Tom Holkenborg, better known as Junkie XL, is well-known for his work in electronic music, but increasingly his work can be heard at movie theaters. Since 2005, he’s worked closely with Hans Zimmer, contributing to the scores of Man of Steel, Inception, and other projects. Holkenborg also provided thunderous music for Mad Max: Fury Road and, most recently, the score to Deadpool. Holkenborg talked to us about his composing career, and how you score a movie anchored by, in his words, a “lunatic idiot.”
You’ve had a long career before you got to film. What did you first draw on with your work composing scores?
Around ‘98, a track of mine was licensed and the way it was used really sparked my imagination. I wanted to pursue that. I’d been playing in bands since the ‘80s, so in the early 2000s, I moved to L.A. to pursue film scoring. I thought, “Let’s go to L.A. and compose for movies!” It was a little more complicated than that, it turns out! [Laughs.] My first break was with Harry Gregson-Williams and Domino, and I’ve always been grateful for that.
What are some differences between producing an album and producing a score?
It’s not making the music. It’s all about things like time management, dealing with the politics, knowing when to write music and when to stop writing. It’s a lot to do with things that have nothing to do with music, and that’s the stuff I didn’t know. It was so great to learn from composers like Hans Zimmer.
How did you meet Hans Zimmer? At first it seemed you two were an unusual collaboration.
We met a few times when I was in L.A., and we always liked each other. He wanted me to work on Inception, so I combined a few themes to create a sort of remix, not something for the dance floor, but something for the movie. That worked out really well, and we started doing more together.
As a composer, what’s your process when working with a director?
Every director is different. They all have a different thought process. As a composer, you have to switch gears. Every director is unique. That’s what’s so challenging about being a film composer: You learn so much from these brilliant individuals. Especially when you talk to composers who have been around for a long time, working with all these directors makes your experiences so rich, you immediately recognize what director you’re going to deal with. I’m looking forward to that experience, where it becomes that collaboration.
And then you collaborated more closely on Man of Steel. What drove your musical choices on that?
Hans and I think the same way. These superheroes are bigger than us all. It always goes back to Greek mythology and demigods. People have always wanted to read about people with supernatural powers. It almost made no sense to look at the scores of the last 20 years; you had to give it all you have. We know in 50 years from now, when both of us are dead, someone else will have a new take. It’s the same with the classic Shakespeare story; in 200 years, somebody will do something new with Macbeth.