Since the release of Loki, fans and critics alike have been praising its brazen score, composed by Natalie Holt. Distinctly stylized, peculiarly orchestrated, classically inspired, bold and exciting, there is a lot to admire. It’s unlike anything we’ve heard in the MCU thus far, similar to how Loki as a television show distinctly sets itself apart from other projects. The talented composer behind the Loki, Natalie Holt, has worked on numerous projects before including Three Girls and Victoria, for which she received an Emmy nomination. Although Loki is her first large-scale project, we hope that it’s one of many to come.
DiscussingFilm recently had the chance to speak with Holt about her experiences on Loki, how she chose to score major moments from the last few episodes, and what it was like writing new music for major characters in the MCU, both new and existing. Loki‘s finale was a lot to process, but Holt was kind and courteous in detailing how some of those final decisions were made and her knowledge about Season 2.
Okay, so Loki is your first big project. So how was working on it compared to smaller indie projects?
Natalie Holt: I think it was just the scale of where I could take things and the forces that I had to play with were bigger, obviously. And also, the fact I got to work with a character who’s in a load of movies, that’s something I’ve never experienced. Usually when you’re reading a script, you’re imagining the whole thing, and you’re like, “Oh, well, you might know which actors playing the character, but you don’t know how they’re going to play it.” But with Loki, he’s already a thing and he’s out there. So that was really cool to have a head start on on him and be able to think about what kind of theme he’d need and already have have all the movies to watch.
Obviously, he’s a part of the MCU and there’s already been some music written for him. So when you were writing your theme, did you consider that maybe the music you wrote would be used for other films? Because your score is unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU before. So, did you consider that at all? Or did you go in headfirst?
Natalie Holt: I was just hoping that I wouldn’t get fired, I think. I was like, “Just do your job. Don’t get fired,” because I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m writing some pretty like-“, [and] they were like, “Be really bold and adventurous.” So, I was just hoping I hadn’t gone too far with it, but it’s amazing. The response has been I just beyond anything I could have hoped for.
The season finale, that was the first time we were introduced to “He Who Remains” and he’s going to be in a lot of other films presumably, Kang. You were the first person to write music for him. So, what was that like?
Natalie Holt: Yeah, that was an amazing. Basically, I got asked to do the project and then Kate Herron, the director, had to go back to filming because they’ve been shut down because of COVID. So, she was sending me dailies of what they were taking with that performance from Jonathan Majors and how he was playing Kang. And she was just like, I just want you to see this stuff because I think you’ll it will help you to kind of write his theme and then I wrote the theme for Kang. I realized like, “Oh, this should be the TVA theme, because he’s in charge of the whole thing. He’s behind everything.” So, all that you’re hearing in Episode One, even over the Loki title cards, is Kang’s theme.
What other inspirations were there? So obviously, you planted the seed very early on, but like where did you pull from inspirationally besides Jonathan Majors’ performance?
Natalie Holt: I just wanted it to feel like these huge chords [were] taking over everything, and then there’s this thing driving it along over the top that’s winding you through it, but then these huge cords just come in with a timpani and the whole force of the strings and the brass and like all these electronic weird sounds. I came up with it whilst I was walking down the street. I was singing it into my phone. It just came to me as I was watching the scenes that Kate was shooting, and reading the script and trying to come up with all the different themes.
Focusing now more on Loki theme, in Episode Five, we meet more of his variants, and the music changes a little bit between them. How did you decide to like represent them musically?
Natalie Holt: When I came up with Loki’s theme, I came up with [sings the major driving force of Loki’s theme], but I wanted something over the top to balance it like a flourish. I wanted to have some kind of calling to a piece of classical music for that Shakespearean weight that Tom plays the character with. I was kind of trying out these little flourishes from Mozart or all sorts of things, then I hit on that idea of using those rips like from the Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner. I used his style of arpeggiated string figures rushing up and down, already, on the Loki theme. So when I saw that Classic Loki performance, I was like, “Aw, I could use that Ride of the Valkyries theme because he’s building Asgard and he’s classic. He’s kind of like this old version of Loki.” It just kind of came to me in that meeting. I was like, “Shall I try this? It might be awful,” and, Kate Heron and Kevin Wright (who’s the creative producer and was always in the music meetings), they’re like, “Yeah, try it, you know?” And then, yeah, it worked. But I wasn’t sure how it would work, but it just seemed to be the right in that moment.
Then right after that moment when Classic Loki sacrifices himself and Loki and Sylvie are finally victorious, the score is just very somber. And as it goes into the credits, it continues. So, what was the reasoning behind playing down that moment, even though it’s a really big moment right before the finale?
Natalie Holt: Loki’s feeling things and he’s exploring these depths of his character. He’s realized the power of their union because they’ve unlocked this secret, this mystery behind everything. It’s a moment of reflecting on on his character, so it felt like that. That version of his theme that comes in on the credits for Episode Five is what he hears when Mobius is pruned, it’s a version of that piece in Episode Four. When he’s walking down the corridor, and he’s tearing up and feeling all sorts of emotions, and his friend has just, what he thinks, been killed. I wanted to explore that range of his feeling.
Yeah, because then in the finale in the next episode, when Sylvie gets her revenge, it’s like a huge moment so we expect the music to be huge, but it’s just this quiet betrayal. Was that always a part of the plan? Or how did you decide that that would be better for the moment?
Natalie Holt: So, I totally over-scored that moment. I have a music meeting to spot through everything and talk it through with Kate, the editor, and Kevin, and then I’d have a couple of weeks to score each episode. And then I present it to them. Some things they’d be like, “yes, that’s great”, and other things, they’re like, “what have you done?” That was a moment where I did this big like, “she’s stabbing him” and the music was really massive. The stabbing moment was just totally over the top. Kate was like, “No, no, no, no, no, that is not that’s not how I wanted this moment to be.” So she explained again, she was like, “Sylvie’s feeling so confused. She suddenly realizes that he was telling the truth, and she realizes what she’s done. It’s a moment of like, ‘What the fuck is going to happen next?'” She didn’t want to lead the audience on at that moment, she wanted to bathe in the ambiguity of what’s just happening. All these things are happening, what the hell is going to happen next? She didn’t want me to over-score it. I think that’s a Kate moment, because if it had been what my demo was like, it would have not been as good. She made that what it was.
Yeah, because then it focuses on Loki and he’s almost crying. It’s still quiet and it ramps back up and you’re like, “Oh no, what happens next?”, but luckily there’s gonna be another season.
Natalie Holt: I love that moment where he’s like running around the TVA and then you realize– ah, it’s such a good moment.
So, season two?
Natalie Holt: I have no idea. Nothing. They have not talked talked to me about it at all. So I can’t tell you anything, I’m afraid.
What are your thoughts on Kate Herron leaving the project? They announced it today.
Natalie Holt: For me, she’s just been like the bold leader of everyone through this project, and it’s her vision. She’s like, given everybody space, but she’s kept us all [tied] like, “this is what’s happening”. She’s been over everything. She’s made changes to the script and story. Yeah, I’m sad she’s leaving because I think she’s an amazing director. I’m sure whatever she does next will be really exciting.
Because you described how she was so involved with how she wanted that final moment to be, and it’s sad that she won’t be there to see the accumulation afterwards. Maybe you can keep her vision if you get brought back to season two, since you understand.
Natalie Holt: We’ll see. What’s going to happen? It’s all a mystery. I’ve loved working for Marvel and just such an amazing team. The execs have been so nice and supportive and they’ve all called and said, “Thank you.” They’re a lovely, lovely bunch to work for.
That’s great. Everyone loves your score. It’s been lauded by critics and fans. So now, the world is your oyster. What kind of projects are you looking for next? What do you want to do?
Natalie Holt: I don’t know. I think for me, it’s just all about a good story and engaging with a really interesting character. Like, that’s my number one thing that I’m looking for when I’m reading a script, and if I’m working with a director who I feel like a really good connection with. So that those two things, really.
You don’t have any specific wishes, though, like doing a movie again or a specific genre that you’ve always wanted to write for?
Natalie Holt: I think I just love the kind of very varied– I don’t know. I would never have known that I had it in me to write this bigger sci-fi style thing. I didn’t know that was inside. I think it’s kind of fun to do things that you’re like, “I don’t know if I can do this, but let’s see how I how I do it, and hopefully what comes out will be liked.” I love the kind of different projects that we get to work on and the different teams of people that we get to meet in this in this line of work. That’s kind of the fun and the magic of it. But I have got a film coming out in the autumn, which is called Fever Dream, directed by Claudia Llosa, who’s just an amazing female director. She’s from Peru, and it’s a Spanish language film set in Argentina, based on a book, and it’s such a beautiful story– a mother daughter relationship and they’re kind of experiencing this strange illness that feels kind of timely for what we all just experienced in the world. I hope people love Fever Dream. It’s a great movie.