Creating the world of a disturbed, yet brilliant, plastic surgeon harboring more than one secret is no easy task, but director Pedro Almodóvar rises to the challenge with his beautiful and haunting film, The Skin I Live In. An equal challenge was that of creating the music for this world to keep up with the story’s various twists and turns. From the frenetic strings that draw us in at the beginning of the film to the final piano refrain, composer Alberto Iglesias’s score helps create a world that refuses to let you, much like the mysterious woman trapped in the doctor’s home, out until the film’s very last frame.
I spoke with Iglesias about the process of working with Almodóvar on this film, the challenges of expressing the emotion in scenes with little to no dialogue and how sometimes, an ax is an equally important part of the composing process as any instrument. (English is not Iglesias’s first language so please keep that in mind as you read his responses.)
You’ve worked with Almodóvar before on films such as Volver and Broken Embraces – how did you two meet and begin working together?
When I meet him he was a very well known director and he had worked with [Ryuichi] Sakamoto and [Ennio] Morricone among other composers. He contact me and I meet him for a screening, when it finished he ask me if I had some ideas for the music and I said yes. I think we understood each other. After that I have done eight films with him.
Almodóvar is known for his stylized films and The Skin I Live In is no exception – how involved were you in creating the music for this world and the very specific feel of the film? Did Almodóvar have it mapped out already or was it more of a collaboration between you two?
It’s always a collaboration. When we start he knows better than me what we can’t do. We have to investigate about what we should do.
My first task to start my writing is to understand the film. What Almodóvar ask me is more about increasing the meaning than only the beauty.
How early on in the filmmaking process were you brought on? Was it your past collaborations with Almodóvar that made you interested in this project or the unique story of the film itself? Or both?
My fidelity renews on every new project we do because I love his screenplays. I always start reading the script and this is the beginning of my inspiration, trying to find echoes or translations from the narration.
The score you created for this film ranges from being very classical sounding with heavy strings to an almost electronic sounding score with the more stylized elements that come in on tracks like “El Asalto del Hombre Tigre.” These changes seemed to happen as the action in the film getting heightened and the story began to unfold – were these deliberate choices to help define the different tones in the film which ranges from romance to thriller to horror?
Each note of the score is connected with the action on the film, following the film. It’s what I try to do but at the same time the music has to contain flexibility, boldness and musical coherence.
What was your process in creating the score for this film? Did you know the styles you wanted to use in the different phases of the story or did they develop as you began to compose?
There are parts of the film more complex for the scoring than others. This is the Almodóvar’s film which less words (dialogue) and at the same time it’s a very dramatic one. Under this circumstances, the music has a lot of work to do.
The track “Por el Amor de Amar” plays a larger part in the film as it is actually sung by one of the characters while “Between the Bars” and “Se Me Hizo Facil” are the only other tracks that contain vocals – how did you decide which pieces would be sung and which would be strictly instrumental?
The songs were decided by Almodóvar and especially in “Por el Amor de Amar,” the lyrics are part of the narration. It’s a song that belongs to the memories of one of the characters: Robert Legard (Antonio Banderas) the dark and enigmatic plastic surgeon.
What was your biggest challenge in creating the score for The Skin I Live In?
The most difficult always is how to start. Once you are in there, there are many doors opening by themselves. There are others I have to open with an ax – I like difficulties especially when the film offers you the possibility to convey emotion.
What piece would you consider your favorite, or the one you are most proud of, and why?
My favorite is “El Asalto del Hombre Tigre.” It takes risks, it’s easy to understand, it mixes different genres, it’s non predictable.
The score for The Skin I Live In is available through Lakeshore Records, just make sure you put on your own pair of latex gloves before picking it up.