With Netflix about to drop a new adaptation of the classic Watership Down, the Inquisitr got a chance to sit down for a chat with the miniseries’ musical composer, Federico Jusid.
Based on the book and movie of the same name, Watership Down has become a classic among children and adults alike. Netflix’s reinvention will star Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy, Daniel Kaluuya, Rosamund Pike, and Sir Ben Kingsley.
Federico is an award-winning composer who was recognized as Composer of the Year by the Spanish Music Critics Association in 2016. Born in Argentina, Federico has managed to create music across the world and now splits his time between Madrid and Los Angeles.
Rachel Tsoumbakos: Thank you for joining me today. Can you tell me a little bit about how you ended up in your area of expertise?
Federico Jusid: I was born in a very musical house. My mum used to play the piano, and my father would be playing records all the time. And, there was an upright in the house that I started banging on when I was four or five. And, after one year of consistently banging the piano, my parents took me to a fantastic music teacher that not only taught me how to play the piano, he started encouraging me to compose or, let’s say, at that age, to improvise little pieces. So, I started a very healthy relationship with music.
Both of my parents, my aunt, and my sister, they’re all in the film industry back in Argentina. It would be very common for me to be waiting for my mother in the green room of her theatre, or, to go with my dad to the studio, or the set where he was shooting, or, more so, to the moviola where they would edit the film. So, they became very natural environments. That way I would see how the film was put together and how the construction of the film worked and all that. So, I kind of developed the two lines of interest.
And, eventually, I found that I could write music for films. That was a good meeting point between these two. So, in the same way that I developed my musical career, I also started developing my film scoring career. First in Buenos Aires and then I moved to New York and then to Brussels and Madrid, where I still have my office and my music production company. And now, recently in the last four years, I’m expanding to L.A. I’m back and forth, you know, every six weeks getting on the airplane between Madrid and L.A. Which is fun, tiresome but very fun.
RT: It would be. So, can you tell me how you ended up working with Netflix on ‘Watership Down’?
FJ: Well, on the one hand, I had worked for Netflix before in a lot of projects. So, I guess they knew about me and in this particular project I was invited on board by the director, Noam Murro, whom I had worked with before. We always kept up discussions about music. He’s a crazy musical lover already. We would run into each other in here in the Walt Disney Hall, listening to the L.A. Philharmonic every week or every other week. And, at some point, they were in the need of a composer that, I guess, could write for films but also a composer that had some kind of concert music writing voice, or skill because this is a very operatic, or lyrical, score. Which is not so much as what the films are carrying on these days. Music, very often, tends to be more discrete, or more somber. In this case, they needed something that was dramatic.
RT: Yes, because the original movie was quite dark. I read the book as a kid and that was quite dark as well. So, I guess that having the music in the background would not be beneficial to the overall feel of the new series.
FJ: Absolutely. And, now people are starting to chat and to discuss the similarities and differences between this version of ‘Watership Down’ and the original film. And, of course, there are similarities but, this is one thing that I feel remains, that is, the very strong dramatic tone of it. Everything has a very strong gravitas. Nothing is light in ‘Watership Down’ and I think they needed that for the music. And, my music sometimes tends to be that. I don’t want to say good or bad but, it tends to be dense, let’s say.
RT: So, when you were first started working on ‘Watership Down’ was it a conscious decision to blend it with the original movie and book, or was that developed along the way?
FJ: I’m sure that I was probably subconsciously influenced because I had read the novel and watched the film. But I think I took it as an individual project, trying to get rid of all the conditionals and prejudices of knowing more than what I had to. It was interesting because when I got to meet the producers, they flew me to London and the first thing they did, with me not being British, they picked me up at the airport and took me directly to Watership Down.
RT: Ah, I was going to ask you about that.
FJ: It was fantastic. They were super kind to spend one day with me walking all over those hills, having lunch over there, and getting the vibe and the flavor of that place. Then, of course, I started working the cutting room, but that trip was fantastic.
RT: I bet it was. So, what sort of message are you trying to get across in this series? Is it similar to the originals, or are you trying to bring something new to it?
FJ: I think the core is probably the same. But one of the many messages that the piece delivers, it’s very timely today because of the way humans are treating the environment and our planet. And I think that message, although it is present in the first one, I think it’s stressed more in this one. And, it is a very timely thing to discuss and talk about. So, I’d say that got stronger in this version.
RT: Excellent. That’s all the questions I have regarding ‘Watership Down.’ But, I’m also curious to know what you’ve got coming up after this?
FJ: After ‘Watership Down,’ I started a film that is now starting to roll out at film festivals. It’s a foreign film called ‘The Twelve-Year Night’ and it’s based on the twelve years of imprisonment that the former president of Uruguay had in the 70s and 80s during the military dictatorship in Uruguay. It’s a fantastic film, super dramatic.
RT: Oh, I bet it is. Okay, that pretty much concludes my questions. So, thank you for your time, I really appreciate it.
FJ: Thank you, Rachel. Same here, thank you for your interest.
RT: Oh, that’s alright. As I said, I read the book as a kid and it was horrifying and fantastic all at the same time.
FJ: I don’t know, some people are now saying that it’s not horrifying enough. I think they think they are going to see a horror film and it’s really not a horror film. There are some very sad scenes but, that’s not the point.
RT: Yes, I agree with that. It’ll be interesting to watch it again with adult eyes. I’m curious to go back and read the book as well to see if it is quite as traumatic as I perceived as a child.
FJ: Well, I hope you like it.
RT: Oh, I’m sure I will. Well, thank you so much for your time.
Watership Down will premiere on BBC One on December 22 and then worldwide on Netflix on December 23. The synopsis for the limited series is below.
“Set in the idyllic rural landscape of southern England, this tale of adventure, courage, and survival follows a band of rabbits on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stout-hearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, towards a promised land and a more perfect society.”