Interview With Composer Nicklas Schmidt - The Music of “Astrid”, a Biopic About Astrid Lindgren
Updated: Jul 10, 2019
Les Gens de Berkeley met with Danish composer Nicklas Schmidt to talk about his score of “Astrid”, a biopic on Astrid Lindgren, the iconic Swedish author of children’s books and the creator of Pippi Longstocking. While in Paris for the French theatrical release of “Astrid” on 8 May 2019, Nicklas shared with us his work process, his memories of the film screening at the 2019 Berlinale Film Festival and his film scoring projects.
GDB: When did you get attached to “Becoming Astrid”, directed by Pernille Fischer Christensen and starring Alba August?
NS: I was involved quite late in the process of making “Becoming Astrid” (which became“Astrid” in the French title) is the third film directed by Pernille Fischer Christensen and starring Alba August, acclaimed film director Billie August’s daughter. The aim was to go to the Berlin Film Festival in February 2019 and I got the call about the project in early December 2018. So…quite late! Usually It happens at least 2-3 months ahead.
GDB: How was the collaboration like with Pernille Fischer Christensen, the director of “Astrid”?
NS: The director [Pernille Fischer Christensen] knew exactly what she needed. She answers any questions, and knows why everything is there. For me, you see the film, then you see it again, and again and again. You dive so deep into it and every little detail counts. You have to work very carefully, especially when you put music to images, because it changes what you see. You take this material that belongs to the film away from the film and bring it in, everything else is from the film. You interpret what you see.
Sometimes it is a very delicate process to find, first of all, the right kind of music, and then the right dose - where it should start and go out. Indeed, when you start the scene too early, it can ruin our perception of the moment. And you don’t want to be aware that the violins are playing but they have to play at the right moment so you feel exactly what you need to feel. This goes for every project of course but, when you have time limitations (as it was the case here), collaboration with the director becomes all the more interesting!
GDB: In your view, does the music play a major role in the film?
NS: Yes, you could say that because the director [Pernille Fischer Christensen] had made space for it. Some of the scenes are quite long but it is for a purpose: to go deep into the emotion of the character and get closer to the character. In these scenes especially, the music is very important. To get us down there, as the film has to do with a lot of frustrations, struggle, fighting, going against the wind.
Sometimes adding the right music in those moments can really push us forward. You can start crying, a lot of people were crying at the Berlinale premiere! But I think that you might see the film and not notice the music, it can still work for you and feel the right feeling.
GDB: When scoring “Astrid”, did you have in mind previous biopics of iconic female authors such as “Becoming Jane” or “Saving Mr Banks”?
NS: No, not in that very specific way. I actually did not see “Becoming Jane” or “Saving Mr Banks”. In fact, the solutions we were looking in the film were in the film, in the character. Especially, the film has to do with her giving birth to a boy and constantly trying to connect with him and there is one scene quite late in the film when she finally reaches him by telling him a story.
One of the turning points in the film is that through storytelling, she connects with her young child, and to a certain extent with every children in the world in a way. That is why finding the right music for that scene felt like solving the puzzle.
GDB: Did you work chronologically?
NS: No, the director had 5-7 anchor points (where the story changes, turning points). She identified a bit like the bones of the score: we concentrated on those first, once we had them, things would flow organically. Which was also a way to be project-minded because of the time restrictions. That the first time when we agreed on the music.
GDB: Did the music reflect Astrid’s emotions? What instruments did you use?
NS: Yes, she is in all the scenes, there is not a single scene where she is not in. She is the film in a way. I used only four types of instrument: Strings, brass, piano, harp once in a while, church organ (religion plays a role in the story). So…quite minimal.
[SPOILERS] When Astrid has her child, she gets cast away by her parents, and they do not acknowledge his boy as their grandson because of the shame cast upon single mothers among protestant believers in Sweden in the 20s. Then Astrid reconnects with her parents: [SPOILERS] there is this scene where the estranged mother and child come home by train and the grandfather tells the little boy “I am your grandfather” for the first time when he welcomes them at the train station. At that point, it is very emotional (and as a result there is a lot of music there). Then, there is another scene [SPOILERS] where the grandmother takes the little boy in her arms and walks into the church (that is the cue for the church organ coming in).
GDB: Did you work on other biopics? What are your projects?
NS: Yes, I worked as orchestrator and arranger on “The Theory Of Everything”, directed by James Marsh, about the life of Steven Hawking. One of my projects is to record the score for a drama documentary for Danish national TV about King Frederic IX in Denmark - a classic tale of father-son relationship set in a monarchy. I look forward to recording it with a radio orchestra.
GDB: The title character, Astrid, who is Swedish, left her son in foster care in Copenhagen, Denmark, so as to avoid declaring the name of the out-of-wedlock father. What role does Copenhagen play in the film?
NS: The city does not play a role in particular except as a safe haven for Astrid. That said, it is an historical fact that, in Sweden, in the 20s, it was mandatory to declare the name of the father, yet not in Denmark. That is the reason why Swedish single mothers used to go there with a view to putting their child in foster care.
GDB: Could the tag line of the movie ("Be the author of your own story”) be interpreted as celebrating feminism or a call for embracing one's artistry?
NS: I hope so, I try my best! The thing is with Astrid Lindgren in Sweden is held in high esteem - she is considered a goddess or royalty! While her children stories are very popular outside of Sweden, she might be the moral compass of Sweden, so to speak.
*Article based on the interview with Danish composer Nicklas Schmidt (6th of May 2019 in Paris).