Interview with Roque Banos

By • November 7, 2018

The Goth-hacker super heroine of Nordic noir has gone through many variations in her translation from Sweden to Hollywood, even as her locale has remained the same. As Lisbeth Salander’s gaunt, tatoo’d embodiment transitioned from a Swede to an American and now an Englishwoman, so to has her scoring from Jacob Groth’s pulsing fusion of electronics and strings in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl Who Played With Fire” to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ nerve-ripping industrial attack on David Fincher’s take on “Girl.” Now given a psychologically damaged, female avenging cyber angel who’d rather speak in computer code, Spanish composer Roque Banos takes a woman as cold as her bleak surroundings and gives Salander her most musically well-rounded portrait yet in service to Fede Alvarez’s adaptation of “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.”

Having previously provided Alvarez with the ferocious, alarm-shrieking score of the impressive “Evil Dead” reboot and conjuring a suspenseful blind man’s tonal bluff for “Don’t Breath,” Banos doesn’t so much re-invent Salander’s musical portrait as much as he gives her emotional depth that the character dare not speak. Beginning with a dangerous synth pulse edge, Banos speaks in conspiratorial menace as Salander finds herself entangled in a villainous plot hatched from a tragic family tree, the music dripping with the malice of seemingly unstoppable evil. But as Banos’ complex threads begin to unravel, the score’s symphonic voice comes to the forefront, until dazzling, dynamic action suitable for a Marvel avenger adds terrifically exciting dimension to this theme-driven score, making for the most fully shaded Salander soundtrack yet.

But if there was no chance that anyone could keep Salander down, such was not the case with the eternal Don Quixote – or at least an insane actor taking on the windmill-jousting armor of Miguel de Cervante’s iconic character. Quixote’s clash with an egocentric American adman in Spain was director Terry Gilliam’s own dragon to slay – the first abortive attempt at shooting “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” only resulting in 2003’s documentary “Lost in La Mancha.” But never a crazed filmmaker to let a project thrown him, Gilliam finally resurrected the project in the recast forms of Jonathan Pryce and Adam Driver as a vainglorious actor-knight and director dealing with a tragic past.

Given the project’s need for a Spanish composer, it was only natural that Banos would be Gilliam’s Sancho Panza in tilting this reborn Quixote’s windmills. It’s a task robustly accomplished with fiery ethnicity and surreal music to spare. With a religious chorus launching “Quixote’s” quest, Banos unleashes a fully romantic and adventurous orchestra that joins with Spanish guitar, flute and a heroic horn, becoming a pretender’s impossible vision of himself in a score that’s a spiritual descendent of Michael Kamen’s rousing fantasia for Gilliam’s “Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” Waltzing, playing comedic tricks and taking us into the melodic desert of Arabia to boot, Banos’ terrific score is a highlight in a prolific career that’s bridged the gap between his Hollywood and Spanish assignments, joining with this “Spider’s Web” to show him off as a composer of many tones, particularly when the come to portraying a woman of ferocious inner resolve and a pretend knight losing his mind in service of a director who’s wonderfully lost his long ago.

Had you watched the previous “Girl” movies before taking on this project? And if so, what was your impression of them, their scores and Lisbeth’s character in terms of the series’ popularity?

Rooney Mara as Elisabeth Salander (L), Noomi Rapace as Elisabeth Salander (R)

I only saw the David Fincher one, and actually that was my next thing to do when I knew about Fede doing this movie. However, Fede thought it was better this way, and he even asked me to not watch the previous films so I wouldn’t be influenced by them. But I know all books very well. Now that I’ve finished “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” I’ve finally seen all of the other films, and I very much like Lisbeth’s character in all of them. I also enjoyed the movies’ scores a lot. They reflect very accurately Lisbeth spirit, which is what we really feel engaged with.

How important was it for you to establish your own musical approach here? And was it also important to link your work to the past scores in some fashion to retain a sort of musical continuity?

Oh not at all. We wanted to start from scratch, giving a new sound from the music to this younger Lisbeth. Never at any moment did we think about having continuity with the other scores.

How do you think that Clare Foy’s makes Lisbeth Salander her own, and how did that it influenced your musical portrayal of her?

Claire Foy as Elisabeth Salander

Foy wanted to create a very special character. Her Lisbeth is a woman that won’t give up and can never allow herself to fall under any circumstance. Musically we though we needed a badass theme to reflect this. But at the same time we needed a theme to show her weakest part, which is the reminder of her past. We wanted to get across the idea that it’s always something that can hunt her, and makes her weak.

Where the first “Girl” was made in Sweden, David Fincher’s version also used Sweden as its setting in service of an English language remake. Now she’s being interpreted behind the scenes by Spaniards. How do you think those international layers of cinematic vision, and scoring add to this saga?

I have a very simple but true answer for this question. We are all filmmakers, no matter where we’re from. There is not much from my Spaniard blood in this score. Same as Fede (I think) in the movie, and I believe the same happens with the other members from the crew in their field.

Did your collaboration with Fede differ on this movie? And do you think that scoring the outright horror of “Evil Dead” and the suspense of “Don’t Breath” for him prepared you for well this score?

Fede and I have learned from our previous collaborations. That’s evident. And this score have been more complicated that the others as the movie is a bigger production. Our collaboration in this one has been a bit different but very productive and enjoyable as well. We have kept one thing in common with our other movies though, which is the joy of experimenting with sounds to incorporate into the score. In this case, the glitchy sound of data transferring is a big addition that’s we think has never been used in a film score before.

Given that the past Salander scores have been given a lot of electronic and industrial rhythms, this is the first “Girl” score with an especially strong orchestral voice – which is particularly strong in the main theme and the chase sequences. Why did you want to take that symphonic approach?

That was one of our major questions when we started to talk about the score. And it has been a long way to get to this final approach. We wanted to make sure we were in the right path, so we tried many other styles before we got to the orchestra. Fede and I always have been more attracted to acoustic sounds, than electronics. But in a way we though at first that we should start from electronic and industrial music. As the composition process went on, we found a way to marry orchestral and electronics with a final result of a have the orchestra be dominant in the score, which is what we really liked. We called this final result “Hitchcock and the Machine”.

As Lisbeth isn’t a woman who’s about to reveal herself emotionally, was it important for the score to hear her humanity?

Absolutely! This movie is all about Lisbeth Salander. We have been always showing with the music who she is, how she feels, her emotions, her fears and of course her heart. I really hope after seeing the movie that everyone knows the unknown about Lisbeth and finally understand why she became who she is.

Talk about your music for the villainous organization. How dark and oppressive did you want to make the score?

Their music has a very simple low and dark theme, consisting of a movement of a minor 3rd. But the really villainous theme is for Lisbeth’s past. This is based in the serial dodecaphonic technique. This is, all notes from a chromatic scale forming a melody. I very much love this style that was invented and developed in the 20th century by such a great composers as Shoëmberg, Webern or Bartok. That approach creates a very frightening musical place where you don’t want to go. And the past is Lisbeth’s biggest fear.

How did you want to capture Elisabeth’s hacking skills and her heists? Do you musically see her as a sort of goth-punk superhero given her skills?

For Elisabeth’s hacking skills we used a self-built library of sounds in the score. They’re the glitchy sounds of different data transferring, like the fax machine or the telephone line when it connects to the internet. We really though it could be Lisbeth’s “language.” It’s also a great and unique way to show her spirit. She is like a byte that rapidly gets into the net and infects, steals, and transfers at her will.


How did you want to portray Elisabeth’s relationship to her sister?

I have used a specific theme for her sister. It is the most emotional theme in the score, which tells us about their nice and peaceful past together that was broken one day. This differs a lot from Lisbeth theme, which is very “bad-ass” music. At the same time Camilla is one of the villains so the score plays the antagonist part of her. The result is Camille becoming the past that Lisbeth doesn’t want to confront.

Would you say there’s a tragic quality to their music?

Yes, in fact the tragic can be heard in the score from the very beginning of the movie. The main titles are given this spirit that will remain for the whole movie.

Roque Banos and Fede Alvarez


How do you hope that your and Fede’s work continues Elisabeth’s story?

Lisbeth is a superheroine that we all empathize with. I hope her future would continue this way!

Now onto “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” What did Terry Gilliam’s movies mean to you before this film came your way?

I am, from a longtime and huge fan of Terry and his movies, from watching him in films like “The Life of Brian” to seeing those that he wrote and directed like “Brazil” and “Time Bandits.” They’re among my favorite movies. In a way, feel very much like one of Gilliam’s characters!

What did it feel like to be part of a movie that was given this rebirth after its first, legendary failure to get finished decades ago?

I feel like I’m taking part of film history! No matter how the movie does, it’s going to be remembered as having this heroic “rescue.”

Were you brought into the “Quixote” during its production?

Roque Banos and Terry Gilliam

Yes! Terry and I have been working from before the shooting. It has been a very long but joyful journey. Working with him was beyond my expectations! Every time we sat together listening to the cues, or talking about how to approach a new scene, it was very funny and enjoyable. Terry infected me with his enthusiasm and energy.

How did you want your music to play into “Don Quixote’s” increasingly surreal nature?

The music is always adapting to the nature of each scene. Therefore, it is constantly changing and evolving as the movie does. The movie becomes very volatile and unpredictable as it goes on, and the score plays a big role in that. The themes get distorted, the harmony gets more dissonant, and the styles are more and more unequal. At the end of the film, the madness gets all the prominence as with all of Terry Gilliam’s movies. Yet it all still makes sense! So the music comes back to a “make-sense” version of the thematic stuff to give that feeling, even though the madness is absolute.

Did you want to play up the idea of the “ugly American” at loose in Spain?

Not at all. Actually the music plays in a way that we all love Toby, who’s magnificently played by Adam Driver.

Tell us about the score’s in Spanish identity.

The score has many styles – epic, adventure, drama and comedy. They’re all combined with orchestra, the Flamenco and Arabic music, which you hear when Quixote thinks of himself in an Arab king’s palace. The Spanish guitar is a protagonist throughout the score.

How do you think the score sees “Don Quixote” in his own mind as the “real” character, versus the crazed actor he is in reality?

The score has to say that Don Quixote really believes who he is. So we always play the music seriously within mind. He believes all he sees is true and we have to always be with him.

There’s also some overtly comic scoring in “Don Quixote.” How broad did you want to make the humor?

Of course, at points we needed to go comic and have “Mickey Mouse’ing.” But I didn’t want to go too far with it so we could always preserves the seriousness that Don Quixote has about himself.

Your use of the orchestra reminded me of the kind of approach that Michael Kamen took for such unhinged Gilliam fairy tales as “Brazil” and “Baron Munchausen.” Did you hope to capture his spirit here?

I’m not familiar with Michael’s scores for those films. That is possibly a coincidence. But I’m happy you noticed that, it means we were aiming for the same propose, and I’m honored by that.

When the legal complications revolving around “Don Quixote” arose, did you become worried that the film and score would ever come out?

‘Don Quixote’ star Jonathan Pryce and director Terry Gilliam

There had been several moments where everything seemed to fall apart. But Terry was a very strong and invasive director. Thanks to him, the movie was finally finished and released.

What do you think that “Girl” and “Don Quixote” show about your musical range when it comes to your work between Spain and Hollywood?

I hope they show a unique language, even though they are such different stories. If not, at least they fit the movies’ needs. I tried to put all my skills and heart at the service of every movie I work on, and it doesn’t matter wether it comes from Spain or Hollywood. The sleepless nights thinking on the themes, the long hours sitting at my piano trying to find them, and the emotion when they finally work in the movie is the same.


“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” opens November 9th, with Roque Banos’ score available on Sony Classical HERE. “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” will hopefully be playing in America. In the meantime, purchase Roque’s score HERE

Listen to Roque Banos’ scores for Fede Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” HERE and “Don’t Breath” HERE.

Find Roque Banos soundtracks HERE

Visit Roque Banos’ website HERE

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