Recently, I got to speak with multi-award-winning British composer, Natalie Holt, who has worked on multiple Disney+ Originals including Marvel Studios’ “Loki”, “The Princess” and the acclaimed Lucasfilm series “Obi-Wan Kenobi”. Where she explained how nervous she was working on “Obi-Wan Kenobi”, possibly working on a Pixar film and why the sound of “The Princess” is different.
How did you come up with an original feel for each of those projects?
Well, I guess I don’t know. I mean, I just felt like with Obi-Wan Kenobi, John Williams kind of came on board and wrote the Obi theme. So that really set things up for me in a way, because we didn’t know if we could use his original themes, so we were trying to do something kind of new but still within the Star Wars universe. And then once he came on board with his theme, it just kind of unlocked everything for us.
What was it like working with John Williams on this project?
So yeah, John was just, he came on board and he just had a couple of weeks and he wrote the Obi theme and then the suite of how the theme could be used in various places, and he was just lovely. He sent me the piano score for the theme before he’d recorded it, because John basically doesn’t do demos. He writes like on an architect table with a stopwatch, the manuscript, so directors don’t get to hear it. I think even Spielberg just gets a piano, you know, “Here it is on the piano, and then you’ll hear it when the orchestra’s playing it.”
He’s so iconic that he can get away with that.
I’m going to start doing the same thing. Like, “No, I’m not doing demos anymore.” I don’t think anyone would employ me.
Did you have any pressure for doing Obi-Wan Kenobi? Did you feel under much more pressure on doing this one?
How did you feel once “Obi-Wan Kenobi” was out and everyone could react to the music that you put out there?
I just felt this huge, as a… I grew up with, I sort of burnt out the VHS of all the three original Star Wars movies because I watched them so much as a kid with my dad, and love John Williams. Just all of his work, literally it’s just the reason that I do what I do. So the stress just came from, “Oh my gosh,” like the pressure of the legacy of the whole thing and wanting to do it justice, and just wanting to tread the right balance between the old and the new and compliment what he’d done, but with some modernity that Deborah Chow had requested. And everything was going up, so like my Leia theme I wrote and then it would go on up to Kathleen Kennedy, and it’s just like these huge iconic figures in the industry are hearing your music. It’s just, of course, it’s pressure and stress.
But like for the fans of… You can’t please everybody with Star Wars. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who just wish John had scored the whole thing, and of course he’s 90, and so yeah.
Following on from “Loki”, did this help set you up for “Obi-Wan Kenobi”, you were a bit more used to the process, or was it completely different working for Marvel and Lucasfilm?
Very different, yeah. It was very different. Just they’re very different companies, and also just Loki happened in lockdown. So it was very much on Zoom and shooting got shut down because of COVID, so we actually had quite a lot more time because of that. And then Obi was, yeah, I got the job in December and then finished the job beginning of April.
“The Princess” has just come out on Disney+ over here in the UK and on Hulu in the US, how did you go about making that score?
Well, “The Princess”, I started on that in the autumn before I started on Obi, so I’d started off working with Kiet and he just had these concepts of it’s based on The Raid, kind of that idea of just like following someone through all these stylized action set pieces. Kiet, I watched his movie, the one that he did previously, which is like a samurai movie called Fury, and I just thought he was really talented, and this is his kind of first foray into everyone, a sort of mass… Well, I think it was the number one biggest film in Vietnam, but this is his first English language movie, I believe.
So yeah, it was great to work with him and he was very open, and the film’s set in a sort of medieval-ish fairytale world. So to go with the kind of kick-ass nature of the Princess, we did a guitar blended with huge orchestra, drums and then lots of medieval instruments. So we had a viol consort that were playing, kind of really scrubbing their instruments, playing in quite an unusual punky way, and then we also had medieval bagpipes. It was just kind of these big sounds and then a guitar played by Jack Halama, and he’s just incredible. Yeah, so that really set the whole thing, the tone for the whole film.
You’ve done some Marvel and you’ve done some Star Wars, and you’ve also done some 20th Century Studios, would you like to jump into maybe doing some Disney animation or Pixar next?
Yeah, I’d love to. I think it’s because I’ve got an eight-year-old and she’s never really been able to see anything I’ve done, and she’s a huge Star Wars fan. We watched it through in chronological order in the lockdown, so we watched through the prequels and we watched it all through, so it was quite good that I’d refresh my memory of the whole universe before I even knew I was going to do the job. Annie’s a big fan and so she watched Obi, and that’s the first thing I’ve done that my daughter could see. So I love working on things, because Annie, I’m quite pulled away from her with my job. Like I had to go and be in LA for a month without her on Obi, so it was nice that she got to enjoy what I’d been working on.
What’s the difference between doing a series to a movie?
I think, well, before I got onto this level of TV series, it tended to be just one, going through episode by episode. I think with Loki and with Obi, it was more like working on a film because I was working on episode six and one, and you’re trying to give it that feel of a movie and you want the themes to be cohesive and feel like they’re building throughout the whole thing and everything’s connected. So when I first started working on Obi and Loki, I was just trying to find the themes, where the characters are going, and then seed it throughout. Which is, I guess, what you do in a film. So not really, and I think the whole way we consume content is changing.
I mean, I think people want to spend more time with their favorite characters. Like with Loki, it’s just like we’ve got six hours, a six hour movie basically. Not that each episode’s an hour, but a five-hour movie perhaps, where we get to just explore the character in more depth. And so I think people are really enjoying this shift into getting to know their characters better in a TV setting.
And for our final question, and it might be a little bit harder for you, but what has been your favourite Disney+ Original so far?
Ooh, that’s an interesting one. I really liked WandaVision, because I guess it was so brilliant, and sort of the exploring grief and there’s so many levels to it, and visually just so stylish. Yeah, I loved WandaVision, and I love Loki. I have a bias on that one, because I worked on it. Yeah, and The Mandalorian, I just adore, and I think Ludwig is a certified genius.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” and “Loki” are available to stream on Disney+ now, with “The Princess” available on Hulu in the US and on Disney+ internationally. All three soundtracks are available to stream now on digital platforms including Amazon and Spotify.
Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom.