Alexandre Desplat was born in Paris, France in 1961. He began his musical life on piano at the age of five, before adding on flute and trumpet. As a teenager, Desplat spent time watching films and listening to their scores - becoming a fan of the great film composers. He attended the Paris Conservatory, he became classically trained on the flute, while studying music with French composer Claude Ballif. He began to expand his listening and playing to classical, jazz, and African music. From his Greek mother, he began to explore the music of modernist composer Iannis Xenakis. He also studied with arranger and orchestrator Jack Hayes in California.
Composing first started for Desplat on the French cable channel Canel+. He worked on several television series and TV movies, and eventually worked his way into films starting with Ki lo sa? (1985). Notable early works include Lapse of Memory (1992) with director Patrick Dewolf, and beginning another director collaboration with Jacques Audiard's See How They Fall [Regarde les hommes tomber] (1994). They also worked on Innocent Lies (1995) with Dewolf, and A Self-Made Hero (1996), which lent Desplat his first César nomination. His next score with Audiard - Read My Lips (2001), also received a César nomination.
After years of French films, Desplat's burst into the Hollywood arena with Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003). His intriguing use of instruments is apparent in this score, with his signature piano solos, bells and flute solos. The score would go onto nominations for the BAFTA and Golden Globes. Choosing interesting and varied projects, Desplat continued with films like Birth (2004), The Upside of Anger (2005), Hostage (2005), Audiard's The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005), which won him a César. His suspenseful score to Syriana (2005), proved to be another breakout for Desplat, this time receiving another Golden Globe nomination.
Desplat's restrained score, with an overlap of modern and traditional sounds, to The Queen (2006) received critical acclaim, including a BAFTA nomination and his first Academy Award nomination. That same year he scored the thriller Firewall (2006) and the lyrical The Painted Veil (2006) highlighted by piano solos. The latter won the Golden Globe award.
Desplat continued to vary his projects, from erotic dramas like Lust, Caution (2007), French war film Intimate Enemies [L'ennemi intime] (2007), children's fantasy Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007) with Aaron Zigman, to the large fantasy film The Golden Compass (2007). It was also in 2007 that Desplat was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 2008 saw the releases of Largo Winch (2008), and a collaboration with director David Fincher on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). The intimate score to 'Benjamin Button', secured Desplat's role in Hollywood, and presented him with BAFTA, Golden Globes and Academy Award nominations.
2009 showed Desplat's prowess as a fast composer, tackling several projects of varying size. There was Chéri (2009) - a return with "Queen" director Stephen Frears, French drama Coco Before Chanel (2009), and A Prophet (2009) with director Audiard - another César nomination. His Hollywood scores included the French-flavored cheerful score to Julie & Julia (2009), the delightfully quirky Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) - BAFTA and Oscar nomination and supplying the romantic tones of franchise hit, The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009).
2010 was another banner year for Desplat, with the minimalist score to Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer (2010) - César winner. He made a large splash with another British biopic, The King's Speech (2010). The lyrical score (recorded with original EMI Royal microphones), won critics over with Golden Globe and Oscar nominations and winning the BAFTA award. Desplat also entered another popular franchise - this time taking over for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), building upon the thematic worlds of the past films.
2011 seemed to be just as busy, with a hypnotic score to Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011), political thriller The Ides of March (2011), composing the theme to My Week With Marilyn (2011), reviving past material with the ending the franchise Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), the Roman Polanski drama Carnage (2011) and drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011). With speed and variety, he composed scores for director Audiard's Rust and Bone (2012) which would lead to another César win, another interesting score for Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and the fantastical animated film Rise of the Guardians (2012). Near the end of the year, he received a lot of attention to his scores to the drama Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Argo (2012), for which he received nominations for BAFTA, Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.
No signs of stopping, Desplat has worked on several scores in 2013, including Philomena (2013) with Stephen Frears, Zulu (2013) and Venus in Fur (2013), again for Roman Polanski. Upcoming scores include WWII drama, The Monuments Men (2013) - in which he also has a cameo, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) for Wes Anderson.
Alexandre Desplat's rise to major Hollywood player came fairly quickly, considering his output since "Girl With the Pearl Earring" in 2003. His ability to score seemingly everything in almost every genre has made him useful to many directors. He has gone from high-profile films, while never leaving European cinema behind.
His style of writing utilizing a large palette of musical colors make his scores interesting, giving plenty of room for soloists to shine - as well as the London Symphony, which has recorded many of his scores. He also conducts and orchestrates on his scores (along with orchestrators Jean-Pascal Beintus and Conrad Pope), something that has influenced his use of instruments and style. We'll be seeing much more from Desplat in many more projects in years to come, as he continues to be a major Hollywood player.