“They’re All My Children”: An Interview with Ennio Morricone

It’s unfortunate to be forced to re-edit this piece with the news that Ennio Morricone’s first ever L.A. performance, scheduled for Oct. 25 at The Hollywood Bowl, has been postponed indefinitely. Speaking with Morricone long distance from his Italian villa, via a translator, was a truly unique and special experience. The legendary Italian maestro is responsible for some of the most iconic film scores in history, and — at 81 years old — he’s still going strong. Morricone first rose to worldwide acclaim through his teaming with friend and former classmate Sergio Leone for a trio of groundbreaking film scores (Morricone hates the term “Spaghetti Westerns”). Beginning in 1964 with A Fistful of Dollars and culminating with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Morricone’s scores revolutionized film scoring through his use of incorporated gunshots, whip cracks, wordless vocals, and whistling, all serving to enunciate the violence and eerie desolation of Leone’s outlaws and antiheroes.

With over 500 film scores to his credit, Morricone has worked with everyone from cult Giallo director Mario Bava to John Carpenter to Rob Marshall for the upcoming musical Nine. His music was prominently featured in Quentin Tarantino’s World War II revenge fantasy Inglourious Basterds, and along the way Morricone has racked up heaps of awards, including five BAFTAs (Britain’s equivalent of the Oscar), France’s Legion of Honor Knighthood in 2009, and five Academy Award nominations for very diverse projects (those being for Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, Roland Joffe’s The Mission, De Palma’s The Untouchables, Barry Levinson’s Bugsy and Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malena). For each nomination, Morricone went away empty handed. Then, in 2007, he received an Honorary Oscar, presented by Clint Eastwood, in recognition of Morricone’s lifetime of contribution to film scoring and for his part in changing the way we listen to the movies.

The true definition of a living legend, Morricone sat down with me briefly to discuss how he got into music, his reticence to pick a favorite score, and just how much that Honorary Oscar meant to him. Mille grazie Ennio!


What has always drawn you to film scoring projects? Is it the director or the material?

Both, meaning that I have to know and like the director when I choose to do a film. But it’s also the story, because both things need to go well together for a project to work. The director is the most important thing though, because a good director can be trusted to make a good film.

How do you feel about the current state of film scoring? Are people listening as much as they used to?

Well, I have to tell the truth. It seems like everything in Hollywood is a blockbuster, so that means people are still coming out and loving films, and that includes the scores.

How does the composition process work? Do you watch dailies from the film and then put music to it?

I never watch the dailies. What I usually do is have a look at the rough or final cut, and I just get something from the story. Sometimes I start composing even before the director has shot anything. The dailies don’t help me at all.

Growing up, was there a life changing moment when you knew that you wanted to become a composer?

Well, actually, when I was studying composition here at the Conservatory in Italy I was 16 years old, and at that age, at that moment, I realized I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

How did your love of music first take shape?

I’ve had a passion for it since I can first remember, and nobody helped me with that. That came easy. But when I was six years old, my dad taught me how to read music and play some instruments.

Receiving the 2007 Honorary Academy Award, was their finally a feeling of validation from the Academy, considering that you had never won an Oscar? Have awards ever mattered to you?

It was really a very important validation for me, and I am really happy about it. It was a very important moment in my life. Whoever gets an Oscar has a really high recognition so that a very important thing to be recognized.

While Good, Bad and the Ugly remains such a landmark, are there scores that you feel closer to personally? Or is that one of your favorites?

I usually never answer this question. The answer is that I always put something special into every score I’ve ever done, because I feel a huge responsibility when composing music for a film. So I couldn’t really pick one score over another that I like better, or feel closer to personally. They’re all my children … every score I’ve done.

While you’ve always been staggeringly prolific, are you most happy working or do you prefer recreational time with your family?

Here’s the answer to that. I like composing music, but I love being with my family. Well, I also love playing chess, and I always play when I get a chance.

It was a great pleasure speaking with you.

It was a pleasure speaking with you. Arrivederci!