Composer Henry Jackman is known for fun Disney fare like “Wreck-It-Ralph” and “Big Hero 6” and dark Marvel epics like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Captain America: Civil War.” But he had never scored a film like “Cherry.”
Starring Tom Holland as an Iraq War veteran whose life spirals downward when he becomes addicted to opioids, “Cherry” was directed by Jackman’s old Marvel colleagues Joe and Anthony Russo. Jackman praises them for encouraging “art and creativity” without restrictions, although he also admits that, without a deadline, “I could easily have wandered off and spent two and a half years” on the project.
“There’s a lot of experimenting,” the London-born, classically trained composer explains. “I did things that were completely out of my comfort zone” which, he says, included everything from playing forgotten instruments in his garage to creating processed guitar sounds, using analog synthesizers from the ’80s, even employing a malfunctioning cassette recorder whose “wow and flutter” audio effects proved useful.
The increasingly insane odyssey of Holland’s character — from sweet college kid to Army medic to PTSD-suffering vet to bank-robbing drug addict — suggested a degree of “creative uncertainty,” Jackman says. “I had to keep pushing, in terms of the fabric of sound. Music was used as a contrapuntal response to what’s happening on the screen in a really imaginative and unexpected way.”
Very little of the score is recognizable as traditional musical sounds. There is the occasional cello or piano, but so much of “Cherry” has been filtered through Jackman’s musical imagination that even a classic synthesizer or a London choir no longer sounds pure, not unlike the slow destruction of Cherry’s life and that of his similarly drug-addicted girlfriend Emily (Ciara Bravo).
“You don’t know quite what you’re hearing, which was the idea,” Jackman says. All of this was recorded over a six-month period during the pandemic. “I spent three or four weeks on one 10-minute piece, because I became convinced that in order to attain a level of originality, you need to step away from the mechanics of a scene and pursue a piece of music in its own right, like a real composition.”
Jackman’s favorite moment may have been playing all those weird instruments: “my Andean harp I dragged through Peru in 1995, some sort of zither, a ukelele I bought in the airport in the Cook Islands, some obscure Chinese instrument, a melodica…. I dragged all of these into the studio, set up a microphone in the middle of the room, and played each one just to see what would happen. It was either the most incompetent, naive and embarrassing piece ever made, or it was really original,” he adds with a laugh.
Says co-director Joe Russo: “We knew this was going to be a very difficult film. Each chapter uses different cinematic techniques. We needed someone with the ability to create and reinforce different tones, but also unify. So music was always going to be the glue for this movie, the unifying factor. Very few people could do what Henry did with the music in this film.”