in another, and tragic in the next?

Well, it’s something that we thought about a lot. Early on, as an overarching thing, Rian said, “We want to lean into the fun of this.” He talks about not making these as a crossword puzzle you’re trying to solve but as a rollercoaster ride — that you’re being taken on this fun journey. And obviously, the setup is a bunch of people in lockdown, and they get to go to this fabulous Grecian island. And so, at one level, we’re leaning into this opulent, lush, fun, big sound. But then, of course, it’s a mystery. So that tension needs to be there.

But something that many people don’t think about, and something that I was very tuned into, is that it’s not just that seesaw of fun or mystery. Also, we must care about the characters. So a deep emotion, specifically in Andi’s theme, underpins the whole movie. If at the heart of it, if we don’t care about the characters, if we don’t care when something bad happens to them, we view the movie at a distance, and it’s important. My starting point is often: “What is the doorway into the emotional connection?”

In “Glass Onion,” was there a particular actor whose performance you found most rewarding to score?

I mean, just starting with talking about Andi’s theme, Janelle Monáe’s performance blew me away. And I would get the luxurious opportunity with Rian’s movies to be there on set and to watch the performances go down. And at that point, I was blown away by what Janelle was doing. But then, when I saw the whole movie cut together, it hit you on a new level. So that is a virtuoso performance. But Daniel’s character is amazing and seeing him bring that back and peel back new layers … Kate Hudson is so much fun with what she’s doing. Kathryn [Hahn], as well. Yeah, I can just go down the list. 

That’s the amazing thing about these movies, is they’re these film actors that we’ve grown up loving, or in some cases, they’re new and fresh, and we haven’t seen a lot of what they’ve done, but they’re all operating on the highest level. As a composer, you can’t ask for more than that. The worst thing you’re tasked to do as a composer is fix something going on. And with this, there’s no fixing. I’m not trying to help out with a performance. I’m getting to trust that what they’re bringing is amazing, and then I get to just dance in the realm of subtext.

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